Cooked – Michael Pollan

Ayelet Waldman was tempted to ‘Live tweet’ Michael Pollan’s, Cooked  and it isn’t hard to realize why…there are so many delectable tidbits worth sharing.  I am famous in my house for  reading bits and pieces aloud to my family when they are trapped somewhere with me, a road trip or the living room on a rainy day. Did you know that…….??? Yes, it is a joy to live with me.

As tempting as it is to live tweet Michael Pollan’s books I will restrict myself to a couple of quotes that I hope will give you a general idea about the flavor and bread(th) of this book. (I could pun myself to death)

The way that we prepare food as a nation is changing :”The amount of time spent preparing meals in American households has fallen by half since the mid-sixties, when I was watching my mom fix dinner, to a scant twenty-seven minutes a day.  (Americans spend less time cooking than people in any other nation, but the general downward trend is global).  And yet at the same time, we’re talking about cooking more-and watching cooking, and reading about cooking and going to restaurants designed so that we can watch the work performed there.” p3.  He goes on to point out that chefs have been elevated to super-stars.  As if there is almost a direct, adverse correlation between our interest to watch food preparation on television and our willingness to actually cook it ourselves.

There is also a feminist discussion…is cooking a part of the ‘feminine arts?l “There may be another reason cooking has not received its proper due.  IN a recent book called The taste for Civilization, Janet A, Flammang, a feminist scholar and political scientist who has argued eloquently for the social and political importance of “food work,”  suggests the problem may have something to do with food itself, which by its very nature falls on the wrong side – the feminine side- of the mind0body dualism in Western culture.

“Food is apprehended through the senses of touch, smell, and taste,” she points out, “which rank lower on the hierarchy of sense than sight and hearing, which are typically thought to give rise to knowledge.  In most of philosophy, religion, and literature, food is associated with body, animal, female, and appetite – things civilized men have sought to overcome with knowledge and reason.”

Very much to their loss. (p. 11)

He also brings up a number of points that I couldn’t agree with more, no matter the discipline.  I am always fascinated by people that spend much of their time complaining that people don’t pay them ‘what they are worth’ and then shop at Walmart.  We have no idea how much effort goes into growing a pea pod and yet we want hundreds of them for .99.   Grow something, bake something , make cheese! Then talk about value.

“Several of the recipes here are for things most readers will probably never make themselves-beer, for example, or cheese, or even bread.  Though I hope that they will.  Because I discovered there was much to learn from attempting, even if only just once, these more ambitious and time-consuming forms of cookery, knowledge that might not at first seem terribly useful but in fact changes everything about one’s relationship to food and what is possible in the kitchen.” (p. 16)

Some have argued that Pollan is an elitist who has the time to do all of these things – and it is true…he does have more money than many others do.  However, the ase of what he is saying, enjoy the work that you do, be aware of the food that you are putting into your mouth, just ‘be aware’ generally…this is not an elitist perspective – it is a human perspective.  The point of view of someone who is also sharing this planet with us.

“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 wok best done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption.  This dependence marketers call ‘freedom”

Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals:  It transforms us too, from mere consumers into producers.  Not completely, not all the time, but I have found that event to shift the ratio between these two identities a few degrees toward the side of production yields deep and unexpected satisfactions.  Cooked is an invitation to alter, however slightly, the ratio between production and consumption in your life.” (pp 22-23)


I would love to hear from you whether you like or dislike Michael Pollan!

For a different point of view please visit the review that Inexact Change wrote of Cooked.

Alternately you can read Tracey McMillan of’s review. McMillan notes “To be honest, I felt vaguely allergic to Omnivore—a fact that, as a writer covering food and poverty, I don’t usually spread around….The offending allergen? On a diplomatic day I would say “tone;” on a grumpy day, you’d hear “class privilege.” I bring this up because elitism is one of the most common complaints lobbed at Pollan. But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself far less bothered by Pollan’s class privilege in reading Cooked.

2 thoughts on “Cooked – Michael Pollan

  1. Okay, consider me subscribed. I like the combination of content you have here (from crows to dinner plates, Audre Lorde — well in Twitter — to Michael Pollan). This isn’t a Pollan book I’ve read yet, but I will get to it. One of my faves is Botany of Desire, which gave me a whole new ‘ppreciation of plants. It’s his curiosity which I am drawn to and that quality, which feels authentic to me, pulls me across any barriers of privilege that I might otherwise trip over.

    • I think I love everything that Michael Pollan has in print. While it is a comfortable read for me in that I agree with most of what he has to say he still has the ability to shift my perspective and make me want to learn more…about everything.. His curiosity and his invitation to join him on his journey of discovery. As to Audre Lorde I try to post a weekly poem on my other blog and her poem spoke to me the other day.

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