Hence Cooked (Review of Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation)

Or is Emily Matchar reading challanged?

Cooked400x290I cannot thank Emily Matchar enough for making me take up Michael Pollan’s Cooked for immediate reading. Of course, I’d have picked it up sooner, rather than later, as I’m an unabashed Pollan fan. But Matchar’s piece in Salon (actually the headline), really made me take notice of the book.

Matchar’s piece, is of course, not about Cooked. But it’s timing is curious. Just within week or so of the book’s publication comes the sensational headline. What’s more, lot of quotations used by Matchar (selectively and incompletely at that, but we’ll get to that), are from Pollan’s older New York Times piece “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch” — which, incidentally is one of the originating material for Cooked.

Enough about Matchar. For now, at least.

Michael Pollan came into limelight thanks to this seminal work “Omnivore’s Dilemma“, a book that took a hard look at American food culture. Anyone who is reading this probably knows that already. But while Omnivore’s Dilemma got us interested in culture of food — the what, the how, the whys of it — Cooked hopes to gets us interested in, you guessed it, cooking. And for that reason alone, it’s a must read book.

Cooked is divided into four parts, and chronicles Pollan’s attempts to learn elements of cooking — fire, water, air, earth. Yes, with Pollan, everything is philosophy, and that can be a turn-off for some. But I think the sections work well, and Pollan covers the basics of different types of cooking methods. In a sense, it’s a meta book about cooking. It’s mostly not about recipes, but rather about the logic/traditions behind whole genres of recipes, and histories of different food cultures/sub-cultures, and impacts of some of the changes to those food cultures.

From a journey to find trails of Southern barbecue, to the pot based cooking — soups and stews, that he meticulously learned for weeks on end, to the art of baking bread — sourdough, whole wheat and so on, to fermented foods, Pollan covers a vast cooking landscape, enlightening and entertaining us with digressive stories, social criticism, and philosophical reflections — sometimes stretching the symbolisms too far, admittedly.

In a nutshell, though, Cooked is written to get people interested in the activity of cooking that we’re losing touch with, and when Pollan says that, he’s not talking about a specific set of human beings. He is encouraging everyone, including kids and men, to cook more at home, and he makes a darn good case.

And that brings me back to Emily Matchar, and other criticisms of Pollan for his alleged “sexism”.

Actually, that could be an excellent ‘other’ post which I have now resigned to not writing anymore. It’s not worth it. Just a quick read of Cooked would clear it all up. While going through the comment section of the Matchar article I came across a lot of comments that seemed to be convinced just based on some out of context quotes that Pollan is indeed a sexist and his book somehow demonized/belittles feminism. And that it’s a privileged position of sorts that Pollan is taking. All these require defending. But then I’d rather people just read it for themselves. They don’t know what they’re missing.


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