Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

Michael Pollan, Author
Michael Pollan. Penguin, $27.95 (480p) ISBN 978-1-59420-421-0
Compact Disc - 11 pages - 978-1-61176-143-6
Ebook - 464 pages - 978-0-14-197563-4
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Spurred by a number of objectives—improving his family’s general health, connecting with his teenage son, and learning how people can reduce their dependence on corporations, among others—Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma; In Defense of Food) came to the realization that he’d be able to accomplish all those goals and more if he spent more time in his kitchen. He began cooking. Divided into four chapters based on the four elements, Pollan eloquently explains how grilling with fire, braising (water), baking bread (air), and fermented foods (earth) have impacted our health and culture. In each case, Pollan examines the process as well as the science of barbecue, bread, and beer-making in addition to each particular method’s effect on humanity. Cooking over high heat, for example, enabled primates’ brains to grow much bigger and digest their food faster, making them more efficient; fermented foods like kimchi can promote and encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, a function that highly processed foods are unable to accomplish. These and other revelations (obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation, “microbiologists believe that onions, garlic and spices protect us from the growth of dangerous bacteria on meat,” which could explain why we are drawn to flavorful foods, etc.) make for engaging and enlightening reading. Liz Farrell, ICM. (May)
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