As it pertains to food, Michael Pollan has covered politics, agriculture, nutrition and biology.
But the Omnivore’s Dilemma author never addressed the topic that, to many of us, would seem most focal to the discussion of food: cooking.
His new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation ($28), rights that oversight. Pollan’s central premise is that the act of cooking is the bridge between nature and culture. To explore this conceit, he breaks up cooking by its four natural sources of manipulation--fire, water, air and earth--and sets out to learn the ins and outs of each methodology.
The result is a book that is a cross between Guns, Germs, and Steel and Heat. There are accounts of his firsthand cooking apprenticeships: baking bread with Tartine Bakery’s Chad Robertson, or cooking whole-hog barbecue in Wilson, North Carolina.
These accounts beget heady discussion of cooking as a cultural study. Pollan questions the shrinkage of minutes spent in the kitchen, even as we’re more interested than ever in watching cooking happen. He tackles the specialization of labor by gender or skill set or wealth, complemented by the human need to be a producer and not just a consumer. And he realizes the generosity of the act of making someone a meal.
So the next time you take up in the kitchen, just consider: You’ll be a fuller human for it.