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When most of us followers hear the name of well-known real-food activist Michael Pollan, we think about his long list of inspirational books, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire, Food Rules, or even Cooked, a more recent one lamenting the lost art of home cooking and, of course, the sit-down sharing of the family dinner meal. Pollan is also famous for his long-time career as a contributing writer for New York Times Magazine, and many of his sustainable food writings there have captured national and international attention.
But one of the most recent books, The Pollan Family Table, written by family members Corky Pollan (their mother), (and Michael’s sisters) Lori, Dana and Tracy Pollan, also features his personal role in the family’s combined cooking skills for nutritious, sustainable fresh food from the garden or the marketplace. In his foreword to the family cookbook, Michael reflects on childhood experiences at the family dinner meal.
“Looking back, there were definitely hints that the family table of my childhood was something special, “ Pollan begins, “but at the time I figured everyone must have dinners pretty much like ours: all of us sitting down together for a home-cooked meal at 6:00 p.m. sharp, everybody serving themselves from the same pot or platter, taking turns telling about the day at school, joking around, and, sure, occasionally tormenting a younger sibling for sport.”
Pollan notes, “It is true that back in the sixties and seventies, the institution of the family dinner was more robust than it is now—when it has become the exception in many households rather than the rule. … In the sixties, the average American was still spending more than an hour a day preparing food, a figure that has since fallen by more than half—to 27 minutes a day.”
Pollan says the family has grown, and, “Since those days, the Pollan family has branched into five tables, as each of us kids has carried the traditions forward into our own homes. The four of us routinely consult one another—and Corky, our mother—about meals, exchange recipes, and compare notes on culinary hits and misses. And when the whole 21-person, three-generation family gathers on certain weekends and the big holidays, we invariably cook together.”
With our current culture trending toward both parents working and increased after-school student activities, Pollan says something had to give, and the first very apparent result was the loss of the preparation and the time for a family meal together. “But even those of us who have trouble finding the time to put a real dinner on the table have come to realize what is lost when we don’t do it,” he says.
“It is no coincidence that the rise in obesity in America clearly tracks the decline in home cooking,” he notes, “Why? Because corporations don’t cook as well as humans do (something implicitly acknowledged when we refer to what they do as ‘food processing’ rather than ‘cooking’). They use the cheapest possible raw ingredients, which they render appealing by adding far more salt, fat, and sugar than a human ever would.
“Then to disguise the fact their dishes have been prepared so far away and long ago,” he adds, “they add lots of novel chemicals no human keeps in his or her pantry: stabilizers, preservatives, texturizers, emulsifiers, artificial flavors, and colors. Industrial corporations are also adept at making certain labor-intensive, special-occasion foods—such as French fries or dessert—so inexpensive and ubiquitous that we can eat these foods far more often than if someone had to actually cook or bake them.”
Pollan emphasizes, “The loss of that common experience of eating a meal together is far-reaching. This is going to sound like a big claim to make for something as simple as family dinner, but I believe that institution is essential not only to a family’s health and well-being, but also to our society as a whole. Because at the dinner table we literally civilize our children, teaching them to take turns, to share, to listen to other people’s point of view, and to argue without insulting. The family meal is the nursery of democracy.”
In conclusion, Pollan says, “Now, it’s one thing to recognize the importance of this daily practice, and quite another to actually do it—to get a home-cooked meal on the table more nights than not. That’s where I think you’re going to find The Pollan Family Table immediately helpful and, in time, essential. My mother and sisters are not only superb cooks, but also eminently practical women who face the same challenges most people do—busy schedules, kids with too much homework, picky eaters, etc.—and have figured out how to put beautiful meals on the table most nights of the week. I know this firsthand, because I’ve enjoyed their cooking for years, and have cooked many of these recipes myself.”
We at Seeds ‘n Such are also strong supporters of not only the “family meal,” but also the “family garden.” We feel that the return to the connection to healthy soil—where all of our proper nutrition and ultimately our good health originates—will be the driving force that heals us and our planet. We invite all of you to place an order with us, and allow us to help you start your own home garden today, and once harvest time arrives, we trust you might like to try the following recipe from The Pollan Family Table:
Harvest Vegetable Bake (4 to 6 servings)
“Both the vegetarians and meat eaters in our family devour this dish. The combination of vegetables together with tofu and cheese makes it irresistible and totally satisfying. This is a wonderful dish to serve to friends as well—not only does it taste great—but it looks beautiful from the oven, browned and bubbling.”
“Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
“Arrange the tofu in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Remove from the oven and set aside. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F.
“Meanwhile begin preparing the sauce and vegetables. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, the shallots, and the minced garlic. Stir occasionally until they become translucent and begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the sherry and white wine and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth, soy sauce, ½-teaspoon of salt, and 1/8-teaspoon of pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside.
“While the sauce simmers, pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil into a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the sliced garlic, the mushrooms, and carrots, and sauté for 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high; add the zucchini and broccoli, and sauté for 6 minutes. Add the Swiss chard and stir all the vegetables continuously for 2 minutes more, until well combined and the Swiss chard has wilted.
“Transfer the vegetables to a large casserole or baking dish. Add the tofu, pour the sauce over the casserole, and mix. Sprinkle the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses on top. Bake uncovered until the cheeses are brown and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.”