I suppose it is no longer necessary to point out that Matthew Yglesias does not know what he is talking about, regardless the subject. He has a preternatural ability to opine knowingly on any subject, his confidence in his own correctness existing in inverse proportion to the accuracy of whatever he is saying at a given time. His ability to miss the point even as he swashbuckles into a conversation to argue that everyone else is missing the point is completely awesome, and I mean that in the most strictly religious sense. He is like a minor god of misunderstanding, a numinous spirit of getting it wrong.
There are plenty of problems with the Michael Pollans and Mark Bittmans of the world, with their bourgeois assumptions about taste and diet and their relatively blithe indifference to the calorie poverty into which much of the world would plunge if their recommendations were taken up too preciptously, unlikely though that scenario is. But obviously when they speak of "processed foods", they are speaking idiomatically, in, um, the parlance of our times. Is Yggie just trying to be clever when he loudly points out that tofu is a processed food. Well, yes, and it has been since the Han dynasty. Bread is a processed food. Salt-cured meat is a processed food. Pickling is processing. Fermentation is processing. "Processing" was an essential development in pre-refrigeration days as in its many forms it provided the means to preserve foodstuffs. Right. Okay. Can we all, nevertheless, agree that processed food is also modern shorthand for Doritos and fucking Twinkies? I think we can.
But you can barely cook anything if you start to rule vegetable oils out bounds. It’s true that the traditional peasant diets of mediterranean countries are very healthful, but there’s nothing healthful about the traditional peasant diet of Ireland or Russia. Obviously, nothing in the Bittman or Pollan ouevres suggests they’re unaware that an all-potato diet could be improved by introducing the occasional tofu stir fry. But I think this slogan captures less of what they mean than they think.I am not certain who is ruling vegetable oils out of bounds. Olive oil, a processed food, dates at least to the Minoans. That's a long time ago, Matt, in case you're not up to The Googling it. The "traditional peasant diets" of Russia and Ireland that you think of as terribly unhealthy, especially the potato diet, were externally imposed by a landed and, in the Irish case, largely foreign gentry, and quite recently in Ireland. Prior to the 18th century, the Irish diet, like the diet of most of Europe, was composed principally of grains, cereals, and vegetables, supplemented by dairy and the occasional meat or fish. It was only with the imposition of the cottier system of rent-exploitative, subsistence-agricultural serfdom that the potato became a staple food of the peasantry. The Russian diet, likewise, though of course there were periods of great deprivation during the bitter history of the Russian empire, was principally composed of grains, cereals, and vegetables, supplemented by dairy and the occasional meat and fish.
In any case, Pollan and his ilk are not suggesting that people eat like European peasants, but rather that people cook more food from basic ingredients, and that many "traditional" culinary cultures provide a model to this end. This is not without its own problems, but the idea that these guys have somehow totally overlooked the fact that several steps are required to make tofu and must be appraised of their oversight by some pedantic rodent lest they continue to beat the drum for a single-crop future of humanity is eminently crazy.