Two of the food industry’s biggest critics are challenged to make a supermarket meal.
Michael Pollan Michael Moss

Spoiler alert: They don’t buy cereal. (Photo: New York Times/YouTube)

This is not the Michaels’ element. Walking through the aisles of an urban supermarket, journalists Micahel Pollan and Michael Moss, who both write about issues of food and health, appear more like reporters in a conflict zone than your average domesticated shopper.

But in a new video and story published in the New York Times this week, that’s exactly what the pair were sent to do: Buy provisions from a grocery store for a meal that would pass muster with the high standards put forward in Pollan’s Cooked and Moss’ Sugar Salt Fat. Unprocessed, low-salt, no added sugar, local, sustainable, organic, humane.

Hence the setting, as the question often raised by Pollan’s books in particular is how can anyone afford the time and money required to eat in the manner he advocates. “There would be no farmers’ market produce, no grass-fed beef or artisanal anything,” reporter Emily Weinstein writes of the challenge.

Initially, the venture doesn’t seem to be going very well.

“This is a cliff of sugar, by and large,” Pollan says, his arms gesturing to a broad swath of the aisles. Maybe all of the aisles?

Moss sees things in similarly nefarious terms: “This seems like such a tranquil atmosphere here: Quiet, peaceful music, smells OK. But behind these shelves is the most fiercely competitive industry there is. They’re all jockeying for position on the shelf, they’re fighting each other for stomach-share,” which Moss defines as “the amount of digestive space that any one company’s brand can grab from the competition,” in his recent story about the science of addictive junk food.

When Pollan begins to talk about the difference between processed foods, hyper processed foods and ultra processed foods, it feels like the whole venture might spin out of control, that the lunch will never be made. But in the freezer aisle, of all places, Pollan finds an everyman ingredient that has a place is his rarefied kitchen too. “This again goes to the distinction between processed foods and hyper processed foods: I think frozen vegetables are terrific, and I always have frozen spinach,” he says, clutching a Birdseye box. “This is a really simple product—it’s basically just spinach.”

The two journalists go on, off camera, to cook a meal of pizza, chickpea soup, and a salad of avocado and oranges. “It had taken more than an hour,” Weinstein writes. “A frozen pizza or canned soup would have been faster and easier to prepare. But, Mr. Moss pointed out, with pre-made dough, easy enough to find, you could make a healthy and delicious pizza in less than 45 minutes.”

It’s not as fast as fast food, but as Pollan and Moss have helped to show us, that grab-and-go culture of eating hasn’t served us well. So why not work for 45 minutes to make pizza?

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Willy Blackmore is the food editor at TakePart. He has also written about food, art, and agriculture for such publications as TastingTable, Los Angeles Magazine, The Awl, GOODLA Weekly, The New Inquiry, and BlackBook. Email Willy |