I have been a Pollan devotee for a few years now. His philosophy is best summed up in his book Food Rules: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.” The first rule is the most important one for me. By “eat food” he means real food- food close to its natural state, without too many ingredients and without non-food additives. For example, eat 120 calories of Greek yogurt with fruit and, yes, sugar – not 100 calorie processed dairy product with artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, texturizers, etc. If you can’t understand the ingredients (with a basic understanding of food labels) don’t eat it. If the ingredients are not actually food, don’t eat it.
In Cooked, Pollan writes about his realization over the years that the best way to get real food is to cook it yourself (or buy it from a person who cooked it, but not to buy processed food.) He explores the 4 basic elements and ties each one to a type of cooking: Fire/Grilling, Water/Boiling, Air/Yeast Rising, and Earth/Fermenting. Each section contains an interesting combination of history, practical instruction, science, and health information.
To be honest, Cooked is a weighty tome compared to Pollan’s other, more concise books, and it lasted longer than my attention span. Fire was an excellent chapter, with an exploration of BBQ history and race relations in America, not to mention mouth-watering food descriptions. Water was very practical. Air got into competing theories of bread by hipsters in California (why not more on bread around the world?!) By the time I got to Earth, I didn’t care very much how sauerkraut is made (also, it’s a little gross.)
That said, I still think its an excellent book for anyone interested in food, cooking, and healthful eating (in a reasonable way that still allows for BBQ, bread and cheese.) There are even recipes! Maybe just read each section as a book and then give it a rest before going on.
You may like: Food Rules and Omnivore’s Dilemma, both by Michael Pollan. (also extensive bibliography in the book.) Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, Jeff Hertzberg.