2014 Non Fiction Recommended books

Cooked by Michael Pollan

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

Five words from the blurb: food, society, changing, basics, knowledge

It isn’t often that a book comes along and changes the course of your life, but that is exactly what happened when I read Cooked.

Michael Pollen is a journalist with a keen interest in food, especially our relationship with it. Cooked documents Pollan’s journey around the globe as he learns about the way different cultures cook, discovering valuable skills that the Western world are quickly forgetting. Pollan predicts that cooking will soon become a specialist skill and within a couple of generations it will be unusual for anyone to do more than reheat food within their home.

The book is divided into four sections: Fire (food cooked over a flame), Water (boiling), Air (bread and other foods using yeast to incorporate air) and Earth (fermentation of everything from cheese to vegetables). Michael’s passion for his subject oozes from the page. He was so inspiring that I instantly wanted to copy him. I didn’t have easy access to an entire pig and had nowhere to dig a pit to BBQ it so I started with fermentation. His arguments about the health benefits of naturally fermented food were powerful and I became saddened by the way our culture sanitises everything to the extreme, killing all bacteria without stopping to think about the fact our bodies need to work in harmony with it.

To ferment your own food is to lodge a small but eloquent protest – on behalf of the senses and the microbes – against the homogenization of flavors and food experiences now rolling like a great, undifferentiated lawn across the globe. It is also a declaration of independence from an economy that would much prefer we remain passive consumers of its standardized commodities, rather than creators of idiosyncratic products expressive of ourselves and of the places where we live, because your pale ale or sourdough bread or kimchi is going to taste nothing like mine or anyone else’s.

I tried to buy the equipment to begin fermenting food within my home, but realised it wasn’t available in the UK. It was then that I had a light-bulb moment and my life changed.

How My Life Has Changed

For the past few months I have been setting up my own company which will import and sell fermentation products in the UK. It is still early days, but I am loving the challenge of the new project. I hope to launch my new fermentation blog early in 2015 and begin to sell the equipment in April. I’ll let you know how it goes!

The Rest of the Book

The entire book was incredibly well researched and I loved the way Pollan made me think about food in a new light. He does an excellent job of explaining our changing relationship with food and the problems this causes for our society. I found the Water and Air sections slightly less interesting than the others, but this was probably because I am well informed in these areas so much of the information was not new to me.

I listened to the audio book version read by Pollan himself. I think this gave the book even more impact as his emotions came across strongly. His scientific knowledge was impressive and I loved the way everything was backed up with thorough research. My only criticism is that the book is US focused and I’d love to see how the statistics compare with those in the UK.

Overall I can’t complain though. This book has changed my life. My kitchen now smells of fermenting cabbage and I’ve been inspired to change my diet and the course of my life. No other book has ever come close to having that power on me!


Many thanks to Sandy for giving this book to me – it’s changed my life!!

18 replies on “Cooked by Michael Pollan”

I haven’t read any Michael Pollan in a while. And this one looks like it has a topic I haven’t read about much. I thought at first- I don’t think I’d ferment stuff! but- my parents used to make root beer at home. I know a guy who brews his own beer. And I’ve started trying to make bread from scratch again- a small thing, but a start. I don’t know a lot about it yet, so I’d probably find the “Air” section interesting.

Jeane, This is my first Pollan book, but I’m really keen to read more. Making bread is much harder than fermenting veg so I’m sure you’d be capable of doing it. I hope you decide to give it a try!

Wow Jackie – you have been busy – I shall look forward to hearing more about your new venture. Sadly, I hate pickled food of any kind – can’t stand vinegary, so I don’t think fermented food other than sourdough or booze will work for me. (I did brew my own beer at one time (with boyfriend of the time – even attempting a proper pilsener style lager once which was delicious but ended up rather strong!)

I read Pollan’s ‘In defence of food’ which was about encouraging us to eat real rather than processed foods – I’d certainly like to read more of his books.

Hi Annabel
I know a little about fermented food and have sampled it too. Forget pickles, it does not compare. Fermented vegetables are a different experience entirely, not vinegary and even though salt is involved in the process not overly salty. Eating fermented vegetables is a gentler experience, they are delicious and taste natural not peculiar. Carol

Annabel, It’s a shame you don’t enjoy fermented food, but perhaps I’ll be able to win you over with a gentler recipe at a later date.

I look forward to trying Pollan’s other books in the near future. Fingers crossed I enjoy them as much as this one :-)

Shows my ignorance of ‘fermented’ in culinary terms – it’s all linked with vinegar and alcohol in my mind, so all sauerkraut and rollmops!

I guess I should be thinking more in the line of tea-leaves etc???

Look forward to hearing a lot more about this.

What an amazing story! But I’m not surprised, because after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma I was inspired to cut way back on processed foods, so it really had an impact on me. I love Michael Pollan and I think his views on food just make good sense. I haven’t read this one yet, but now I am sure to! Good luck with your venture :)

threegoodrats, Thank you! Perhaps I should avoid reading any more of Pollan’s books for the moment as he’s so inspiring that I might be in danger of heading off on a totally different track!

Wow, congrats on your new business venture, Jackie! Amazing how a book changed your life so much.

I have this book on my to-read list since I enjoyed Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. He seemed to lean more towards a raw, vegetable-based diet in that book so I’m curious to see how he deals with that stance in a book dedicated to types of cooking.

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