This is Michael Pollan’s nonfiction book about cooking – the origins, the methods, etc. It’s split into four parts roughly coordinating with the four elements, so I’m going to split this review into four parts as well.
1 – Fire
In this section, Pollan talked about barbecue. You know, fire. And he pretty much spent the entire section making fun of southerners. I learned very little about the process of grilling or cooking meat with fire, except that people are really particular about how they do it, that the word “barbecue” can cause massive conflict from one person to the next, and that it takes a lot of time to grill meat correctly. But mostly, I learned that Michael Pollan is a snob when it comes to southerners, a fact which was made worse by him being the narrator and trying to imitate – in pure stereotypical fashion – their accents. Yeah…
2 – Water
So, I nearly quit listening to the book in the Fire section, it was so bad. I decided to try a little bit of the Water section, which dealt with what I’ll just call “regular” cooking (cook-pots), before giving it up completely. I ended up really liking this section. Since Pollan is not at all a snob about slow cooking, gourmet cooking, or techniques involved in this sort of cooking, he gave it proper respect, and actually got me thinking that it would be best for me to learn more about cooking in the future. So thumbs up for this section.
3 – Air
This section dealt with bread, where Pollan did spend a bunch of time showing how crazy both professional and amateur bakers could be, but not quite as bad as the Fire section. He also discussed the bread-making process, particularly from sourdough cultures, in some detail, and I was very interested in learning about the chemical processes that go on in bread-making. It was especially interesting because he talked about Celiac Disease and gluten-intolerance (without any anti-gluten-free-living snide comments, which would have made me abandon the book altogether), and some of the reasons scientists believe the condition is becoming more common. One has to do with the amount of time (or lack of it) used in making bread products now, so that there’s much more gluten left in the bread as an end-product. Also, apparently Italy has a very high percentage of Celiac. Didn’t know that.
4 – Earth
This section dealt with fermentation, and personally I think it was more of a continuation of Air than really anything to do with Earth. Lots of interesting things in here, though I have no desire to, say, make my own pickles or alcohol or cheese even after learning about the various processes. Most interesting thing: apparently the removal of bacteria from our foods might be contributing to the obesity epidemic, based on studies done with mice. So it might be a good idea to have more fermented foods around, even if I don’t want to actually make them myself.
That’s about it. As a Pollan book, it was just meh, particularly because I was uncomfortable for a huge chunk of the book. I may or may not indulge in any sort of cooking in the future, so it didn’t really change my life the way other books of his have, either. In the end, it was just okay.