My current read is Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation . Next to Mark Bittman, Pollan is probably my favorite food writer. I’ve tried for the past several years, with varying degrees of success, to live by his Food Rules. I don’t always make it, but my eating habits have certainly been improved by making the effort.
Cooked is divided into four sections that follow the four elements; fire (roasting), water (braising), air (bread making), and earth (fermentation). In the appendix there are four recipes, one for each section of the book, and a list of recommended books on cooking.
Pollan writes a great deal about what food is. Not just the ingredients that go into a recipe, but what it represents to us culturally and socially. Starting with our earliest forebears the advent of cooked food altered the course of human evolution. By providing our forebears with a more energy-dense and easy-to-digest diet, it allowed our brains to grow bigger (brains being notorious energy guzzlers) and our guts to shrink. It seems that raw food takes much more time and energy to chew and digest, which is why other primates our size carry around substantially larger digestive tracts and spend many more of their waking hours chewing-as much as six hours a day. Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist and primatologist, estimates that cooking our food gives us an extra four hours a day.
To Pollan food is not simply nourishment but it makes a statement about who we are, where we come from, and what we believe. It also makes for some interesting history lessons, including a wonderful theory by English writer Charles Lamb on how barbeque came to be.
Some other fun facts about our food:
- Americans spend less time cooking than any other nation in the world, about twenty-seven minutes a day on average. For the most part, we spend more time watching cooking shows on TV than we do actually cooking, according to Pollan.
- Hogs have been reengineered in recent years to be leaner and faster growing. This means a much less flavorful meat, especially when it comes to that southern staple Barbeque. Be warned the chapters on his time spent in the company of pit masters will make you yearn for a good pulled pork sandwich.
- Microbiologists believe that adding onions, garlic and spices to meat protects us from dangerous bacteria.
- The shift toward industrial cookery began not in a response to a demand from women entering the workforce, or even from feminists eager to escape the drudgery of the kitchen, but was mainly a supply-driven phenomenon. Processing food is extremely profitable – much more so than growing it or selling it whole. So it became the strategy of food corporations to move into our kitchens long before many women had begun to move out.
I could go on, but I’m getting hungry.
Food makes me happy, reading about food makes me happy, and creating a giveaway and a play list centered around food makes me really really happy. So, here’s the deal. I am giving away a copy of my creative collaborator, Michele Brourman’s recording Fools & Little Children (you’ll get the food tie-in when you scroll down the playlist), and a fifteen dollar gift card to one of my favorite places, The Meadow, which specializes in salt, bitters, and that most heavenly of all foods, chocolate. All you have to do is post a comment here telling me your favorite food song. Post by Sunday September 22nd and I’ll post the winner on Monday the 23rd.
And now for the tunes:
Michele Brourman – Love and Takeout – Food and sex, food and sex. Amazing how often one leads to the other.
Kate Campbell – Funeral Food – In the South some of our best eating is done here. This playlist is taking on a distinctly Southern slant, but that’s okay, that’s where some of my best food memories come from.
Marcia Ball – Peace, Love, and Barbeque – Love is NOT really all you need.
NRBQ-RC Cola & a Moon Pie- After all this food talk I think a little dancing may be in order.
Sharon McNight – Bacon – What more can I say?