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Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  16,724 Ratings  ·  1,695 Reviews
“Important, possibly life-altering, reading for every living, breathing human being." -- Boston Globe

In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing
Hardcover, 468 pages
Published April 23rd 2013 by The Penguin Press HC (first published 2013)
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Nov 23, 2012 Jenne marked it as didnt-finish
Shelves: arc, nonfiction
So as background, let me tell you a little bit about the day I started/gave up reading this book.
I woke up in my tiny (494 sq ft) 1920s-era house in a walkable urban neighborhood. As I went outside to water my vegetable garden and take out the recycling, I saw my neighbor had returned my pie plate (I'd brought him the leftovers of my contribution to a pre-thanksgiving potluck) and also left me a mason jar of homemade spiked cider. Then I walked up the block to the coffee cart on the corner, whe
Mar 02, 2014 Carmen rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone Interested in Food
Air elevates our food, in every sense, raises it from the earthbound subsistence of gruel to something so fundamentally transformed as to hint at human and even divine transcendence. Air lifts food up out of the the mud and so lifts us, dignifying both the food and its eaters. Surely it is no accident that Christ turned to bread to demonstrate his divinity; bread is partially inspired already, an everyday proof of the possibility of transcendence.

Mmmmm-hmmmmm, sure, Michael Pollan. Doesn't this
Petra Eggs
1. Michael Pollan is a clever man, and a cheerful one.
2. MP does a lot of research.
3. MP is very wordy because he wants you to know the he is a clever man who does a lot of research and is a cheery chappy, not a depressive old so-and-so who edits his work down to the bone,
4. MP is very well off and thinks his readers are too and live in areas where there are lots of organic farms and farmers' markets because that's where he shops and you should too.

I got so bored reading this very worthy book th
May 04, 2013 Jessica rated it it was amazing
This is less a review of the book and more a response to other people's critiques of 'Cooked'.
Anyone who tells you that this book is simply a rehash of 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' never made it past the second page.
Having read 'Second Nature', 'Botany of Desire', 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' and 'In Defense of Food' (in that order), 'Cooked' reads much less like he is treading old ground and more like he is building on previous themes. One could argue that 'In Defense of Food' and 'Food Rules' are both
May 01, 2013 Judy rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: cooks, Pollan fans
The title, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, says it all. Pollan takes the reader on a food trek: a limited historical account, his own account of transformation into a better cook plus documentation of how processing has transformed the foods of the world.

I hesitantly picked this book up, afraid that it would be dehydrated, monotonous detailing of the history of food. No bologna! that is not the case. Pollan dishes up a nicely seasoned balance of his own personal story, food industr
Apr 08, 2013 Katie rated it really liked it
I wanted to love this book so badly and there are definite 5-star parts to it, but there are also 1-star parts. Parts that I, admittedly, skimmed through. I suppose that is to be expected in a book covering so many topics. The book is divided into 4 parts - earth, air, fire, and water - and I while I understand and can see the appeal of this, I oftentimes felt that the connections were tenuous, at best. For example, there is an obvious connection between roasting a pig and fire. However, the inc ...more
Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
Michael Pollan is one of my very favorited people. This is not my favorite of his books- however, it's still a good book. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't gotten on one of my OCD sprees last year and read everything I could about food. So this book for me was going over old ground.

I did like the BBQ (fire) chapters, except they made me hungry.

I loved the Bread (air) chapters, except they made me hungry.

I liked the brasing (water) chapters, they did make me hungry.

The fermentatio
Renee Dechert
Feb 14, 2013 Renee Dechert rated it really liked it
I'm a fan of Michael Pollan, both because of his fine writing and the food politics he espouses. In _Cooked_, he turns his attention to the four elements of cooking -- fire, air, earth, and water- -- and gives the reader a new look into the western food culture. The book is not only food memoir but also a heavy dose of philosophy, literary studies, history, and anthropology as Pollan illustrates the tangled cultural web of the food we eat. At times, this gets a bit ponderous though the point is ...more
Greta Fisher
Apr 24, 2013 Greta Fisher rated it it was amazing
Another excellent and inspiring book by Michael Pollan. Every topic is heavily researched -apparently for the sheer joy of it- and Pollan's enthusiasm is highly infectious. I've got a 100% whole wheat sourdough started (rather than a mix of white & wh.w.) am determined to make my own kimchi and feel inspired to make homemade mozzarella again. As for home made beer, I have a hunch any batch would explode spectacularly in the Texas summer heat-in spite of AC-. A project for late fall perhaps. ...more
Jan 09, 2014 Sara rated it it was amazing
Not only was this book about transformations in cooking, it was a transformative book for me. After reading this book, I had an uncontrollable urge to bake bread (hello whole wheat hamburger buns!) and start fermenting my own cucumbers.

I picked this up at the library because of the title. I had never read a book by Michael Pollan, I had no idea he was one of Time magazines most influential people of the year back in 2010. Now I can see why. He certainly influenced me.

This is a well written book.
Crystal Starr Light
Bullet Review:

I didn't like it as much as The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. And that's really what it boils down to in a sentence. Since I rated TOD 4 stars, this gets 3 stars to differentiate (though it ranks better than the other 3 stars it's grouped with - damned rating systems!).

Some general problems:

+ The tenuous relationship each element has to the supposed cooking method. Fire = barbecue, for sure, but fire is also critical in boiling and, duh, baking. Pollan spends
Apr 08, 2013 kelly marked it as to-read
Shelves: science, food-cooking
This book has pasta on the cover so it must be good.
Nathaniel Moger
Apr 23, 2013 Nathaniel Moger rated it it was amazing
This was an awesome read, and well worth the effort to borrow and devour.

Michael Pollan took a lesson from his last book - that if you eat whatever you make with your own two hands, you will be healthy - and applied it. Here, he takes the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth, and cooks four types of food with those elements. For fire, he apprenticed himself with a Carolina barbecue pit master. In the water section, he learned to braise from an Iranian immigrant who worked at Chez Panisse
Oct 24, 2013 Patrizia rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book, I really did, but in fact, I loathed it for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. The best I'd been able to come up with was the thought that each individual sentence had too much Béarnaise sauce, which meant I could not read it in my preferred fashion -- which is basically to lock myself in a room for three days and read it straight through. At a certain point, the complexity of Pollan's sentences started to make my eyes glaze over. Of course, one could argue that ...more
Lynn Buschhoff
Jul 25, 2013 Lynn Buschhoff rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: foodies, cooks, sensualists, health nuts, and cultural philosophers.
This book includes two of my favorite things- philosophy and food. The first chapters are a bit off-putting- a bit too much philosophy, but starting with the chapter "Fire" I had a difficult time putting the book down. Food is such a complex part of our life- we need it, it takes our precious time to prepare it, if we choose the wrong food it can make us fat and unhealthy and yet...

Food preparation is a sensuous , zen-like necessary art. I'm not much of a meat eater, but Fire was something i wan
Jenny (Reading Envy)
For readers familiar with Michael Pollan, his writing style will come as no surprise. It's true that this book goes into the specifics of four elements in cooking, but in each he spends considerable time on background and related topics. I'm not sure I should have listened to the audio because when it started to get repetitive I couldn't skim like I would in the print. I just had to take my time listening, which can be hard with a 3 mile commute, but I definitely learned some things. And man did ...more
Graham Crawford
Aug 05, 2013 Graham Crawford rated it really liked it
If someone had said to me last week, "You'll be up all night reading about flour!" I would have laughed.

Today, yawning- from tiredness not boredom, I put down "Cooked", a book so packed with entertaining information my brain felt like Creosote's stomach in the Monty Python sketch:

Maitre D: Oh sir... it's only *wafer* thin.

Mr Creosote: Look - I couldn't eat another thing. I'm absolutely
stuffed. Bugger off.

Maitre D: Oh sir, just... just *one*...

Mr Creosote: Oh all right. Just one.


Sharmila Mukherjee
Apr 01, 2013 Sharmila Mukherjee marked it as to-read
In “Cooked,” Pollan returns to the multi-part, nature-meets-culture narrative style of his previous books, “The Botany of Desire” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Each section of the book tells of Pollan’s efforts to master a recipe using one of the four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. He learns the art of cooking with fire from a North Carolina pit master, and of water from a Chez Panisse–trained cook who teaches him how to braise. He learns how air transforms flour and water to make bread, ...more
Shannon Dillman
Apr 23, 2013 Shannon Dillman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: health
Hard to put down. I'm a seasoned home cook/blogger. I make my own pastas, cheeses and pretty much everything from scratch. I love reading his thoughts, and experiences. I wish I could take a day or two off of work to devour this straight through. I was lucky enough to get a signed book plate from him. :)
Bill Palladino
Dec 19, 2013 Bill Palladino rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction

December 19, 2013 · by localdifference · in Bill Palladino, Book Reviews, Books/Reading, Food Policy · Leave a comment ·Edit
By Bill Palladino

“Alone among the animals, we humans insist that our food be not only ‘good to eat’ —tasty, safe, and nutritious— but also, in the words of Claude Levi-Strauss, ‘good to think,’ for among all the many other things we eat, we also eat ideas.”

My first Michael
May 30, 2013 Kam rated it it was amazing
Late last year I, along with my mother and father, took a blood test to check for any health issues that might have cropped up over the previous year, as well as to check up on pre-existing conditions. The latter was mostly for my parents, but it was also important that I get my blood tested to make sure I hadn't developed any conditions of my own. My tests from the year before last, when my mother started encouraging us to do this, had come back clean, and I was fully expecting these tests to c ...more
Aug 16, 2013 Cat rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book *so much*. Yes, it's grandiose (divided into the four primal elements--fire, water, air, earth) and sometimes simplistic (if you cook your own food, you are opting out of our corporate-consumerist culture? really? more on this later), but it's so much fun! First of all, it's fun to read about the experience of cooking, and Pollan is winningly self-deprecating and evocatively descriptive. Second of all, the fire, water, air, earth division really works in drawing attention to ...more
Sep 30, 2013 Darren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Talk about hitting the nail squarely on the head, the publicity material for this thought-provoking book gets it right and sets the tone - more and more are we reading about/watching about food and cookery, it is easier and easier to get ingredients from anywhere in the world yet as a society we eat more and more processed foods and actually cook less. Reheating is not cooking.

The author considers the paradox that society seems to be preferring to think about and consume the art of cooking inste
Oct 15, 2013 Wanda rated it really liked it
"In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.

The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon co
Mar 22, 2013 Sharlene rated it really liked it
This book was received as the result of a Good read giveaway.

This was not my average book...but how could I not want to read this as it was about my favourite subject...Food!

Pollan covers the four ways of cooking covering fire, water, air and earth, something I had never really thought about before. As someone who cooks 90% of her meals from scratch this had my interest from the first chapter but I wondered how long it would last. After all, what was going to be "news" to me at this point. Well,
Peggy Bird
Jul 14, 2013 Peggy Bird rated it really liked it
Rarely does a book make me look at the world, my life or myself in a different way. This book, as several others by this author, does just that.

In "Cooked" Pollen posits the theory that cooking not only allowed ancient humans to enlarge their diet as they changed from a hunter/gatherer society but to change the very humans themselves. By cooking, one way or the other, those ancestors managed to do part of the work of digestion outside their body so they, like our relatives the apes/monkeys don't
Apr 25, 2013 Chris rated it liked it
This was a good book if you're interested in the anatomy of cooking. Michael Pollan is one of my favorite food writers and I always enjoy his books, this one as well. However, this was a little too in depth for me.

Michael explores the four realms of cooking in this book, Fire, Water, Air and Earth. For Fire, he uses whole hog barbeque. For Water, he explores braising. For air, his example is baking bread. For Earth he uses fermentation. Basically, he breaks all of these cooking methods down to t
Sarah Hauck
Jun 01, 2013 Sarah Hauck rated it really liked it
In his latest book, Cooked, Michael Pollan serves up another bestseller that looks at the relationships between us and the food we eat. Struck by the realization that “the less cooking we were doing in our own lives, the more that food and its vicarious preparation transfixed us,” Pollan sets out to explore the art of cooking for himself.

Cooked reads like a how-to book for the uninitiated in the kitchen while still providing plenty of more detailed analysis for seasoned cooks. Divided into chapt
May 11, 2014 Ben rated it liked it
It's difficult to rate a book which was very enjoyable to read, but fraught with quirks of Pollan's writing style and ideology. I'll write this review as a "compliment sandwich." To begin: The chapters on Barbeque (Fire) and Bread (Air) were particularly strong and interesting. I enjoyed the attention he gave to food research at UC Davis, and was glad to see him visit some interesting operations in Yolo County.

That being said...Pollan went on several rants only tenuously connected to his topics.
Jul 15, 2013 Lisa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, 5-star
Michael Pollan has written another book about food; this time he researches the history of cooking. He focuses on cooking using the classic elements of fire, water, air, and earth.

The section on fire focuses almost exclusively on smoking pork, which is something I enjoy doing. For those of you that have never enjoyed barbeque or smoking, you might not connect with this section like I did. Smoked pork (and chicken) is so good, it is worth the effort to try to perfect your efforts! Take a look at
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Green Group: Summer 2013 Read: Cooked 3 28 Feb 12, 2014 09:41AM  
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Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.
More about Michael Pollan...

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“For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?” 37 likes
“The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life,
the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire
the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating
differences, arguing without offending. What have been called the
“cultural contradictions of capitalism”—its tendency to undermine
the stabilizing social forms it depends on—are on vivid display today
at the modern American dinner table, along with all the brightly colored packages that the food industry has managed to plant there.”
More quotes…