Michael Pollan: “Get Back in the Kitchen!”

For most of my life the only way I knew to make scrambled eggs was to microwave them. All the better if you had a paper bowl to do it in. My mother microwaved everything, even pork chops. Also, I grew up in the Midwest, where vegetables are alien objects. (I once brought a pear to show-and-tell because I thought it was “weird.”)

There is hope for people like me, says Michael Pollan, author of seven books including national bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma. And not just me. Pollan thinks there is hope for everyone. (Guess what? I can roast vegetables now. Pears are no longer weird!)

Pollan’s out with a new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Transformation, he says, because he just likes the way it sounds. Or actually, like he told Jade Chang in an interview with Goodreads:

cover of Pollan's Cooked

I realized that that was what I was dealing with: the transformation of nature into culture. I’ve always been interested in transformation….Humans are in the transformation game in a way that very few other animals are. We take what nature gives us and then make something else out of it. And cooking, by the way, is the prototype of all transformations—it’s the first one. Claude Lévi-Strauss pointed out that all these different cultures think of nature as the raw and culture as the cooked, because that’s kind of the paradigm—taking something that’s just given by the natural world and making it into something that’s more useful, more appealing, more like us.

In Cooked, Pollan breaks down the ways in which we prepare food into the four elements: fire (good ol’ BBQ), water (braising), earth (fermenting, i.e., beer, cheese, etc.,), and air (baking).

The full interview is up on Goodreads and I recommend it. Highlights include:

Pollan compares bread to penises!

…there’s the Apollonian side of things and the Dionysian side of things, and the Apollonian side is more male, more visual, more sharply edged, essentially more like a penis….I mean, men like to make things, and they like artifacts, and bread is more an artifact than a lot of other food we make. And I won’t even talk about baguettes! 

Pollan endorses communism in response to Bloomberg’s soda ban!

I’m in favor of trying Mayor Bloomberg’s idea in New York to limit the size of cups. I just don’t think that’s trampling on people’s liberty! If you want 32 ounces of soda, you have to get two sodas instead of one….Let’s see if it works, let’s see if that pause between the first 16 ounces and the second 16 ounces just might discourage people from doing something that might really be bad for them! We need to try taxing soda and other forms of junk food. I think we need a federal definition of “What Is Food,” and we need to exclude things like soda that are not food, [that are] what I call edible, foodlike substances, and not let federal dollars support feeding those things to our children or including them in food stamps. 

We need to experiment with many, many social approaches to changing people’s diets, and we’ll see what works. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll throw it out! So I say…let a thousand strange flowers bloom

Pollan advises not to eat meat in airports!

It’s just a good rule of thumb.


If you want to hear more, head over to Goodreads.

And be sure to check out our upcoming show,

The Bushwick Book Club Seattle Presents Original music inspired by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma & The Botany of Desire

May 16 at The Crocodile