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Book Review: Michael Pollan’s Cooked

Bill PalladinoBill Palladino is the director of the Taste the Local Difference program at the Michigan Land Use Institute.

Michael Pollan’s book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation is the first selection for the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project. The book will be discussed on Feb. 24 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the lower level of Horizon Books in downtown Traverse City, and we are very happy that Bill has shared his review of this relevant and engaging book.

“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.”  

CookedMy first Michael Pollan book, “The Botany of Desire,” was one I instantly fell for. That book casually tossed upon my table the relationship humans have with plants, and reciprocally the relationship they seem to have developed with us. It sounded vaguely alien-esque, so I went off into the void of two of my favorite reading genres: food and sci-fi. It was followed by a succession of other Pollan books through the years, each with the promise of keeping my foodie mind burbling with anticipation.

When “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” first arrived on the shelves, I instantly bought it with intention to consume it over a few long weekends. As it so often happens, life got in the way and the hardcover with its tempting penne immersion image languished on my bed stand.

Bob Russell

Then a month or so ago my employer, The Michigan Land Use Institute, started a new initiative, “The Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project.” The project honors the memory of a community luminary and his gift to us of a carefully curated reading list he believed could help change the world. “Cooked” is the first book selected for the project.

If you’ve read Pollan’s other books, this one arrives a bit off-camber. It’s not the same rip-out-the-heart, traditional food system skewering we’re used to. “Cooked” starts with a frank admission from Pollan: “Cooking has always been a part of my life, but more like the furniture than an object of scrutiny, much less a passion.”  What he’s saying is that he’s made a career out of talking about food without ever understanding its true relationship personally.

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