To Inflame! (or) To Inform!

Over the past couple of weeks my mind has been flooded with thoughts of how the media interacts with its citizens. It may be because I have been binge watching The West Wing, which has strong undertones of the bizarre and sometimes ruthless ways of the media. It’s also possible that both of my popular culture classes this term has something to do with my mind state; but the point is, I’ve been thinking about it. It’s because of this that David Puttnam’s Ted Talk on the role of the media in politics and democracy as a whole really lit a fire under me. He took the quote, “you must take care to avoid acts or omissions, which you could reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbor,” and applied it to the broad definition the media seems to have of the truth. Puttnam concluded that the media has to decide if their job is to inflame or to inform. He strongly argues that it is their job to push the latter, and denies this as a form of censorship; he asks, why do both the truth and freedom of speech have to be mutually exclusive, why can’t large companies with greater influence be held to a higher standard? My answer would be; to impose these sort of limitation on the media would not only hurt freedom of speech, but would be a major blow to democracy. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree with the concept of higher standards for both the media and major corporations. I should not have to double or triple check something written in the paper just to make sure it is true, nor should I have to worry if companies are trying to pull a fast one on me. However, to impose such limitations breaks down the fundamental concepts on which this nation was built, and ultimately lessons the freedoms of its people.


Let’s take for example, Michael Pollan’s docuseries “Cooked,” which I feel really shows why limiting some forms of the media would be so difficult. On the one hand you have this great series that shows how the act of home cooking has been reduced by the rise of the fast food industry. The docuseries does a fantastic job of instilling in you the idea that the art of cooking is disappearing; everyday families taxed by ever increasing work hours find solace in easy, fast, and cheap food. Pollan even enforces his points by contrasting America with India. India, which is a rapidly developing country, is starting to feel the effects of the fast food industry. Pollan goes on to state that India has found a very real solution, a sort of Post Mates for home cooked meals, where mothers and daughters will contract out their skills as cooks. On the other hand, Pollan completely disregards the fact that a major reason why these mothers and daughters are contracting out their culinary skills is because the poverty level in India is rising do to their ever growing population, and in order for some families to survive, every member must work. Another issue is that Pollan barely spends any time talking about how much more expensive it is to cook at home, especially with fresh ingredients. Because we have our own issues with poverty, it just makes more sense to go out and eat the cheap stuff you can find at McDonalds or Taco Bell. Getting back to how this ties into regulation in the media, could we really condemn Pollan for omitting some of these facts? Or is “Cooked” truthful enough to pass Puttnam’s standards? And if so, is that where we drawn the line? My point is that once we begin to impose major restrictions on civil liberties, it wont stop until the core of democracy crumbles away, leaving our nation as nothing more than a hollow shell of what we once were.


2 thoughts on “To Inflame! (or) To Inform!

  1. I LOVE that you contrasted Pollan with Puttnam because Pollan is first and foremost a food journalist. I think, though I may be wrong, that Pollan is still stuck in the 1960s. I don’t disregard his real research and commitment to speaking out against our food industry. It is a problem for many, many reasons, but I think it is unrealistic to sit in your Berkeley home and preach about the joys of home cooking without also really addressing the real poverty in our country, including parts of Berekely itself. (I lived there, and I can tell you I saw real poverty right next to great wealth). Now, I will agree that in many ways in the long run home cooked food from real ingredients is healthier and more cost efficient, but who has the time? The good thing about Portland is that if you are on the SNAP program, most of the Farmer’s markets will match your produce allowance, so that if you have $7 for produce on SNAP, the Farmers will match it for $14. But, I think we need to find ways to make food more accessible and easy to prepare at home. I certainly can’t afford organic food, and most of my friend’s can’t because we are artists and educators, which is why I get so annoyed with my lawyer friends who spend $70 for vegan food at a restaurant. Or who chide me for not eating grass-fed meat, but then again, I don’t eat meat, which also seems to annoy them.

    Sorry for the rant. Your point is well taken. Now, I don’t think Pollan is silenced by the media, a lot of the series was taken from his book of the same name. I think that he does have a strong lens, and it is through that lens that he wants us to see the real issues in our society. Sadly, he doesn’t address our own poverty. The interesting this about the women making food for busy professionals in India, is that here in Beaverton some of my boyfriend’s friend’s wives do the same thing for their husband’s co-workers at Nike. Most of them are single guys from Southern India, so they will pay the wife $50 a week or so to make them home cooked lunches because they are homesick for food from their country, and it’s cheaper than eating at Chenni Masala or one of those Indian restaurants. So I find it interesting that this method of getting home food to the office has been imported right here in Beaverton. I often buy stuff at Indian groceries because it is much cheaper than Fred Meyer.

    So, I think while Pollan has done a good job of raising awareness about the huge ethical issues with our food companies, I think he also is a bit shaming for those of us who can’t afford or truly don’t have time to cook.Or for college students who don’t have a kitchen in their dorm room or apartment.


    Liked by 1 person

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