Featured Reviews, VOLUME 6

Michael Pollan – COOKED [Feature Review]

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1594204217″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41VKzhj8L6L._SL110_.jpg” width=”72″]PAGE 2: Michael Pollan – COOKED


In “Fire” we not only get the idea of a pig-roast, we get the reason that CAFOs – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – have driven out the need for local raising of pigs:


“The coastal plain of North Carolina is one of the sacrifice zones that Big Hog has consecrated to industrial pork production, a business that shrinks the number of farmers in a region even as it massively expands the population of pigs. Long before I registered the pheromone of barbecue, occasional passages of less winning animal odors assailed my nostrils as I navigated the gray roads leading into Ayden.”


“Fire” also explores the history of fire, how it revolutionized humans’ relationship to nature, sought to explain it as a gift from the gods, and tried to establish it both as a blessing and as a potential threat. The control of fire–and maybe this is why barbecuing is such an associated male activity–is such a “competitive male preserve” that, as Pollan states, we “should probably count ourselves lucky Freud isn’t around to offer his analysis of exactly what it is we’re up to.”



In “Fire” Pollan highlights something it seems he could learn from reading one of his many cooking books: to master the art of slow-cooking with “fire” you really use the remnants of a fire, the smoldering coals. And the crux in his own education–which Pollan fails to mention–is the extent to which he traveled to learn this, from Patagonia and the Basque Country to North Carolina.


“Water” is a chapter that focuses on the multitudinous ways that water helps aid or act as a critical ingredient in our cooking. Pollan highlights the onion and various plants, the lovely sautes and sauces many of us enjoy, and tells the reader, early on in the chapter, the first thing he learned:


“In the same way that the procedure for cooking over fire, if viewed from a sufficient distance, can be reduced to a single basic recipe (animal plus wood fire and time), so, it turns out, can cooking with water in pots. If you thumb through cookbooks from every imaginable culinary tradition, the variations seem infinite, and though there are a million different ways to make a stew or braise or soup, the underlying structure, or syntax, of all these dishes is very nearly universal.”


In “Water” we meet a former student of Pollan’s, Samin Nosrat, who was also a student at Chez Panisse, and later a yoga practitioner. Nosrat helps Pollan see the parallels between sauteeing onions and yoga, that they both involve the three p’s: patience, presence, and practice. As Pollan says, “Practice in chopping them, patience in sweating them, and presence in keeping an eye on the pan so that they didn’t accidentally brown if the phone rang and you permitted yourself a lapse in attention.”


Throughout “Water” Pollan focuses on the cooking pot and just what the use of pots has allowed us to do:


“Cooking food in pots also helped expand the human population, by allowing for earlier weaning of children (thereby increasing fertility) and a longer life span, since both the very young and the very old could now be fed soft foods and nutritious soups out of the pot, no teeth required…In all these ways, the pot, by domesticating the element of water, helped us to leave behind hunting and to settle down.”


That is some of Pollan at his best, even though he is getting at the idea of water indirectly.

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