Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
An MMD Summer Reading Guide pick. Cooked documents the middle link of the food chain: what happens to our food after it comes out of the ground, but before it enters our bellies. The journalistic narrative is elegantly divided into four parts, each exploring a different classical element: fire, water, air, and earth. It gets a little science-y in places, yet it remains thoughtful, wise, and (unexpectedly) funny.
Michael Pollan, the bestselling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules, and How to Change Your Mind, explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen in Cooked.
Cooked is now a Netflix docuseries based on the book that focuses on the four kinds of “transformations” that occur in cooking. Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney and starring Michael Pollan, Cooked teases out the links between science, culture and the flavors we love.
In Cooked, Pollan discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.
Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse–trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius “fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships. Cooking, above all, connects us.
The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.