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Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  22,348 ratings  ·  2,130 reviews
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 liqui ...more
Hardcover, 468 pages
Published April 23rd 2013 by The Penguin Press HC
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Nov 23, 2012 marked it as didnt-finish
Shelves: nonfiction, arc
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
Petra X $200 for an exhaust leak! Daylight robbery
If you cannot trace your family back to immigrants or peasant stock then you are probably very well off and this book was certainly written for you. Otherwise.... read on!

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 an
Mar 02, 2014 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
May 04, 2013 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
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it

Michael Pollan, an author and journalist who writes about food, went on a three-year pilgrimage to learn about food associated with the four classical elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Along the way, Pollan consulted and cooked with masters in each field. In 'Cooked', Pollan shares culinary techniques he acquired, along with healthy doses of science, history, anthropology, and philosophy.

Michael Pollan

Packaged, processed, and fast foods have taken a toll on our well-being because these edib
May 01, 2013 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
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook, memoirs
In Michael Pollan's latest book about food, he takes the reader on a personal journey as he learns first-hand about four different types of cooking. First, he takes a trip to the North Carolina, where he learns how to cook barbecue from a pit master. Pollan volunteers his time, and learns the subtleties of cooking a barbecue, and these subtleties are described in detail. Perhaps, a bit too much detail for my taste.

Then Pollan describes the art of making sourdough bread. In great detail. One very
Apr 08, 2013 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
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've now read all of Pollan's book and I think I could do a really good parody at this point. I'd just have to compare a cheese curd to a dionysian struggle between our innate longing for romance and order. Or something like that. This book was a lot of fun. It gave me a new perspective on food and cooking and I learned a lot. Sometimes I get annoyed at the fermentation zealots out there now or the bread dudes and I wonder if they don't need to be reminded sometimes that we're just talking about ...more
Greta Fisher
Apr 24, 2013 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. As ...more
Jan 09, 2014 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.
Renee Dechert
Feb 14, 2013 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
Nathaniel Moger
Apr 23, 2013 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
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
"Cooking puts several kinds of distance between the brutal facts of the matter (dead animals for dinner) and the dining room table set with crisp linens and polished silver."

Cooked was a book that for the most part, I found interesting. Pollan studies 4 classic elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, and their impact on the creation of food and beverage. For me, the book read in descending order of interest: the fire and water chapters were better and kept my interest much more than air and earth
Apr 08, 2013 marked it as to-read
Shelves: science, food-cooking
This book has pasta on the cover so it must be good.
Oct 24, 2013 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
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
Leo Walsh
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love literate science and cultural micro-histories. I also love and health, growing my own veggies and cooking healthy meals. So I’ve been a huge Pollan fan since 2006, when my sister-in-law brought me The Omnivore's Dilemma for Christmas. Pollan hits on all cylinders.He’s a cultural critic, but unlike most cultural critics, his lense is food, not literature or pop-culture TV. movies or music, which makes him unique. He’s a food writer that doesn’t obsess about creating Michelin 5-star ingredi ...more
Ross Blocher
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Cooked is Michael Pollan's love letter to food preparation. In our world of fast food, ubiquitous restaurants, frozen entrees and meal delivery, he wants to remind us of the good old days when we spent significant portions of our time getting food on the table. Pollan references the average family's daily time spent cooking and cleaning up - 27 minutes and 4 minutes, respectively - roughly half what it was when he was a boy in the 60s. Corporations have stepped in to make food preparation easy f ...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
Lynn Buschhoff
Jul 25, 2013 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
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a funny relationship with Michael Pollan's books. I never actually want to read them. I can think of nothing more tedious than to examine in fine detail the aspects of food and the eating of it the way he does.

Yet, once I start reading I get so involved I cannot help but see myself, my family, my ancestors, the generations to follow me living in his narrative.

This holds so true for "Cooked." I started cooking at the age of 6 or 7 , but was probably born interested in it in ways I now se
Peggy Bird
Jul 14, 2013 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
Sharmila Mukherjee
Apr 01, 2013 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
Sep 30, 2013 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
Graham Crawford
Aug 05, 2013 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.


Shannon Dillman
Apr 23, 2013 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. :) ...more
Bill Palladino
Dec 19, 2013 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 Mich
May 30, 2013 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
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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.

Articles featuring this book

From BBQ to fermenting cheese to brewing beer, the influential food journalist attempts to master a wide range of recipes in his new nonfiction...
34 likes · 11 comments
“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?” 57 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…