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The Lost Art of Cooking

Michael PollenMichael Pollen

Michael Pollan doesn't just want to change how you eat, he wants to change how you cook. Let's rephrase that. You're not cooking. He wants you to start.

Pollan was at Queens on Thursday, October 10, 2013, to present the fall lecture for the Learning Society at 7 p.m. in Dana Auditorium. His latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, chronicles his experiences learning fundamental cooking processes. "We're spending 27 minutes a day, on average, cooking," he said. "And four minutes cleaning up."

Pollan apprenticed himself to four master chefs to learn the secrets of fire-roasted meat, braising and fermenting. Although his speaking engagement at Queens marked his first time in Charlotte, it was not his first time in North Carolina. He learned whole-hog barbecuing from North Carolina pit master Ed Mitchell.

Before the evening lecture, Pollan joined a student panel in Ketner Auditorium. Professors, students and staff listened as he fielded questions about the politics and practicalities of an eco-friendly food system. Panelists included seniors Toni Page, Karl Schranz and Amanda Seagroves, as well as junior Fredric Nordhoff.

Prior to answering questions from the panel and audience, Pollan took the podium to share personal insights on the college experience. Now a professor at U.C. Berkeley, he credited a liberal arts education with equipping him to find his life's work. "I never planned to write about food and agriculture," he explained.

An English major, he spent his college years absorbing the great literary works of American nature writers such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir. Later, as he worked as an editor and gardened, he thought about his college studies in light of his experience with the land. "A lot of my work flowed out of that intellectual experience....the friction between the ideas in my head and the practical aspects of gardening."

His message to students was simple: "Don't overlook what the liberal arts has to offer."

Tall and lanky and dressed comfortably in jeans and a blazer, Pollan said, "Gardening led me into agriculture and if you're interested in agriculture, you become interested in food."

Karl Schranz asked Pollan about the role of public policy in regulating food advertising directed at children. Toni Page asked what changes would raise Americans' consciousness about food choices. Amanda Seagroves, who completed a summer internship in 2012 at Duke University's Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, asked if manipulating plant genomes was a better option than spraying pesticides-the lesser of two evils.

Fredric Nordhoff had a practical question. "What would you recommend someone learn to cook-someone coming out of college who doesn't know a lot about the kitchen?" Pollan paused to think of three go-to dishes: roasted chicken, an egg dish such as a frittata and a stew or braise. Seeing it as a teaching moment, he took time to simply explain how to cook each.

His four previous New York Times bestsellers have examined food production and consumption, questioning the American corporate model of genetic modification and monoculture farming. According to Pollan, the food business is getting bigger but not better. He was named to the 2010 TIME 100, the magazine's annual list of the world's 100 most influential people. In 2009 he was named by Newsweek as one of the top 10 "New Thought Leaders."

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