Book review: ‘Cooked’ by Michael Pollan

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

If you are satisfied with America’s move toward the fast-food diet, you don’t want to read this book. Michael Pollan isn’t. In fact, Pollan is concerned that people are forgetting how to cook and its obvious benefits, as increasingly food preparation is turned over to manufacturers. Is cooking really worth the time and trouble?

Pollan does cite what he regards as hopeful trends. The organic farm movement, a method of growing that tends to support smaller family farms, is gaining momentum. And perhaps healthier food. The much-publicized idea of having at least one family sit-down meal encourages a return to the kitchen. Food network’s increasing popularity suggests that more people are interested in food preparation. The amount of salt in processed food is constantly being cited as an area of concern. Pollan sees that concern as a positive. Yet the demand on our time remains a problem that the food manufacturers and fast-food restaurants are glad to solve.

As America has become more and more removed from food production, people’s concept of what food is has changed. What is the connection to nature; is nature even a factor in the burger we order? Something gave its life so that I could have a quarter pounder. Was it grass-fed beef or the product of forced feeding? What are French fries, really?

Michael Pollan set out to explore the art and skill of cooking in a hands-on manner but seeking out experts and being mentored by them. He was on a quest to explore cooking and develop what he found into a book. The book has four main sections: “Fire,” “Water,” “Air” and “Earth.”

In “Fire,” Pollan explores the concepts involved in cooking directly over fire; i.e., grilling in one form or another; animal plus fire plus time. He is particularly interested in the cooking of whole hog — the predominantly southern practice of barbecuing. “People have known that the smoke of roasting meat is pleasing to the gods at least since the Time of Genesis …. ” For this exploration, Pollan travelled to North Carolina. He also discusses how the use of cooking to aid digestion made the development of modern man possible.

Somewhat surprisingly, the section called “Water” starts by talking about chopping onions. It is less surprising when he explains that chopped onions tend to be called for in “pot” dishes: soups, stews, and braises. “Pot dishes make much more use of plants — vegetables, herbs, spices …. ” They often depend for flavor on their interdependence when combined with hot liquid and perhaps meat. Pot dishes are organized around these elements: Dice some aromatic plants; sauté them in some fat; brown pieces of meat; put everything in a pot; add a liquid; simmer below a boil for a long time. To learn this type of cooking, Pollan hired an expert chef to come to his house on Sunday afternoons and give him lessons

Air in cooking turns out to be the art of baking, primarily yeast baking, especially the capturing the wild yeast used in sourdough.

“One way to think about bread … is simply this: as an ingenious technology for improving the flavor, digestibility, and nutritional value of grass.” Pollan cites grasses: wheat, corn, and rice. Pollan’s primary tutor for bread was a book by Chad Robertson. Since Pollan had an ideal loaf in mind, he began by making a sourdough starter. Sourdough starter is designed to capture the wild yeast that exists in nature. The background of sourdough complete with a scientific explanation of sourdough is provided. Pollan also describes time spent in a bakery. Additionally, he explains what air has to do with it. Finally, he explains why we probably shouldn’t be satisfied with white bread.

The final section regarding cooking is named “Earth.” Much of his concern here is with fermentation. There is a discussion of raw milk cheese — before any pasteurization takes place. Alcohol uses the process of fermentation, as does several food products, most notably sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is usually processed somewhat differently today. It is important to note that fermentation was primarily used as a means of maintaining food value prior to refrigeration and modern canning methods. “Considered a method, or set of methods, for food processing — for turning the stuff of nature into safe, nutritious, durable and delicious things to eat — the ancient arts of fermentation have yet to be improved on.” The process is explored extensively.

The problem of time remains; Pollan does not solve that in “Cooked.” He apparently feels that when one cooks, the results deserve priority. “Each of the different methods I learned for turning stuff of nature into tasty creations of culture reflect a different way of engaging with the world …. ” Perhaps if you read the book, you will be motivated to turn the “stuff of nature into tasty creations.” There are some recipes at the end of the book.

Comments are closed.

  • Challenge Academy cadets volunteer in Ontario

    November 18th, 2020
    by

    Cadets from the Challenge Academy at Fort McCoy worked on removing junked items from the old Ontario Elementary School building, which will now serve as a community hall.


    Royall’s Gruen named WASDA’s Superintendent of the Year

    November 18th, 2020
    by

    The Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators has named Mark Gruen of the Royall School District as its 2021 Superintendent of the Year.


    Lofty goal set for Dec. 5 blood drive

    November 18th, 2020
    by

    The Wilton Community Blood Drive, along with the Brookwood High School FFA, will hold a joint blood drive on Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Wilton Community Center.


    Book review: ‘Bad Axe County’ by John Galligan

    November 18th, 2020
    by

    Sheriff Gibbs had died. Deputy Boog Lund had expected to be named interim sheriff. He wasn’t.


    Woman arrested after stabbing in rural Hillsboro

    November 18th, 2020
    by

    The Vernon County Sheriff’s Office received a report Nov. 11 of a stabbing at a residence on County Highway W in rural Hillsboro.


  • Man arrested in Elroy after pursuit that had begun in Kendall area

    November 15th, 2020
    by

    Anthony D. Springman, 22, of rural Tomah was arrested in Elroy on Saturday night after a vehicle pursuit that had begun in Monroe County.


    Scenic Bluffs offering help with ACA enrollment

    November 11th, 2020
    by

    Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers is offering assistance with Affordable Care Act enrollment from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.


    Brookwood Veterans Day program will be livestreamed

    November 10th, 2020
    by

    The Brookwood Veterans Day program will be livestreamed tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10:30 a.m. on the school’s YouTube channel.


    Book review: ‘Back Bay Blues’ by Peter Colt

    November 6th, 2020
    by

    Andy Roark is a Vietnam veteran. He had done the dangerous reconnaissance work required for air strikes on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.


    Brookwood to give one-act play performances in November

    November 6th, 2020
    by

    Brookwood will present the one-act play “Selfie” at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, and Saturday, Nov. 21, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22, in the Classic Gym.


    Local election results 2020

    November 3rd, 2020
    by

    Breakdown of local election results


  • Archives