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Foodie Pseudery (43)

The transcendence of onions – a discussion between Ruth Reichl and Michael Pollan:

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.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. hoghtonborn #

    Michael Pollan should be careful who he gets interviewed by. His take on onion chopping in the book avoids the psuedery

    June 7, 2013
    • Yes. Hmmm…

      I wonder if this is a little unfair, then. It’s the line ‘I built a kitchen so that people can stand around and watch me cook’ which amuses me.

      June 7, 2013
    • I don’t think that’s true. . . this transcending-the-onions and moving into meditation is almost word-for-word from the book. It’s like a set piece: he has described the Zen of onions in more or less the same way for several other articles and interviews.

      Disclosure: I had to read the book (and a bunch of related material for my food mag), and I loathed it. And it is chock full of pseudery, not to mention pseudo-research–he makes rather dishonest use of his sources.

      June 7, 2013
      • Well then – next week’s post is going to be a review.

        This week’s will be on cannibalism. As you do.

        June 7, 2013
  2. highlatitudes #

    ‘I built a kitchen so that people can stand around and watch me cook’ is amusingly self-important, I think. Then again, we were just musing the other other day on what fun it is to cook together in a big kitchen, and having a contact-lens wearing person (me) around to chop the onions, which, when frying, elicits all kinds of homesick memories.

    June 7, 2013
  3. hoghtonborn #

    Perhaps I’m too overawed by Pollan. I think Cooked is a great book

    June 7, 2013
    • And I’m probably being a bit unfair. (I ascribe this to the Reichl Effect.) I must write something about Cooked – still thinking about it.

      June 7, 2013
  4. For me, Reichl’s awful “I built a kitchen so that people can stand around and watch me cook” is trumped by Pollan’s pronouncement: “Men like the big public deal of the grill, the ceremonies involving animals and fire, where women gravitate toward the plants and pots inside.”

    There’s nothing like calling on our fabled cave-dwelling ancestors to reinforce bullshit gendered narratives.

    June 7, 2013
    • Yes indeed. The one thing, though, that I have wondered is to what extent Pollan is being fully serious here.

      June 8, 2013
      • Fair point! The tone is lost when I rely on text… and I’m primed to hate on his gender references.

        June 9, 2013
        • Ha! Yes – me too, actually. That’s such a good piece, that.

          June 9, 2013

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