Reviews of Cooked
It’s not often that a life-changing book falls into one’s lap. Especially, it has to be said, with “The New York Times No 1 Bestseller” splashed across the front. Yet Michael Pollan’s Cooked is one of them. One it’s impossible to read and not act on.
A major work by an interesting thinker, this genre-busting volume will someday become a standard text in a standard university department – though no satisfactory one yet exists – that will teach and research the discipline of "Food Studies", encompassing economics, history, philosophy, anthropology, several fields of life sciences and the humanities.
Mr Pollan recognises that cooking today is very different from what it was in his grandmother’s time, and that decades from now even a limited desire to cook may be seen as quaint. This would be a shame. Real cooking (not just heating up) allows people to create, to put their own values into food, to escape the industrialised eating that has created health crises all over the world. Cooking is part of being human. The alternative is to evolve into passive consumers of standardised commodities that promise more than they deliver. Best of all, argues Mr Pollan, cooking makes people happy.
Before reading Michael Pollan’s latest foray into food — “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” — I never would have thought a book with recipes could also brilliantly and coterminously fire one’s sense of moral comprehension and political imagination. Toss in a shot of spiritual zeal, and you have that rare, ranging breed of narrative that manages to do all of this, and then some.
“Cooked” is vintage Pollan — lucid, vivid, nimbly associative, insightful and just plain fun to read. It’s unlikely to spark a shift in consciousness, the way “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” did. Still, any Pollan vintage is an occasion for celebration, and this one is the perfect accompaniment, indeed the inspiration for, some terrific home-cooked meals (there are even recipes at the back).
The seven most famous words in the movement for good food are: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” They were written, of course, by Michael Pollan, in “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” the follow-up to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Now Pollan might add three more words to the slogan: “And cook them.” Because the man who so cogently analyzed production and nutrition in his best-known books has tackled what he calls “the middle link in the food chain: cooking.”
Ultimately, he makes the case that cooking is a political act, one that declares our resistance to the “learned helplessness” that the food industry likes to insist requires an outsourcing of dinner. “To cook for the pleasure of it,” he writes, “to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption.”