Cooked by Michael Pollen {Book Review}

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you’ve probably heard me complain about the horrible traffic on my daily commute at some point. Sorry about that. I try to stay positive on here but sometimes a girl just needs to vent.

Anyway, I thought if I bought an audiobook to listen to while I drive that it would help distract me from the madness and stimulate my gyri and sulci enough to make me love staring at brake lights for almost two hours everyday.

I haven’t read any of Michael Pollen’s books before this one but I heard great things about them and thought to myself, why not start by listening to his brand new book Cooked?


Brief Summary

Cooked is written and narrated by Michael Pollen who dissects the transformation of cooking through the four classic elements: fire, water, air, and earth.

His research begins with fire as he travels to North Carolina to learn about the traditional methods of barbeque from a well known pit master. From there, he’s back in Northern California (his home) learning about the art of braising (water) from a student of his who worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. He then transitions to air and delves into the many complexities of bread making, including his intimate relationship with sourdough as he observes the owner of the renowned bakery in San Francisco, Tartine. Lastly, as he touches on the element of earth, he discovers the magic of fermentation and it’s role in human health and digestion.

Besides his analysis of of the classical elements, Pollan also draws attention to the role that cooking has in relationships as it provides a way for families to come together and connect with one another. In addition, he points out the many health benefits from cooking a homemade meal as opposed to eating processed, readily available foods.

My Review

When I first listened to a sample of Cooked on Audible, I was immediately drawn in by the beginning because it touches on how the tradition of cooking has transformed over the last fifty years due to the drastic changes in gender roles in the average American household.

Instead of staying at home to tend to cooking and cleaning, women are now working full-time alongside men while (in most cases) continuing to do the majority of the cooking and cleaning required at home. In the midst of these changes, the American food industry took it upon themselves to offer a solution for this problem by developing a wide array of fast food options and frozen meals that are ready to be microwaved and served within minutes.

This particular topic struck a chord with me since cooking at home is something I am very passionate about but also something, as a woman who works outside of the home 40+ hours a week, I struggle to find time for.

Although he doesn’t offer a direct solution to this problem, he brings light to the simplicity of cooking and points out that it can actually be an activity that families can do together instead of watching television or playing on the computer. He also states that as a male, he enjoys cooking and thinks it should be a role both genders take on, not just one or the other.

After the introduction, the book enters the fire element which I have to admit, I completely lost interest in. Hopefully I’m not offending anyone when I say this but roasting pigs over an open flame in a hot room full of smoke so thick you can barely see is exactly how I would imagine Hell to be. No thanks.

My favorite part was the third section of the book (air) as it traverses every step that goes into the bread making process. I loved listening to his experiences with sourdough starter and his time at Tartine, a bakery in San Francisco I hope to visit some day soon.

What I especially enjoyed about this section was the information Michael Pollen provides regarding our nation’s adoration for white bread and the resulting damage it has had on our health.

From this section, I learned that as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension began to sky rocket among Americans, the government tried to solve the problem by adding back the healthy nutrients that are removed from the grain in the process of making white flour. The result of this is known as enriched flour. In addition, I learned that after the bran and germ (the healthiest parts of the grain) are removed, they are eventually sent to feed livestock or to be made into supplements for us to consume in place of the nutrition that our food lacks.

I found this to be shocking and appalling. Consumers are eating white bread and then buying supplements (from the same wheat) to make up for the lack of fiber and nutrition in their diet. Rather than sell one healthy product in it’s original state, they are turning it into three in order to make the most profit. Jeez Louise!

Finally, the last section goes deep into the process of fermentation which I found incredibly fascinating. It made me love tempeh, wine and cheese even more than I did before and it got me thinking about giving Kombucha a second shot. (My first impression of it wasn’t very good.)

In conclusion, I thought this book was full of great information and I really enjoyed learning new things from it.

However, I will say that it is very long winded at times so I don’t recommend listening to it as an audiobook unless you want something to coerce you into an afternoon nap as soon as you get home.


Have you read any of Michael Pollen’s books?

Do you try to avoid white and enriched flours?