Tag Archives: Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan – Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013)

CookedHaving been a huge fan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I decided to read another book penned by Michael Pollan. While his previous work was more of an investigative piece, this book is more about the history and science surrounding the way we eat. Split into four section, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, Pollan speaks about how important these four elements are to the way we cook our food.

He begins with fire, writing about the ways in which humans learned to cook with fire and the religious importance that fire held in traditional societies, especially when it came to animal sacrifice. He mentions the cooking hypothesis, the idea that cooking is what makes us different from animals, and talks at great length about the history of BBQ, from the racial tensions imbedded in the idea of “Southern BBQ,” to the ethical treatment of pigs, tying this work to his research in The Omnivore’s Dilemma,

While cooking with fire, especially smoking meat and BBQ with the highly ritualized pitmaster, has a more masculine tone, the second section of this book looks at the types of cooking deemed more feminine, mostly cooking with water. Not only does cooking with water often take more time (braises, stews, and other slow forms of cooking), but it is also more often then not carried out within the confines of a kitchen, as opposed to cooking with fire which takes place outside. The use of pots and pans for cooking is an important step in human evolution, but also brought cooking into the feminine domain.

The last two sections of Air and Earth focuses more on the science of food and how the food we eat embodies both life and death. With Air Pollan talks about making bread and how tricky it is to develop a “starter” in order to bring bread to life. This section also got very scientific dealing with the differences between whole grain and white grain, to how gluten intolerances work. Since I am obsessed with fermentation, I loved the Earth section, especially when Pollan learns to make cheese with the cheese nun. Foods like cheese and yogurt and other things created from bacterial cultures are essentially decaying, and remind us of our own mortality.

I really love the way Pollan writes, and his breakdown of this book into four elemental sections works to his advantage. Each section is accompanied by its own list of resources and recipe, which I will be trying soon. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the history or science behind the way we cook.

Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006)


In this book about how humans eat, Pollan provides a solid look at the history and the different traditions which have brought us (North Americans) to where we are today in terms of the food we consume. Pollan does his best to include a good overview of the different “food systems” active on the continent; industrial food, organic food, and food we forage ourselves. The end product is a critique of the American way of eating.

In recent years there have been a number of documentaries and books critical of the fast food industry, (Supersize Me, Food Inc., Fast Food Nation, etc.) but Pollan goes into even more detail looking at the history of corn in American to the way animals are treated. Corn is the cornerstone of the industrial food market as it has changed the way animals, as well as humans eat. Animals evolved to eat grass, but more than half of a feedlot’s cow’s food comes from corn. That cows become sick from eating too much corn is just one example of the many abuses feedlot animals experience.

Pollan also writes at length about the industrial-organic complex, which for me was a real eye-opener. Pollan uses Whole Foods as a proxy to write about how the marketing geniuses peddle an irresistible commodity: self-satisfaction. Because “Organic” or “free-range” is not regulated, companies and businesses can practically slap a label on anything they choose. He found that the “free-range” chicken on offer, actually hails from a confinement operation, and one box of California-produced organic lettuce requires 4,600 calories of fossil fuel to process and ship to the East Coast.

In contrast to the industrial-organic complex, Pollan also interviews local farmers and people who forage food themselves. For one of his meals he kills a pig himself and describes the experience as almost religious; having killed the animal with his own hands, Pollan wanted to honour it by making it delicious to eat.

This book was eye-opening. While I had some knowledge about the fast food industry the information Pollan provides about the industrial-organic food complex was really shocking. I will be thinking twice next before buying anything labeled organic, and my try instead to shop locally at markets.