Book Review: Cooked

Cooked (2013) By Michael Pollan


“To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organise our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption.” – MIcahel Pollan.





I have to say this is one of my favourite authors, and while Michael Pollan isn’t personally paying me to tell you how amazing he is, it might come-off that way because of my genuine admiration. He would have to be one of the best writers of our time, and the fact that he writes and lectures about the complexity of food is just the icing on the cake in my opinion.

If you’re interested in conscious eating, and understanding the culture and nature of food, then Michael Pollan is a great starting point. His effortless writing gives a great understanding of the politics behind food in all its forms. Be it on your plate, on the farm or in your garden. He exposes all aspects of the frenzied traffic surrounding food to give a clear and eye-opening outlook we could all take a page from (literally).

In his most recent book: Cooked, Pollan delves into the natural history of transformation that is: Cooking. The book itself is divided into 4 parts: Fire, Water, Air and Earth. To which he begs the question ‘Why cook?’

Now while it may sound like this is another episode of Captain Planet, I urge you to reconsider.

Pollans’ primal approach with these 4 elements is essential to understanding the importance cooking has had throughout history, pre-science and specialization. Using Fire, Air, Water and Earth to explore different cuisines and cookery styles, Pollan gives advice on how we can live well and in communion with nature.

After a long bout of watching cooking shows and writing about the food industry it occurred to Pollan that he knew little about the middle links of the food chain ‘where the stuff of nature gets transformed into the things we eat and drink.’ Its in this book that he unpacks an inconsistency.

Why was it that when Americans abandoned the kitchen they became more engaged with consuming food media and less with preparing their own meals? By focusing on primary food produces and the art of cooking as the most interesting and worthwhile thing we humans do, Pollan uses this book to expose a disillusioned industry that wouldn’t have a clue how to cook, but has made a business out of processing.

After reading Cooked, you may find yourself craving raw milk cheese, some S.cerevisiae bacteria, pulled-pork and ‘Skeen’, the smell of cooking onions, a thick piece of Dave Millers whole-grain loaf and even a fermented bowl of cabbage. Cooked, presents an enriched collection of foods that will have your mouth dripping and your head thinking.

This book is read like a fly on the wall to Pollans journey through the fundamentals of cooking, making it all the more harder to not act on. We get to meet chefs and cooks from around the world, who master the elements, and learn from them the tricks of the trade.

So if you’ve always wondered how to perfect a braise, how to make a sourdough starter, cook an entire pig or make sauerkraut then I would highly recommend this read. Or if you have no idea what sauerkraut is or why a sourdough needs a ‘starter’ then all the more reason to read and learn from the best!

Cooking is a defining human activity, and it is in this book that we come to understand and give a high respect for this less sought after activity. Pollan asks us to join the makers of the world, and become self-reliant. So if you’re in search of some food independence read this book.

Buy Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013) by Michael Pollan here. Michael’s other bestselling books include ‘In Defense of Food’ & ‘The Omnivores Dilemma’