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July 12, 2013 / Leslie

Review – Audiobook: Cooked by Michael Pollan

Cooked by Michael PollanCooked: A Natural History of Transformation
by Michael Pollan
Narrated by Michael Pollan

Genre: Food, Science
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publish Date: April 23, 2013
Format: Audio, 13 hours | 25 minutes
Audio Listening Level: Easy
Rating: 3½ of 5

Publisher’s Synopsis:

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.

My Thoughts:

What is cooking? To some people it means putting a frozen pizza in the oven or opening a packet of dried ingredients and adding water. To others, it’s not cooking unless it starts with all fresh ingredients. Over the past few decades, surveys show the meaning of the word has changed. Ironically, people love to spend time watching cooking shows but don’t often cook. Perhaps it’s because we have become so disconnected from our food. Cooking is now entertainment or a hobby.

Cooked is divided into four sections, fire, water, air, and earth. In each section the author attempts to master one recipe with the help of an expert. He provides a wealth of information and goes into great detail, sometimes too much, and risks boring the listener by becoming repetitive at times.

This is not a cookbook but more a book about our relationship with food and cooking and how the American food system is not healthy. He mentions multiple times that people need to take back control of cooking as a first step in their own health. I agree, but I don’t think the book presented people with options other than to gather all the ingredients and make the dish from scratch or buy chemical laden pre-made food from the grocery store, ie Wonder Bread.

The message I got, right or wrong, was all or nothing. Make your own yeast starter? Hand chop all the vegetables? I love my little food processor. I can’t believe onions would taste that much better if I hand chopped them. Occasionally in my own kitchen I have found a few things are best done by hand, grinding basil for pesto using a mortar and pestle for example, but those exceptions are few and far between. And I have resorted to food processed pesto and no one noticed except me!

I especially enjoyed the parts on the ‘biology’ or science behind the foods. The why/what makes processed foods so bad for us, the bacteria and why it’s good for us in the fermentation process and why we shouldn’t be afraid of a little dirt and not 100% sanitary conditions.

The audio production was narrated by the author with even pacing, a pleasant voice and a lot of enthusiasm for the topic. A pdf file is included on the last disc of the audiobook with the recipes based on each of the four transformations talked about in the book plus a short list of recommended cookbooks. I love when important information is included on the CD, one of my pet peeves when it is missing. The recipes are: Fire: a pork shoulder slow cooked over a fire; Water: a sugo (or Bolognese sauce) cooked in a pot; Air:a whole-grain bread; Earth: a sauerkraut.

This was the first book I’ve read by Michael Pollen and while I wasn’t crazy about it, I did enjoy his writing style and the subject. This is one of the rare cases where I might have liked the book better in print.

Source: Review copy
© 2013 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.


Leave a Comment
  1. BermudaOnion / Jul 12 2013 2:36 pm

    The thing with books like this, is that it’s just rehashing things that we all know already. I may skip this.


    • Leslie / Jul 12 2013 3:37 pm

      A lot of it is rehashed, both the science and that, as we know, industrial food is bad for us. The new stuff is the story behind each of the four recipes and the experts that worked with the author. That’s probably why I found it to be a little too long.


  2. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / Jul 12 2013 7:57 pm

    I liked his earlier books, but not sure about this one for some reason?


  3. stacybuckeye / Jul 12 2013 10:52 pm

    I have several of his books on my wish list, this one included, but haven’t read one yet. In the all-or-nothing debate it would have to be nothing – who has the time?!


    • Leslie / Jul 15 2013 12:34 am

      Ah, good question. The author’s answer was that if we could find two hours for television we could find it for cooking. Possibly. However, I think most people consider daily cooking a chore and eating to be a pleasure, so we are looking for the most efficient way to get to the eating part. Most of us, anyway!


  4. Louise / Jul 13 2013 4:39 pm

    I’ve read bits and pieces of Michael Pollan, and seen him talk in Sydney, and watched the teleseries of one of his earlier books, which was really good, The Botany of Desire I think. It’s all fascinating stuff, but he does get a bit repetitive at times, I can forgive him that for his passion for his subject. I’d still be interested in getting to this book at some stage.


    • Leslie / Jul 15 2013 12:36 am

      I have a copy of the Omnivore’s Dilemma which I haven’t read yet. I think I might like that one better.


  5. nrlymrtl / Jul 13 2013 8:17 pm

    I have read 2 other Pollan books and really enjoyed them. I will have to keep an eye out for this one. My man and I do a lot of cooking, as we both enjoy it, and cooking while listening to an audiobook is a common occurrence in our kitchen. I am especially interested in how cooking as changed over time in the American culture and what the term means to various people.


    • Leslie / Jul 15 2013 12:37 am

      In that case I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one, especially if you listen while cooking.


  6. Laura Fabiani / Jul 14 2013 9:08 am

    I saw this one at the library and it was filled with pages with tiny font and long paragraphs. Uh…no thanks. I like non-fiction a lot but this one looked boring. I DO like the fact that a pdf file was included with the audio.


  7. Suko / Jul 16 2013 3:55 pm

    I should read (or listen to) a “food book” one of these days! We have Omnivore’s Dilemma.


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