Graduation is less than three weeks away. I was talking to my mom yesterday and she asked me if I was excited about it. I am, of course, but there are other emotions somewhat overshadowing it. I’m sure graduation day will be amazing, but my mind has already skipped ahead to May 14th.
Many moons ago I mentioned that I was going to do a review on Michael Pollan’s Cooked. Well, I finished reading it but never got around to publishing the review so today I decided to change that.
I can always be guaranteed three things when I read a Pollan book and that is to walk away with more insight on food science, food trends, and food politics. This book certainly did not disappoint in any of those areas.
The book itself is split into four sections – one for each of the major categories of cooking (barbecuing; cooking in a vessel – boiling or braising; baking, and fermenting) which each correspond to one of the classical elements – fire, water, air, and Earth.
A New Way of Thinking
I appreciate that Pollan makes you think about things in ways you never thought about before. For example, he mentions that all cooking starts with an act of destruction – killing, cutting, chopping, or mashing. I never really thought about it but it’s true (unless you count cereal as cooking which some people do).
He also notes that cooking makes us human. For one, it’s something we can do that other species can’t (pretty sure). Two, cooking opens up a wider variety of food sources to us, and allows us to get a more energy-dense and digestible diet which allowed our brains to grow bigger (as a result of more and better nutrients) and our guts to shrink (cooking eliminated some of the chewing and digestion restraints so we didn’t need such large digestive tracts).
Fermentation also pre-digests food for us. Fermented food like breads or cheeses contains live cultures (bacteria) that are steadily at work transforming the contents of the food they’re contained in, into by products that we can consume which are then further digested in our stomachs. These bacteria also contribute to the diversity of the bacteria in our gut (gut microbiota) where food gets further digested.
The same molecules responsible for making you cry when you’re chopping onions may also be protecting you from dangerous bacterial growth.
If you’re on Instagram you’ve seen your fair share of raw foodie advocates showcasing their raw food dishes. That’s all well and good but a completely raw food diet is not sustainable according to Pollan. He notes that raw foods take more time to chew and digest which is why raw foodies rely heavily on juicers and blenders. Without them, he says, they would spend as much time chewing and digesting food as chimps do (several hours a day).
Apparently, there is not enough energy in raw foods to sustain our brains and bodies. We tend to introduce a lot of calories when we cook food with our sauces and oils and other ingredients, and as a natural by product of cooking itself, which is actually beneficial (to an extent of course)
I never thought about barbecuing as being inherently political but that quickly changed after reading Cooked. The methods for barbecuing – whole hog vs. section, what wood to use, even whether or not to use coals, can vary significantly from region to region, state to state, and county to county, with each group feeling that their method is superior, more authentic, or better tasting, than all the others.
Sometimes, I could do without his belabored style of writing. These are obviously topics that Pollan cares deeply about but sometimes I would read a passage and think, “Wow, that was a bit much.”
Overall, I enjoyed the book and think it’s a solid read for anyone wanting to learn more about some of the history behind the different cooking techniques we use and the evolution of cooking itself.
I hope you all are having a fabulous week!
I’m going to start off by saying that I’m a big fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work (well in advance of Beyonce’s surprise album release I might add). I’ve read all of her books (Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Son, The Thing Around Your Neck, and now Americanah), and I think she’s a brilliant writer. She’s able to create characters that you really become invested in.
Americanah is a book about a girl discovering race and racism in America. The book follows Ifemelu, a young girl from Nigeria, who moves to America to go to school and is trying to figure out who she is and where she fits in this new world. Race plays into every aspect of her life – education, romantic relationships, work, and you get to see how she handles all of that. A parallel story is also told of Obinze, her college boyfriend, who she left behind in Nigeria, and you get to see the life he lives and how different (and at times similar) their circumstances are. Their paths do eventually cross again many years later and they must deal with the remnants of their dissolved relationship. This book doesn’t wrap things up in a neat little bow for you. There are times you really want these characters, individually and collectively, to win but Adichie quickly dashes those hopes. To give the reader greater insights into these characters, Adichie goes back and forth between the past and the present allowing them to tell their stories.
As the story progresses, both characters make important realizations about who they are and what they want for themselves. And in an interesting turn of fate (without revealing too much), you get to see that as they finally get the things out of life that they were so hungry for in the beginning, it’s not as magical for them as they had imagined. This is the kind of book that makes you think about how you’re viewed by the world and ultimately how that influences how you look at yourself. I highly recommend it!
A few years ago when I was looking for a simple, straightforward book about healthy eating, I came across Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy by Walter Willett. I’m so glad that I did. This book is filled with solid advice based on tons of peer-reviewed scientific research. And if you care about credentials, which you should when it comes to your health, Willett’s are top notch. He’s not your next-door neighbor who lost 30 pounds by going on a cabbage diet, and then decided to write a weight loss book. He’s chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and a professor of epidemiology with an MD and a DrPH (doctor of public health).
This book gives it to you straight, talking about the things we do and don’t need for our body to function optimally. In the first chapter, Willett states that a healthy diet, regular exercise, and not smoking can eliminate 80 percent of the cases of heart disease in the US and the majority of cancer cases. Think about that for a second. That’s huge! This is empowering because these are factors that we have some control over.
Key points from the book:
- You weigh what you weigh because of your diet, your genes, your lifestyle, and your culture.
- Where you store fat can affect your risk for certain diseases. Fat around the chest and waist may be more problematic than fat around the hips and thighs.
- Learn to be a defensive eater (e.g. slow down when you’re eating, practice putting the fork down before you feel stuffed, and against your parent’s warnings spoil your appetite before meals – you may end up eating less).
- When in doubt go Mediterranean (plenty of veggies, moderate amounts of whole grains, and minimal red meat)
- Not all fats are created equally. Some fats are better for you (e.g. monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), while some fats are bad for you (e.g. saturated and trans fat).
- Slight Tangent: Food products that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat are allowed to list their trans fat content as 0 on nutrition labels. Sneaky bastards, right?
- Tip: Check the ingredients on the label and look for “partially hydrogenated oils.” These are the primary sources of trans fat in our diets. If you see it listed, drop the item, and slowly back away.
- Good news: The FDA is currently considering banning partially hydrogenated oils from food. Until then though, check the labels!
- Tangent Over
Eat the rainbow when it comes to fruits and vegetables. More colors mean more nutrients.
For anyone wanting to know about the basics of healthy eating, I highly recommend this book. It contains a lot of useful information on everything from nut consumption to choosing a multivitamin. At the end it also has a list of several healthy recipes to try.
You can get it from Amazon or check it out from your local library. Let me know if this review was particularly helpful and I’ll try to do more of them. Enjoy your weekend!