I have not enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this for a very long time. Possibly not since I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the second time around. This is absolutely fascinating from cover to cover.
Pollan discusses the science behind cooking, in four separate chapters; Fire (barbecue and roasting), Water (pot cooking), Air (baking), and Earth (fermenting and pickling). I have basic cooking skills, I am not a fan of TV cookery programs, but I cook most of my family’s meals from scratch (well, from scratch-ish, I used tinned tomatoes a lot).
Pollan had cooking lessons for this book, and tries pretty much all of the cooking techniques in the book himself in his own kitchen. The book has many asides about his own daily life and how his cooking experiments turned out. But you do not have to be a budding chef to enjoy this book, even if you are just interested in how you fuel your body this should be of use to you. The part about bread was revelatory for me. He does not just talk about how things are cooked a certain way, but also why and what chemical reactions take place. Then, how this food affects your body as you digest it. He also explains the mystery of why American cheeses do not have any flavour.
I have enjoyed everything Pollan has written, but some of his take-away messages have been more useful to me than others. I appreciate his thoughts on agribusiness and buying food locally but sometimes following his advice can be quite impractical, depending on where and how you live. I think this book will change the way I eat, just like The Omnivore’s Dilemma did.
In every chapter we get the strong feeling that he wants to get across the importance of the joys of cooking, and why some of us still choose to do it, despite the obvious economic reasons not to. Even if you do not cook (and what sort of crazy person does not cook at all?) then you very probably eat, in which case this book would still be interesting.