Book: Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Publication date: 2013
Summary: Cooked by Michael Pollan looks at the transformation of ingredients into food by the four elemental forces — fire for barbecue, water for braises, air for bread, and earth for fermented products like sauerkraut and cheese.
Thoughts: I covered the first section on fire in last week’s post: Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan (Part 1) and it ended up including interesting observations on race in America. The second section on water tackles the issue of gender and cooking. Fortunately, a passage in the introduction assures that this topic is handled well:
To certain ears, whenever a man talks about the importance of cooking, it sounds like he wants to turn back the clock, and return women to the kitchen. But that’s not at all what I have in mind. I’ve come to think cooking is too important to be left to one gender or member of the family; men and children both need to be in the kitchen, too, and not just for reasons of fairness or equity but because they have so much to gain by being there. In fact, one of the biggest reasons corporations were able to insinuate themselves into this part of our lives is because home cooking had for so long been denigrated as “women’s work” and therefore not important enough for men and boys to learn to do. p. 10.
Several books together have me thinking about the nature of work and drudgery and creation and leisure. When I completed my Live Like Julia project a week ago, Live Like Julia — One Week Finished, a Lifetime to Savor, part of my reflection on a week of working hard actually came from Cooked. Michael Pollan says that our modern culture and economy have equated leisure with consumption. Creating something (say a blog or a piece of fan fiction or made-from-scratch stew), then, feels counter-culture. And, yet, aren’t most of us happier in a deep sense when we’re creating something than we are when we’re microwaving a frozen meal so that we have a few more hours to watch television?
What if we redefined leisure as the time you pursue your art?
I was surprised to learn from Cooked, that cooking, in fact, was not a chore that was hated by women. The drudgery of housework stopped at the kitchen door where tasks were considered mostly pleasant and satisfying. It just so happened that cooking was the first chore that manufacturers figured out how to take over — so, they set their marketing departments to work to make home cooking seem too old-fashioned and time-consuming to fit into the modern life.
As a formerly obese person, this passage might be my favorite in the whole book:
…obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation. The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity. p. 192
Yes, I spend more time cooking than I used to. And, a lot less time driving to fast food outlets, standing in lines at drugstores and gas stations to purchase candy, and sitting in restaurants while I wait for someone else to cook for me.
Next week, I’ll write about part 3 which is about bread — one of my favorite things to make!
Have you read this book? What did you think?
Look for more cooking posts at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads.