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 4: Michael Pollan – COOKED


In describing fermentation Pollan writes,


“The bacteria responsible for the fermentation were wild strains of lactic acid bacteria already present on the raw vegetables[.] These bugs are halophilic (salt-tolerant) anaerobes, so thrive in the airless saline niche the pickler has created for them in the brine. They get right to work eating the sugars in the vegetables, multiplying furiously, and releasing copious amounts of lactic acid–which they produce for the purpose of poisoning their competitors.”


Perhaps the great downfall of “Earth” is its overly scientific tone. The writing in this chapter kept me referring to dictionaries to remind myself of what each process in each step of fermentation entails. Pollan does little to help aid the reader, which leaves and unsatisfying taste in the reader’s mouth given that this is the last chapter in the book.



After reading Pollan’s leviathan of a book (the book totals close to 450 pages) the reader is not only exhausted, but a little uncertain of what he has just read. Is it a treatise on cooking? Is it a scientific examination of the elements? Is it part political diatribe and food history? It, of course, is all these things. It could be an enriching and education experience, showing how the web of complexity has made it difficult for modern Americans to reassert their authority in their own kitchens, but it is not. The book could have used heavy edits, a narrower focus, and a more clear picture of what Pollan was after.


At the end of the reading I felt not only like I was not wiser for the wear, but that Michael Pollan was not quite sure what he wanted me to take away from the book. There are moments of great insight and paragraphs of good writing, but without marking points to help guide the reader, it seems that the overall reading experience leaves one disappointed.


C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

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