Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
by Michael Pollan
narrated by Michael Pollan
Penguin Audio, 2013
13 hours and 25 minutes
source: review copy provided by publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.
Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius "fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships. Cooking, above all, connects us.
The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.
Yes, I'm a Michael Pollan fan. Years ago, his book The Omnivore's Dilemma helped change the way I thought about food. I became more conscious of where my food came from and began cooking with local, organic ingredients whenever possible. A couple of years later, In Defense of Food further fueled my efforts. As a result, my family's diet is 'cleaner' and healthier than it was in 2006.
In this book, as the title suggests, Pollan examines cooking - an activity, he notes, which distinguishes humans from animals. Cooked chronicles his three-year adventure learning, and trying to perfect, techniques involved in barbecue, braising, bread baking, and fermenting. He regales his reader with tales of time spent alongside barbecue pit masters, in cheese caves, hanging out with "fermentos", and cooking away leisurely Sunday afternoons in his own kitchen. I especially enjoyed Pollan's obsession with baking the perfect loaf of bread, and I plan to experiment with braising techniques myself when cooler weather arrives.
As good as this book is, however, it does nothing to refute the argument that Pollan is an elitist. I am fortunate to have readily available ingredients, financial resources, and enough time to prepare healthful meals for my family, and to experiment with the various techniques covered in this book. However, this is not necessarily the case for a majority of Americans. There is an excellent article in the latest issue of The Atlantic entitled "How Junk Food Can End Obesity" by David H. Freedman. It provides another interesting perspective on the issue... the food processing industry got us into this mess and they have the ability to get us out of it, too.
I enjoyed Cooked immensely and recommend it to anyone interested in food, cooking, or eating... so just about everyone. I'm also going to make a prediction: I think probiotics may be Pollan's next big thing. He seems poised to jump on that bandwagon. Kombucha, anyone?
A note on the audio production:
I loved Pollan's easy, conversational narration style. It was like listening to a friend tell you all about his adventures. Not to take anything away from Scott Brick, but I wonder why Pollan didn't start narrating his own books sooner. In all honesty, I think I would have struggled a bit with Cooked in print, and remember thinking the same thing about The Omnivore's Dilemma, so I'm very glad I listened to this book. Micheal Pollan is definitely an audio author for me.
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