When I began to cook in the 1960s while getting my Ph.D., I was conscious of doing so in a way that would define me as different from my mother and my mother's life. She cooked Midwestern. I deliberately chose French. She baked apple pies. I composed Tarte Normande aux Pommes.
The food industry brings in serious muscle to bully us into eating too much of all the wrong things, while someone counts the cash. Any conversation about personal responsibility or public policy that fails to acknowledge this reality is either disingenuous, or uninformed.
You can easily see how a less food-savvy parent might conclude that feeding a child Mango Cremes is actually a net positive -- the same as offering fruit, when of course a Mango Creme is, in the end, a highly processed, white flour cookie.
Michael Pollan, esteemed writer and noble defender of the dinner table, has been a leading crusader for real food. He is undeniably right, but we should be wary of demonizing all science surrounding nutrition in the publics' eye.
The magic of nutritional lables is that they somehow level ground that can't actually be leveled. We'll never fix anything by replacing one product with another and treating the new product as mindlessly as we did the old.
Polls repeatedly show us one of the most important issues in the presidential election is health. Unfortunately, much of the health debate is being focused on health care, when analyses show us healthy living is the real key to curbing our spiraling health care costs.
We have indeed entered the era of the celebrity farmer. But all over the country, small farmers -- some of whom have been at it for decades with scant recognition -- are finding themselves catapulted to rock-star status.
Not only is there major disagreement over the amount (and type) of protein we should be eating, but there's wild disagreement over the role of fat, the importance of carbs, the value of exercise, the need for calorie counting, and just about anything else you can think of.
It's getting on to harvest at Winterhaven Ranch, but the fields are not green. They're brown. This is actually a good thing. Nielsen is a desert farmer. For almost 30 years, he's been growing Medjool dates in Bard Valley, California.
Any intellectual seeking to build a balanced larder of knowledge would do well to embrace their inner Roman emperor, and familiarize themselves with food and the art of cooking -- even if their own culinary attempts go up in smoke a disconcerting amount of the time.
Farro, chicken, kale and sheep's milk cheese. These are the foodstuffs (one item from each food group) that Michael Pollan would take to a desert island to eat in perpetuity, were he to find himself regrettably, but unavoidably, marooned.
There is an intrinsic problem with measuring the quality of a system by how well it conforms to what you already believe. Such a system gets bonus points for agreeing with you -- even when you are wrong.
It's not Thomas Keller's responsibility to help save the planet (though many chefs have taken on this calling with great ambition). But focusing solely on the aesthetics and disclaiming any other responsibility altogether is a cop-out.
Eating some meat, preferably from lean, well-fed, well-exercised, and kindly tended animals is assuredly consistent with human health. But the health of humans and the planet argue consistently for Michael Pollan's excellent and pithy advice: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
The religious overlay that nutrition has taken on is neither holy nor wholesome. It precludes us from breaking bread together. It forestalls the public health progress that could occur if we could all find a seat at a common table.