Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan

Dear Interwebs,
I am sorry to have neglected you for almost all of July, but I have been very busy.  The month started out with a little vacation in Wisconsin, during which I read Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and liked it enough to want to tell you about.

Taylor and I have spent the rest of the month moving into a new apartment (together!), which has meant a lot of cleaning, organizing, furnishing, etc. I have a few new DIY project to write about!  Luckily T and I have fairly similar design aesthetics, but we are still in hypothetical furniture land, which has meant eating dinner on weird pieces of furniture and piling clothes on the floor.  I struggled with both of these issues until this week, obsessively trolling craigslist for a dining room table and dresser that I both like and can afford.  This is the main reason why I have been such a terrible blogger.  Craigslisting is difficult!

However, Taylor (via Henry David Thoreau) has cured me of my #firstworldproblems obsession with finding just the right table right now. Taylor has been reading Walden aloud to me while I sew, and I have realized that I am being silly.  A man who has more things does not necessarily have more.  I, like Thoreau, would rather patch my clothes (or wear jeans so loved they are full of holes) than buy new ones.  Simple living it is, and furniture will come later. Besides, we don’t want to clutter up our living room with stuff we don’t need.

But I digress. I want to tell you about Michael Pollan’s most recent book and why you should read it.  

I first came across Pollan’s writings and philosophy in the NY Times Magazine piece “Some of my Best Friends are Germs,” in which he discusses what he learned while doing research for Cooked about the bacteria in our gut and why they are important.  Gut microbiology is an incredibly interesting cutting edge area of science.  After reading the article I was hooked, so I requested Cooked from the library.

Cooked is the sort of book that will make you look at what you eat in a different light. Without directly endorsing the real food movement, Pollan encourages you think about what exactly is in that packaged meal you are eating. If you look at the ingredients in a “simple” loaf of grocery store bread, you will find a lot more than just flour, yeast, salt, and water. Seriously, what is all that stuff? Why is it there? How does it impact our health/bodies? Cooked answers all of these questions.

The book is broken down into four sections: fire (bbq), water (braises), air (bread), and earth (fermentation).  Each is structured around Pollan’s experiences learning said method of preparing food as well as a wide range of social, scientific, and historical anecdotes. Although I find Pollan’s writing to be somewhat repetitive, his discussions are thorough and engaging; he’s not afraid of controversial food issues such as gender roles and (gasp) eating meat.

I personally found Cooked to be inspiring. It made me want to bake my own bread, and get around to making Julia Child’s beef bourguignon.  Also quit grad school, live on a farm, and make goat cheese. (OK not quite- but do I joke about this a little too often?)

Bottom line: Whether or not you agree with Pollan and even if you have no cooking skills, read this book because it will make you think.

Here are a few more reviews of Cooked from The Kitchn and Huffington Post and NY Times.  If you read it, let me know what you think!

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