Thursday, July 4, 2013

#36 (2013/CBR5) "Cooked" by Michael Pollan

It was when I saw Michael Pollan on The Colbert Report that I realized he had written another book. I've already read The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006) and In Defense of Food (2008) by Michael Pollan. I'm a fan of books about food and I've been impressed by Pollan's previous books. So, I immediately jumped on my library's website to join the waiting list for Cooked (2013).

I've especially enjoyed Pollan's previous books about food. He gives general advice about what to eat and shows in interesting detail where our food comes from while avoiding the driving agenda that mars so many other books on food and nutrition. Instead of drastic requirements, Pollan tends to focus on common sense, and a healthy variety of foods that we can cook ourselves. And that's where Cooked begins. Pollan splits his book into four sections following the four original elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. These four sections all represent four different types of cooking: barbecue, braising, baking, and fermentation (sauerkraut, beer, etc). We follow Pollan on his journey as he learns how to cook the basics--seeking out experts to help him. Pollan also looks into the history of humankind and cooking, how it all got started, and how it's changed us as a society.

I was excited when I was finally able to pick this book up, but the first section had me almost giving up on it entirely. Apparently I don't have much interest in barbecue. I guess it doesn't help that I don't eat pork (or beef) and all the talk about true Southern values just gave me bad memories of my least favorite co-worker. It felt repetitive and I was bored and I wasn't sure how I would make it through the rest of this rather hefty book.

But I kept reading and Pollan got back to food I actually eat and subjects that are more interesting to me. It felt more like The Omnivore's Dilemma again (in a good way) when Pollan toured small artisan bakeries as well as a Wonderbread factory. A recurring theme was how important cooking was to humans and how much it still means to us now--even though we are in an age where outsourcing our food supply is much more common. Pollan was very relatable as the various different cooking styles challenged and intimidated him in different ways. The experts he recruits to help him are interesting characters on their own. I now have a small urge to try to make some cheese and bread from scratch--as well as just cook more in general. And maybe I'll even do it someday!

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