So far, I am really enjoying Michael Pollan’s Cooked.
It is an interesting blend of a memoir, field research, philosophy and history. I’m sure there is more, but I’m still reading about authentic barbeque during the first section on FIRE. It has left me with a desire to learn more about ways I cook my food and also a desire to chow down on some real pit BBQ at Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina, which is one location Pollan went to study the art of whole hog barbeque. He certainly is detailed in his writing, which may leave some to feel certain parts are longwinded, but honestly, I’ve really enjoyed it.
The book connects cooking to our humanness and explains what a central roll the act of cooking food has played in our development as a species. The book has brought up a few interesting facts, such as half of women on an all raw food diet stop menstruating, and how the development of cooked food allowed humans to grow larger brains now that all their energy wasn’t focused in their stomachs trying to digest raw matter.
He dives into why cooking has fallen by the wayside in our everyday lives, but is escalating in interest in television and books. He touches on the popular excuse that people have about not cooking; the why bother school of thought. He says many people find it more beneficial to work an extra hour and then grab food from a restaurant, letting each person focus on what they do best. Though he discusses it at some length, one quote in the section stood out to me.
Specialization is undeniably a powerful social and economic force and yet it is also debilitating. It breeds helplessness, dependence and ignorance and eventually it undermines any sense of responsibility.
Clearly this discussion point could go deeper than a simply should I cook or not, but as a general fan of specialization for economic growth, I found this statement struck a chord in my passion for being self sufficient as a family unit.
Specialization undoubtedly has its benefits, but at what point are we trusting others too much? Do restaurants really know how to cook food best, or, like much of the food industry, is their goal more financially based? Aren’t they largely focused on serving customers food that tastes good to keep them coming back and spending more money? Would they choose the higher quality ingredients or would they opt for higher margins?
When we take on cooking for ourselves, the process begins before we start chopping in the kitchen. We take more care in choosing the ingredients, learning their origins, and transforming the raw ingredients into nourishment for ourselves and our families.
I think my strong feelings towards cooking embody my desire to take care of my family. Just like my Nannie always offers and urges us to get second helpings, food is one medium for showing people you love them and want to take care of them.
However, as with everything, there is always more to the story. I know people in today’s world have true obstacles for not cooking all meals from scratch, myself included. Also, one could argue that to truly make meals with integrity and take on the responsibility I spoke of before that you should also grow your own food and raise your own meat. Despite how much I long for a farm some days, how realistic is that?
Pollan certainly doesn’t argue that those extremes are necessary, but he does presents facts and ideas about our human ties to cooking that make me think.
I’m a quarter of the way through the book, but already I feel as though a fire has been lit under me to learn more about food, cooking and why I feel so strongly about them. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts on Cooked so far!
Has a book ever made you look more closely at the food you eat?
What about it struck you?