Monday, February 13, 2017


Michael Pollan always has great things to say about food. His books make me want to eat "good food". McDonald's tastes many times worse after reading the great things he was to say about quality food.

In Cooked, he looks at the ways that we have prepared food. He found the most common ways correspond with the "four elements": fire, earth, air and water. For Fire, we looks at BBQ, the most "masculine" way in which food is prepared. He tries out BBQ in North Carolina. Historically, it was done after a tobacco harvest and united the white and black residents. A whole pig was slow cooked over a natural fire. The places he tries adopt different parts of the "traditional" way as sacrosanct. For one, the wood is most important, for another natural (as opposed to feed-lot) port is important. The North Carolina definition of BBQ also differs from that of other regions. (In Texas it always seemed to be brisket) In ancient cultures, the butchering and cooking of animals often involved a priestly ritual. Today, it is often a man on his grill.

Food is typically boiled in water. The components are usually chopped into small pieces for a stew made by "grandma". Air transforms ground up grain and water into a delicious bread. (He takes a break to lambaste the insanity of us taking all the "healthy" parts out of flour only to add some back again.) Bread is made with the fermentation assistance of yeast - the representative of "earth". Fermentation is the final way in which food is often altered. Pickling, cheese-making and brewing all involve "Earthy" processes to transform food.

Today we miss out on many of the historic food producing processes. We stuff ourselves full of prepared food. Often this is done to "save time". However, this time savings can be a false hope. He did a test where everybody chose their own frozen entree from the grocery store. It took so long to get everyone's dish microwaved that the family of four was not able to eat together. Taking the effort to cook "from scratch" allowed them to eat together, and provided multiple meals. This becomes a central theme of the book. Cooking does take effort. But it also allows people to have positive experiences together cooking and eating. We would be better off if we did dedicate a little more time to quality food preparation.

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