Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan

I would like to thank Adam for giving me this book. It was a wonderful present. As you notice, I have managed to wear out my copy in a short while, and I have been reading and re-reading it for the longest time, and trying out the recipes too.

If you haven’t heard of Michael Pollan, he is practically a god in the foodie and DIY circles, basically an ur-hipster who has been tinkering about in his garden and kitchen and writing about his musings. And he’s not even a trained-trained cook, but a journalist.

In many ways, our philosophies and curiosities intersect. So I was really excited to read his latest book.

The book is divided into four parts, corresponding to the four elements, and ways we use these elements to prepare food.

Fire deals with spit roasting. Roasting a whole hog, or lechon as it is known in the Phiilippines, is a big deal in parts of the Southern US. It was very testerone-laden, to correspond with his observation that while cooking is traditionally regarded as wimpy women’s work, the Barbeque is a man’s job, his way of offering a sacrifice to the gods. Then he goes into this theoretical mumbo-jumbo of spirituality and the barbeque, and his more down-to-earth experience with helping serve barbeque in New York.

Thankfully, the weakest part of the book is over. if you haven’t given up on reading it because of Fire, Water, or the art of stewing and braising, is infinitely more interesting. I will have to try that soffrito recipe when I have a free weekend.

Then there was Air, or the world of obsessive bakers trying to make the perfect sour dough bread. This was the most fascinating chapter for me since I have been trying to perfect the art of sour dough bread myself. The perfectionism of these artisanal bakers, their devotion of “thinking like a seed” appealed to me very much. I mean, to actually make a marble grinding wheel that will crush grain one kernel at a time in order to make the perfect flour for the perfect bread? It’s quixotic, impractical, but something that I see myself totally doing if I had the resources.

And finally, Earth, or fermenting. It is the funniest part of the book, and where Pollan finally hits his stride. Pickling Sauerkraut, Kimchi, fermenting alcohol and his immersion in the world of “fermentos,” or people devoted to pickling food, makes for a funny story

So what I get from this book is that all the processes of changing the composition of food is basically chewing the food outside of our stomach to make up for the loss of another, “second” stomach, which most animals have. We are able to more readily unlock the nutrients in the food because of it.

The most interesting theory for me is his treatise that bacteria is not bad, and managing them is very beneficial to both our species. He also goes on about the role the bacteria in our gut how they affect our general health.

A very good read, and I would recommend it to anybody who is interested in the creation of food.