I was pleasantly surprised to unwrap Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
by Michael Pollan on Christmas. I’m a big fan of his past books The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, but somehow hadn’t realized he had a new book out until I opened the gift. Good call on that one, Amanda!
Pollan is essential reading for anyone concerned about the mainstream food habits in our society, and interested in exploring healthier ways. Cooked is a another good contribution to this topic. Omnivore’s Dilemma brings hard-hitting information about the implications of our current food production system, and An Eater’s Manifesto provides practical suggestions about what choices we can make to eat healthier. In Cooked, Pollan delves deep into the process of cooking help us gain a deeper appreciation of real food and what it takes to make it.
Cooked is organized into sections based on the four basic elements: fire, water, air and earth. In each area, Pollan seeks out experts in preparing food via the method associated with the element, then tries to master the process himself. In “fire”, Pollan describes the ancient communal process of cooking a big feast over flames, while making me very hungry for a pulled pork sandwich made by his barbecue mentor. He takes up braising in the “water” section, and made me wonder a bit about the shortcuts I sometimes take with my chopping method. (but I must credit Cooked with some inspiration for coming up with a very good Tuscan Beef Stew recently). “Air” introduces us to some passionate bread makers, including one who has been known to take his bread starter to the movies in order feed it at the proper times. I’m not much of a baker but this section, and the recipe that goes with it, might be the nudge that gets me to try making my own bread. “Earth” gets into the science of fermentation, which gives us everything we need to know about the important role bacteria play in creating so many foods and in producing good health And the section comes with a bit of info I could do with out, such as the similarity between the bacteria that make stinky cheese and those that can be found on sweaty feet.
Like other Pollan books, this one is full of great characters, stories and powerful insights. Luckily I own this book, so I could underline, dog-ear and write notes in it to my hearts content. If your passionate–or even simply curious–about how good food contributes to the health of our families and communities, you’ll want to add this one to your shelf, too.
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