Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

The first I heard about Cooked was on ABCs The Chew, a daytime television show that is part The View and part Rachael Ray. As a longtime Michael Pollan fan, I must admit that at first the context of the book didn’t interest me. Reading a book that investigates the history of food? No thanks. While most of my reading does revolve around food, it encompasses the topics of food politics and sustainable agriculture than anything else. Nevertheless, eventually I decided to give Cooked a read despite my convictions.

I’m glad that I did. Cooked takes a look at how the elements—Earth, air, water, and fire—are involved in the intricacies that take place in our kitchens. Beginning with barbeque, Pollan’s investigations continue on to stocks, perfecting the perfect loaf of bread, and mastering the art of fermentation. Cooked is part recount of Pollan’s investigation and part history lesson. True to his form, Pollan’s stories are thorough, witty, and will keep you turning the pages yearning for more.

What struck me in particular, and was ultimately the selling point for picking the book up in the first place, was the chapter about bread making. Learning to make beautiful breads is a personal goal of mine this year, so I enjoyed reading about Pollan’s journey, but more so the science and history that went along with it. As an avid baker, I know that baking is so intertwined with science, but most of the reactions and processes are unknown to the average home-baker such as myself. Cooked provides a thorough overview of just how the whole thing works, and it is much appreciated.

Cooked is a great read for anyone who is interested in food, but perhaps not a super-nerd such as myself who wants to take a thorough look at the politics. While the book does encompass a bit of this, it is more so a fantastic look at community building that making and sharing food is built on, both through history and the present.

This post first appeared on with wanderlust.


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