Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
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Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

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3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  8,694 ratings  ·  1,096 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...more
Hardcover, 468 pages
Published April 23rd 2013 by The Penguin Press HC
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Jenne
Apr 23, 2013 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...more
Judy
Jan 26, 2014 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Jessica
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...more
Katie
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
Renee Dechert
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
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
kelly
Apr 08, 2013 kelly marked it as to-read
This book has pasta on the cover so it must be good.
Shelby *wants some 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...more
Nathaniel Moger
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...more
Patrizia
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
Aug 07, 2013 Lynn Buschhoff rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Sara
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....more
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
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. :)
Wanda
"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...more
Graham Crawford
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.

EXPLODES!!!

Ther...more
Peggy Bird
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...more
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
Chris
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...more
Bill Palladino
BOOK REVIEW: MICHAEL POLLAN’S “COOKED: A NATURAL HISTORY OF TRANSFORMATION”

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

“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...more
Kam
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
Sharlene
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,...more
Joyce Bock


Don't we all know how to make spaghetti sauce. That how to make bolonaise was a revelation to the author was more telling of him than other informational bits. I have a friend whose husband doesn't know how to turn on his oven.
That said, I agree 100 percent with the author about the practice of making meals as being healthy and a good practice. I think he is a fine author and I look forward to his next book.
But beware, if you eat enough Carolina BBQ you will end up looking like a hog farmer:)
Lisa
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...more
Cat
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
Sarah Hauck
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...more
Darren
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...more
Yune
Pollan has an easy, friendly, and persuasive writing style that managed to draw me away from another book I'd pre-ordered in two formats when Cooked happened to show up on the library hold shelf on the other book's release date.

He's best when he's describing his own experiences or describing micro-science to a layman; I found him a little less convincing and slightly on the side of pretentious when he indulged in wide-scale anthropological musings or symbolism along the lines of the four element...more
Karen A.
This book has made me rethink many aspects of cooking. Especially how I cook. It is divided into 4 parts, fire, water, air, and earth all corresponding to specific methods of cooking. The fire portion was probably my least favorite and has made it even less likely that I will take up roasting a pig. And some of his comments about the pork industry, though brief, have made me pass up the pork section altogether at the grocery store. Enlightening are his observations about how we perceive the time...more
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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...
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World Food Rules: An Eater's Manual Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

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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?” 11 likes
“Well, in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization—against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. (Come to think of it, our nonwaking moments as well: Ambien, anyone?) It is to reject the debilitating notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work best done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.” 9 likes
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