Food Documentary and Book: Cooked

“To cook or not to cook thus is a consequential question. Though I realize that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly. Cooking means different things at different times to different people; seldom is it an all-or-nothing proposition.


Yet even to cook a few more nights a week than you already do, or to devote a Sunday to making a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy – even these modest acts will constitute a kind of a vote. A vote for what, exactly? Well in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to chose 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.


Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals: it transforms us, too, from mere consumers into producers.


Cooking, I found, gives us the opportunity, so rare in modern life, to work directly in our own support, and in the support of the people we feed. If this is not “making a living,” I don’t know what is. In the calculous of economics, doing so may not always be the most efficient use of an amateur cook’s time, but in the calculus of human emotion, it is beautiful even so. 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?”


-Michael Pollan, Cooked


We all go through our own journeys in our life and down some weird paths, but have you ever had those moments of gratifying validation that the path you’re on is SO right for you? That the path your own is bigger than you? I had one of those moments when I read Cooked by Michael Pollan. Even just the introduction of the book had me yelling “YES” into air that no one but my own dog could hear.


Netflix has made Pollan’s seventh book into a stunningly, beautiful four-episode docuseries. Perfect for your next binge watch! Pollan’s initial premise of writing Cooked was to learn how to cook through the four elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. But what he created was a historical, economical, cultural, and intimate look at why cooking is such a critical part of being human.
“I’m hopeful that there will be a renaissance of cooking and it will be different than cooking used to be. It will be cooking as an option, as a choice. Cooking because its satisfying, not because you have to.”
– Michael Pollan, Episode 2, Cooked
Consider me a renaissance woman! I know cooking to be the biggest and best tool to creating a positive relationship with your food. It is the gateway to fully connecting with your food. By cooking you are selecting ingredients, transforming those ingredients, nourishing your body, and maybe even sharing that meal with loved ones. But in order for cooking to stick, to become a part of our every day lives, it has to be something that we choose because it adds value to our lives. It’s a value that you need to experience for yourself, over and over again, before that conscious choice becomes a core value in the way that you eat.


As most book to screen adaptations go, the book is obviously my recommendation as it has more detailed accounts of Pollan’s journey in each element but also more scientific and historical facts woven into each element upon which he is exploring which creates a stronger understanding. However, the important messages from the book are beautifully displayed in the Netflix docuseries should you find yourself itching for a good thing to watch this weekend!


Episode 1: Fire

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 4.43.56 PM

We humans are the only species that cook. Many say it’s the one behavior that truly sets us apart from the rest of the animal world. Through the act of cooking meat over fire, the series begins by examining a very primal act of cooking with fire. From the Martu tribe in Australia burning parts of land and eating iguanas to Pollan’s own whole hog barbecue right in his own yard, this episode is a great introduction to the premise of Cooked and discusses some great scientific and social ideas around the tradition of eating meat.

Episode 2: Water

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 4.45.46 PM

This might just be my favorite episode! Maybe because some of my favorite foods are slow cooked stews but Pollan dives deep into the act of cooking in this episode – this tradition behind taking humble ingredients and utilizing your skills and time to transform it into an incredible meal. The history and rise of industrial cooking instead of us cooking for ourselves takes up a solid part of this episode but as does the magic and pleasure of cooking as well. My favorite quote from this episode is “I don’t want to lecture people back into the kitchen, I want to lure people into the kitchen with pleasure.” Hallelujah!


Episode 3: Air

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 4.46.41 PM
If you eat gluten free or believe you have a gluten intolerance, watch this episode. Baking bread is the focus of the episode but they discuss a lot of the science and chemistry behind bread and how so much of that has changed over recent times. It can’t be coincidence that there’s been a huge spike in recent “intolerance” to gluten when for thousands of years, bread has been a staple part of a global diet. What changed? The way in which bread is made. Industrialized bread strips everything that’s nutritious about whole wheat during processing, has minimal fermentation time, and then has the missing nutrients that were taken out at first fortified back in. It’s so backwards! And this idea expands bread into a lot of foods we rely on corporations to make for us.


Episode 4: Earth

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 4.47.56 PM
Did you know a third of our foods are fermented? Fermenting is the act of utilizing naturally occurring fungi and bacteria to transform food – the only kind of cooking in this series that doesn’t require additional heat. From kimchi to chocolate, fermented foods provide a lot of benefits to us nutritionally. I was delighted to see my favorite “character” from the book, Sister Noëlla, in this episode. She is a nun and a microbiologist, cultivating raw milk into Saint-Nectaire cheese at an abbey in Connecticut. The book goes more into this than the episode does, but there’s an interesting connection between fermented food and ideas of death and disgust. Somehow reading about this a nun that makes raw milk cheese just seemed too good an illustration of this but there she is!


I am so excited to publish and share this post because this book was one of the most influential parts of my journey thus far and I hope to not only to help spread Pollan’s message and live it every day, but help others realize it for themselves. To create a chain reaction of taking our power back in our very own kitchen would create a very changed and beautiful world.
Cooked is an invitation to alter, however slightly, the ratio between production and consumption in your life. The regular exercise of these simple skills for producing some of the necessities of life increases self-reliance and freedom while reducing our dependence on distance corporations. Not just our money but our power flows toward them whenever we cannot supply any of our everyday needs and desires ourselves. And it begins to flow back toward us, and our community, as soon as we decide to take some responsibility for feeding ourselves.”
– Michael Pollan, Cooked
All screenshots are © Netflix