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Publiceret den 24. februar 2021

Chefs Book Notes; “The Politics of the Pantry”

I first read Politics of the Pantry in 2018. Luckily, I have since refined my approach to reading this kind of book that most certainly requires more from me than the recreational kicking back and having a read before going to bed. Mikulak’s book had me kind of lost in its academic lingo the first time around, but as I got to re-read it this last time I was very surprised about how well some of the major points of the book had already stuck with me.
This time, armed with pen in hand for notes and with scheduled time slots for reading in the morning, I offered it a much greater focus which was paid back tenfolds.

Criticism of Slow Food

To set the stage the author goes through the various types of answers to the environmental issues on a so-called continuum placing economic values and GDP as opposites to the (today) alternative values as slowness, nature, etc.
Based on this he makes a number of points on how capitalism turns green to imbed various countermovements. This is very much the story with the organic movement and how it went from being an alternative to big agriculture to slowly but steadily becoming another nuance of that same system.

I really enjoyed reading about the criticism he presents from various angles towards the slow food movement and the local food movement. I can relate to that as some of that same criticism can be pointed at me as an, at times, opinionated chef on matters of cooking culture and sustainability.

How can the local food movement be taken seriously as an agent of change when it is exclusive in its own right? When it is predominantly the white, privileged upper and middle class that has the money, time and resources to spend at farmers markets and fancy organic health shops? And directly connected to my own world, how can restaurants – and their chefs – with some sort of “responsible” mindset in any way be part of making a positive change with their cooking and sourcing of local, quality produce?

The Enchantment of the Place

He makes a point of the importance of the “enchantment of the place” that, as I understand it, is a crucial element to both cooking, gardening, and any type of tactile and sensory experience that intersects nature and culture. In short, nothing makes us fall in love with our place in nature as much as the act of cooking for ourselves and friends and family.
This enchantment is cultivated through a way of engaging directly with our food sources, and the faces behind them. Connecting to the ones that grow and/or cooks our food has historically created a very important community between us. While greater industry and globalization have removed the faces and places from the food that we find on the supermarket shelves, reconnecting those bonds have us take greater responsibility for what in the end feeds us all, the planet.
For the author by cooking and growing your own food, you are transforming yourself into a co-producer rather than a consumer, and in relation to restaurants I do believe that we can act as an intermediary – as long as we keep up the responsibility to bring the faces/places of the producers and sources forward reminding guests about how they through the dining experience can create a connection.

So while the criticism pointed at the Slow Food and local food movement has its validity – the idea of having the free market and technology regulate us to a better food system or reacting to the unveiling of some of the mechanics of it (and therefore the capitalist system it is based upon) with horror and, in the end, a feeling of helplessness is very well framed by Mikulak as being completely fruitless.
Getting up and doing something is the best way to counter a corrupted food-system and “The Politic of the Pantry” does just that, it inspires me to want to cook up a different reality.

As it is stated in one of my favorite quotes in the book:

“In other words, the slow arts are not merely cultural or individual; they respond to the subjectivity of a globalism imposed from above in a way that allows individuals to reposition themselves and resist in an everyday manner, transforming the mundane act of cooking and eating into a political critique of the established global order.”


Conclusion

The slow arts require embodied knowledge but they serve you with a different and deeper perspective. I can translate this directly to what the Farm of Ideas and the whole point of getting out there and putting my hands into the soil has meant to me as a professional, as a cook, and as a human.

Make sure you read “Politics of the Pantry” by Michael Mikulak – but make sure you are focused and ready to absorb some important information and inspiration.

I am looking forward to a 3rd re-read at one point in the future – where I am sure ill get even more dimensions out of it.