Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

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Andrea Fabry

Andrea Fabry › Andrea is a former journalist, a radio host, and the mother of nine children. She is ...

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Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is who I credit for awakening me to the reality of industrialized beef. After reading his book I purchased the more expensive grass-fed beef. I went so far as to purchase a quarter cow to obtain special cuts at reasonable prices.

No wonder Time listed him as one of the world’s hundred most influential people in 2010!

Michael Pollan has done it again with his latest release, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. His journalistic prowess combines with his love for learning in this inspiring look at his determination to break from our corporate food system and learn the art of food preparation.

To ferment your own food is to lodge a small but eloquent protest–on behalf of the senses and the microbes–against the homogenization of flavors and food experiences now rolling like a great undifferentiated lawn across the globe.

– Michael Pollan, Cooked

From the book:

“At a certain point in the late middle of my life I made the unexpected but happy discovery that the answer to several of the questions that most occupied me was in fact one and the same. Cook.”

And so the book opens with Pollan listing his reasons for venturing into the kitchen:

  • to improve his health
  • to connect with his teenage son
  • to reform the food system

In the process of documenting his adventures, Pollan shares a wealth of insight into a food system gone awry. In this book you’ll learn:

  • How and why the fictitious Betty Crocker emerged in our post-World War II era.
  • The truth about corporate food production and increasing reliance on salt and sugar.
  • The reasons industrialized bread makers leave out the wheat germ in their “whole-grain” flours.
  • How research suggests that our gut microbiota is closely connected with chronic inflammation.

Pollan divides the book into the basic elements of life: fire, water, air, and earth. He shows us the powerful transformation that occurs when each is used to create our own sustenance. The key, according to Pollan, is using the elements to our advantage–even if that means more time in the kitchen.

Mr. Pollan writes:

“It seems as though we can no longer imagine anyone but a professional or an institution or a product supplying our daily needs or solving our problems. This learned helplessness is, of course, much to the advantage of the corporations eager to step forward and do all the work for us.”

My favorite chapter discusses the hidden world of microbial food preparation. Pollan offers a carefully researched explanation of the body’s microflora and its ability to impact our health.

“Each of the various fermentation arts depends on not one but two subcultures, a microbial culture and ahuman culture. I would have thought that the industrialization (and pasteurization) of the modern food chain would have long since put both these cultures to rout. But in fact they are still very much alive and all around us, hidden in plain sight, awaiting just the right conditions, or questions, to reappear and revive.”

As we seek to revive sustainability and self-reliance, Cooked offers much-needed inspiration for a return to the “roots” of real food.

Have you read any of Michael Pollan’s books? How has he inspired you?

Photo credit: smithsonianmag.com