Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl Hash out the Food Revolution

Be a fly in the soup at the dinner table with two of America’s most iconic food writers

Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl dine at Bell & Anchor in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. (Illustration by Lara Tomlin)
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R: People draw the lines in very different ways.

P: I think now I could raise a pig and kill a pig for food. I didn’t feel a sense of attachment. Clearly a pig is a very intelligent animal, but I think I could probably do that. I raised chickens, and worried that I wouldn’t be able to kill them, but by the time they were mature, I couldn’t wait to kill them. They were ruining my garden, abusing one another, making a tremendous mess. Meat birds are not like hens. Their brains have been bred right out of them, they’re really nasty and stupid. And every other critter for miles around was coming after them. I lost one to a raccoon, one to a fox, one to an owl—all in the course of a week. In the end I couldn’t wait to do the deed, because otherwise, somebody else was going to get the meat.

R: Around here, I know so many people raise chickens and at least half of them are going to the foxes.

P: Everyone loves chicken! [Laughter]

R: Want another deviled egg?

P: I’m good, I have a lot of food coming, thank you.

R: In your new book, Cooked, you said, “There’s nothing ceremonial about chopping vegetables on a kitchen counter.” I have to tell you, I so don’t agree with you. For me, chopping onions, putting them in butter, the smells coming up, that’s all totally sensual, totally seductive. And truly ceremonial, in the best way. I built a kitchen so that people can stand around and watch me cook.

P: To me onions are the metaphor for kitchen drudgery. Cutting them is hard to do well and they fight you the whole way. But I worked at this for a long time, learned everything I could about onions—why they make us cry, how to prevent it, why they’re such a huge part of cuisine worldwide, and what they contribute to a dish. I finally learned this important spiritual truth, which is bigger than onions: “When chopping onions, just chop onions.” When I finally got into the zen of cutting onions, I passed over to another place. Part of the resistance to kitchen work like chopping is a macho thing. Men like the big public deal of the grill, the ceremonies involving animals and fire, where women gravitate toward the plants and pots inside.

R: Chopping is like a meditation.

P: A zen practice, I agree. I learned that from my cooking teacher Samin Nosrat, who is a serious student of yoga. She talked to me about patience, presence and practice. She thought they applied equally well to cooking and yoga. And they do. They are very good words to keep in mind. I’m impatient, generally, dealing with the material world and she is someone who will sweat her onions longer than anyone I have ever seen and they do get so much better. The recipe says 10 minutes, she thinks “no, we’re doing 45.” And it definitely is better.


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