Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
By Michael Pollan
Penguin Books, 2013. 480 pgs. Nonfiction

What makes humans different from every other animal? In this fascinating book, the answer is: we cook our food. In four parts that explore each of the ancient elements of fire, water, air, and earth, Pollan discusses the techniques of how and the reasons why we transform raw ingredients into delicious food.

The most interesting aspects of this book for me were the discussions on why we as a culture have stopped cooking our own food, and the impact that has had on our health, our families, and our future. I didn’t realize how little cooking any of us do anymore; many of us open a package or a jar and heat something up. Cooked is an eye-opening exploration of the importance of food, cooking, and our rapidly disappearing culinary heritage.


1 comment:

Breanne said...

This book by noted food journalist Michael Pollan discusses different ways of "transforming" food based loosely around four concepts: fire, water, air, and earth. The chapters on fire are spent looking at traditions of barbecue in modern America as well as the historical significance of roasting meat. The chapters on water look specifically at braising, air looks at baking bread from natural yeast, and earth looks at different types of fermentation and their effect on our health.

Pollan not only looks at the different cooking methods and tests them out himself, he also researches their significance anthropologically, spending much of the book on how humans have been cooking their food historically and what it has meant in cultures then and now. He also looks at the various health effects these cooking methods have on our bodies as well as the wider economy, encompassing both the food industry and the health of the planet.

Michael Pollan is an engrossing, talented writer and I enjoy his work very much. I did have a problem with the organization of the book - the connection between different subjects was a bit too unnatural and awkward, especially when he was trying to connect them. But this is really forgivable in light of his excellent writing and thoughtful, well-researched arguments and impressions.

One other note - I listened to the audiobook and was very impressed at Pollan's ability to present his subject matter in an interesting way. There were a few times when he was reciting latin names of various bacteria when my mind wandered a bit, but for the most part he has a very pleasant, captivating voice.