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Book review: 'Cooked,' Pollan's new classic about food preparation, is a delicious delight

By Scott Livingston

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, April 30 2013 3:10 p.m. MDT

"COOKED — A Natural History of Transformation," by Michael Pollan, Penguin Press, $27.95, 480 pages (nf)

Michael Pollan believes not only that what we eat makes us who we are, but also how we eat it. This is the central premise of his excellent new book, “Cooked — A Natural History of Transformation.”

Similar in format to his widely praised best seller “An Omnivore’s Dilemma,” in “Cooked” Pollan takes the reader on the author’s personal attempt to understand why preparing our own food is so important to our health and to the strength of our culture and families.

Through the metaphor of the four fundamental elements, fire, water, air and earth, Pollan recounts his experiences attempting to learn such skills as how to barbecue a whole pig, how to properly prepare a stew, how to bake delicious bread and how to use different natural techniques to create delightful and surprising dishes. As always, his writing is engaging and informative.

One of the many pleasures of the book is Pollan’s breadth of coverage. On one page, he’s learning about the importance of wood in the fine art of slow-roasting a pig, and on the next page we’re transported to ancient China to learn about the obscure origins of cooking with fire itself.

Pollan’s curiosity is also a gift to the reader, as he isn’t content to watch others prepare something to eat. He shares his own efforts in “Cooked” to replicate what he has learned, with sometimes mixed and humorous results. The book even includes actual recipes from the masters Pollan meets along the way.

The core premise of “Cooked” is brought home again and again throughout the author’s journey. Spending time learning how to select and prepare the food we eat is a much more important practice than we may think. Pollan brings this home in a number of different ways, including how changing the way he thought about food preparation positively affected his own family.

Rather than allowing the fast food and food processing industries to have an ever-increasing say in what and how we eat, “Cooked” is an unapologetic polemic that argues — convincingly — that there is a much better way. Any reader interested in what they eat and where it comes from will find this new volume an absolute treasure. Pollan has again conjured a delicious and easily digestible classic.

If you go ...

What: Michael Pollan book signing and reading

When: Tuesday, May 7, 7 p.m.

Where: Rowland Hall, Lincoln Street campus, 843 Lincoln St., Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

Note: Tickets are required and the tickets are sold-out.

Scott Livingston blogs about the uphill climb of becoming a writer at sleye1stories.com. He blogs otherwise at sleye1.blogspot.com and can be occasionally found at facebook.com/sleye1stories

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