Books and Food – Michael Pollan’s “Cooked”


Last night I attended a book chat with Michael Pollan about his new book, “Cooked – A Natural History of Transformation.” I haven’t read it yet, but I now own the copy that was included in the ticket price for the evening. In the book, Pollan explores cooking as related to the four ancient elements – fire, water, air and earth. In each section he explores different ways of cooking – barbecuing with fire, boiling in water, raising bread dough with air and fermenting foods with bacteria.

A local independent bookstore, Left Bank Books, sponsored the book chat, along with Maryville University. The host of the local radio show, St. Louis on the Air, Don Marsh, conducted the interview, but it really was more of an informal chat, complete with audience questions. It was interesting to hear Pollan talk about the book in person, in a room full of people passionate about reading, cooking and eating.

I have heard of Michael Pollan, and his books before, including, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” I haven’t read any of his other books, but I have heard several interviews when he had new books published. To be honest, I was hesitant to read them because I knew they would make me face the problems with our corporate farms and industrial agriculture. I didn’t want to feel guilty every time I went to the grocery store instead of the farmers market. Now I think I have been missing out on some thought-provoking ideas that I need to explore.

I tend to listen to NPR podcasts while I work around the house or in the yard. No surprise, I listen to The Splendid Table, Good Food and food related stories NPR compiles. I also listen to Science Friday to try to expand my horizons beyond food just a little bit. Michael Pollan was on all of these, including Science Friday, in the last few weeks, talking about “Cooked.”

I was intrigued by the different takes each interviewer took toward the book and Pollan. Good Food had a two part interview, and I have only heard the first part, but it talked about fire and the importance cooking meat over it played in cultural changes. On The Splendid Table they talked about the role of cooking in everyday life, and how it has changed since World War II. Science Friday went into the science behind fermentation and the role that bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms play in both cooking and digestion. They delved deep into the mysteries and fascinations of the symbiotic organisms that live in our digestive systems and how we need to eat to help keep them healthy, which, in turn, makes us healthier.

I came home from the book chat ready to dive into the book and read the details behind the tantalizing tidbits I have heard so far. I think it will provide some food for thought (pun intended), and some inspiration in the kitchen. Stay tuned – I’ll post a review soon.


9 thoughts on “Books and Food – Michael Pollan’s “Cooked”

  1. I’m a big fan of Michael Pollan (and also love my local NPR station) ; it must have been great to see him in person!

    P.S. The coffee cake was fab-u-lous! Kind of ashamed to admit it’s already gone…; D

  2. Sarah,
    I like the thought-provoking-ness of In Defense of Food, it was a good gateway book for me into Pollan’s work. The kid’s version of Omnivore’s Dilemma was good too. I’ve got Cooked on my Kindle, but haven’t read it yet.


  3. I’ve enjoyed his writings, for years…starting w/ ‘Second Nature’…NPR fan, too! Also for YEARS!

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