Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Michael Pollan's nursery of democracy

Michael Pollan, on Democracy Now, tells us that the “family meal” is the “nursery of democracy.” And then he goes on: “it’s where we learn and where we teach our children how to share, how to take turns, how to argue without offending, how to learn about the events of the day. I mean, I learned all this at the table. And if kids are spending all their time in their rooms, you know, passing through the kitchen, nuking a frozen pizza, they’re missing something really important.” Now, I don’t know about you, but almost nothing was more horrifying to me as a child than the “family meal.” My parents screaming at one another, screaming at me and my sister. Every meal was another battle: I learned how never to breathe while eating, how to hold everything in, act like this isn’t going on, when will I get away? Will I get away? Can I survive? Is it possible? Maybe I can exist without a body, that’s what I wondered, retreat into my head a certain kind of escape. I’m guessing my experience is just as common, if not more common, than the one Michael Pollan rhapsodizes over, and it strikes me as a certain kind of arrogance, not to mention a deep lack of awareness, when he acts as if the abused kids, the queers, the freaks, those of us who were rarely if ever nurtured at the kitchen table, those of us who fled to our rooms not to eat frozen pizza, but with a mad desire to escape, that somehow we do not exist. Pollan’s invocation of the nuclear family as a model of care actually prevents the kind of communal intimacy and accountability that we all need and desire, that very few of us really experienced at that kitchen table so devoid of nurturing or democracy.

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