In Michael Pollan's most recent book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, the author discusses how the four elements -- fire, water, air, and earth -- transform plants and animals into the food that ends up on our plates. Best known for his bestsellers The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, Pollan penned Cooked as a staycation for food. Why go to a restaurant when you can do it in your own kitchen? This Thursday, Miami Dade College will host the author at the Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami, and Short Order spoke with Pollan about the new book, transformations, and the importance of home cooking.
New Times: What inspired you to begin cooking?
Michael Pollan: I always cooked, but not with much skill or conviction. When I was studying agriculture and looking at debates on good nutrients and bad nutrients, it dawned on me that all that was less important than the fact corporations have taken over the cooking and that they cook badly, with too much fat and sugar, and chemicals to make it last longer. That's when I thought I needed to take a serious look at [cooking].
Cooked is divided into the four classical elements that transform things from nature into things we eat and drink. Is there an element that you like most?
I have a weak spot for air, for bread. I never expected that because it was so daunting to me, but I love that miracle of going from a pile of white flour to a beautiful loaf. I'm also taken by fermentation, the idea that bacteria is so symbiotic.
In Cooked you say we need to go back and talk about division of labor. Do you think it will be difficult these days? Do you think men are more willing to cook now?
We're breaking down the sexist stereotypes of cooking; that '50s stereotype is losing its hold on millennials. I think making cooking more social, having more than one person in the kitchen, makes it more fun. There's a real interest in getting back into making things.
Why do you think the majority of the chefs we see on television and read about are men if it doesn't reflect the reality of American homes? Do you think that will change anytime soon?
Where there's money involved, there are more men and fewer women. It's changing, but too slowly. But if you look at the cooking shows, women are right there in the thick of the competition.
Why do you think it's important to cook with others, especially family?
When you're cooking, it doesn't consume all of your time or attention -- you can still talk. My son used to do his homework in the kitchen while I cooked, and sometimes he'd help me or just come over and taste something. It's a way to spend time with people you care about.
Do you have advice for how people can make more time for cooking? What about people who do not have the resources -- i.e., money?
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It's true that you have to be in a position to either invest time or money [to cook]. But the point is, it's really about eating real food that isn't processed. And there are strategies that make it doable. For example, I always make at least 50 percent more than I'll actually eat so that I can get two meals out of one. I also think planning and having a stocked pantry and freezer are important. I always have chopped spinach in the freezer, boxes of wheat pasta, and canned wild salmon. The real challenge is getting people to rethink their conceptions of cooking. It's important for people to understand that restaurant and television cooking is not reality. It's special. We let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Michael Pollan will appear at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus this Thursday, May 15. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. and is free to attend.
Follow Dana De Greff on Twitter @DanaDeGreff.