Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan (Part 4)
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: Did anyone notice that I abandoned my four-part review of Cooked by Michael Pollan after the third part? I got distracted by the release date for Julia Child Rules by Karen Karbo (Book Review: Julia Child Rules by Karen Karbo and Q&A with Karen Karbo, author of Julia Child Rules) and the book club date for The Kitchen Reader (Book Review: Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin).
Here are my first three parts of a review of Cooked:
- Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan (Part 1), about barbecue with interesting observations about race in America.
- Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan (Part 2), about braising with interesting observations about gender and cooking.
- Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan (Part 3), about baking bread
Part 4 is about fermentation and it was the most inspiring part for me to make a change in my kitchen. It turns out that the war we humans have been waging on bacteria for the past century had a very harmful effect — the good bacteria in our gut is under siege. We no longer have the diversity or quantity that our ancestors had and it turns out those bacteria are vital to our health.
In fact, the whole way we think of the human organism is changing:
To their surprise, microbiologists discovered that nine of every ten cells in our bodies belong not to us, but to these microbial species (most of them residents of our gut), and that 99 percent of the DNA we’re carrying around belongs to those microbes. Some scientists, trained in evolutionary biology, began looking at the human individual in a humbling new light: as a kind of superorganism, a community of several hundred coevolved and interdependent species. p. 323
Of most interest to me, these microflora may influence weight regulation. Obese individuals have different bacteria in their gut than slim ones. There is also evidence of a probiotic species that produced lower stress levels in mice.
Studies like this one make you wonder if it might someday be possible to cultivate, or garden, our microbiota, altering its makeup to improve our physical and possibly also our mental well-being. pp. 328, 329
I’m fascinated by the idea that I could cultivate a healthy and diverse crop of microflora in my gut and that the effort might result in easier weight maintenance, improved mood, reduced allergy symptoms, and other benefits. I already eat yogurt and cheese, but the best way to introduce live-culture foods in my diet might be with sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables. A footnote quote even claims that the case can be made for making your own fermented vegetables so that the bacteria reflect the local strains in your environment, kind of like eating local honey as a way of exposing yourself to the pollen in your area.
Part 4 of Cooked has lovely passages about cheese (which were interesting to read at the same time as this book: The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison) and beer, but I came away wanting to learn to make my own sauerkraut.
Have you ever fermented vegetables? What book do you suggest as a starting point?
Cooked is the 11th book for my Foodies Read 2013 Challenge — my goal was 14 to 18, so this is still possible.
Look for more cooking posts at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads.
I’ve never made sauerkraut, but we’ve made pickles, kimchi, and other pickled veggies. I haven’t done this in years, but my husband spent years in pursuit of the perfect homemade dill pickle! I don’t can anymore, so I no longer make pickled foods. Now you have me wondering if I should start again.
Very interesting Joy. I have come across many recipes on pinterest on how to make your own cheese, apple cider vinegar etc. and thought I might like to be brave and try some. I’ve only ever made pickles for canning.
I really want to try fermenting something. I actually get a newsletter from a company that specializes in it, but I haven’t been brave enough to try it yet – beyond making yogurt. I didn’t realize there were so many benefits to fermented food, like the mood improvement.
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You have the best detailed book reviews. I love how you explored all parts of the book and broke it into different posts!
Do dill pickles count as fermented vegetables? We have been reading and hearing a lot about intestinal issues over the last couple of years and it’s gross, but also intriguing to think about growing healthy bacteria or “recolonizing your gut”. I know I heard a segment on making your own kimchi on The Splendid Table, but I haven’t tried it. We’ve done marinated cucumber salads, etc. but I don’t think that’s the same thing?
You can make fermented dill pickles, but dill pickles that you buy generally aren’t fermented. Here’s a good resource on pickling and fermentation: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/the-crucial-difference-between-pickled-and-fermented/
I love marinated cucumber salads, but unless they are left on the counter to ferment, it’s not the same thing.
Wow, what an interesting concept about microflora. Once again, you have given me something to ponder.
I’ve never done any pickling or anything, but have thought about it. Your review makes me want to try it asap!
Interesting!! Hub and I were just discussing the rise of allergies yesterday (after reading Jama’s post) and the effect of too much sterilization In our society. You have me very curious about this section of the book–especially given my husband’s food allergies.
Michael Pollan’s name looks so familiar. Maybe he has other books like this one. I see you mentioned sauerkraut in passing. I love sauerkraut, but no one else in my family likes it.