The Conversation: Michael Pollan, food writer

'A teacher taught me that cooking is like yoga'

They call you the "high priest" of American foodies, but what did you have for dinner last night?

Grilled salmon – the local salmon is running now – with a cold salad of farro, asparagus, mushrooms and fresh peas. Also some sautéed greens from the garden with green garlic.

That does sound good.

It was good, I have to say. The salmon was from Santa Cruz.

And good to be able to picture the place the food on your plate came from. I had pork belly and I have no idea where the pig lived. What encounters have you had with British cooking? Does it deserve its bad reputation?

It once did. I was at Oxford in the 1970s and the food was really horrible, even if you could afford to go to restaurants. But now the food in London is as good as anywhere in the world. It seems that the EU and access to a larger market of produce has been a good thing for English eating.

Well there's one reason to stay in the EU…

It is. British lamb was always good, too. However I do remember eating a good leg of lamb that had been totally destroyed by the English desire to cook until completely dead.

Well we don't want it to get away, you see.

That's the only explanation.

What about the food culture in Britain'? We like to talk about how fat Americans are, but should we take a long, hard look at ourselves?

In most of Europe obesity and type 2 diabetes rates are heading up. They haven't quite reached the lofty heights of the USA, but they're headed in that direction.

The new book, Cooked, is all about the importance of getting back into the kitchen. How do you persuade someone with very little time on their hands that it's worth taking an hour to cook rather than grabbing a ready meal?

We find time for three hours a day of television, two hours a day to surf the internet outside of work – we've decided that's an important way to spend our time… What I'm suggesting is that if you decide cooking is important to your health or your society, if you approach it as a form of leisure, then maybe you'd find the time. We also spend an enormous amount of time watching people cook on television.

Yes, we have celebrity chefs coming out of our ears in Britain…

Same here. It's a paradox that we're happy to watch people cook, but not to cook ourselves. It tells me there is some deep, unacknowledged interest in cooking.

You said cooking is good for your sanity – how so?

I used to be a very impatient person. I always thought there was something more important I needed to be doing, so I rushed in the kitchen. I had a teacher who taught me that cooking was like yoga – the keys to it were patience, practice and presence. Spiritually, I'm not a very well-developed person, but I really took this to heart. I found I could enjoy it a lot more, was more patient and could allow my onions to sauté for 40 minutes.

It sounds like you achieved a level of Zen enlightenment with these onions…

That would be a large claim but I'm a little further down that path than I was. I would submit that cooking is as good for our health and sanity as exercise.

Biography

Michael Pollan is a leading commentator on the food industry. Born in New York, he wrote the bestseller, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and his latest, Cooked, is out now

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent