"Cooked" by Michael Pollan

“Cooked” by Michael Pollan

Some thoughts on “Cooked” by Michael Pollan on Netflix

This past Friday, February 19, Netflix added a four-part documentary to its programming line-up. It is called “Cooked” and it is based on a book of the same name by noted food journalist and accomplished home cook Michael Pollan.

Cooked on Netflix

Each of the four parts examines issues about cooking based on the elements of “Fire”, “Water”, “Air”, and “Earth” and the overarching theme relates to Pollan’s belief that cooking needs to return to people’s homes. Pollan notes that since the end of World War II, corporations have been playing an increasingly larger role in cooking in the US and he suggests that it might be playing a role in rising levels of obesity and type-2 diabetes in the US. His belief is that by returning to cooking at home, Americans can have more control over the foods they eat and how they are prepared. He suggests that leaving the cooking to corporate America is risky because they most likely put profits ahead of cooking healthful food (This isn’t a tough sell–large corporations are happy to mislead consumers with dodgy labelling and false health claims–all while being enabled by our government who relies on their lobbying money and campaign contributions. My two cents.).

Visually the series is pretty stunning. Some of the scenes were shot on location in western Australia, Mumbai, Morocco, eastern North Carolina and in other parts of the US. Many of the scenes emphasize cultures and subcultures that cook at home and how some of them are under assault by the processed food industry to lure them out of their traditional ways of preparing food. He follows a group of Martu people who return to their original lands and practice traditional hunting and cooking as a means of relief from their lives in contemporary Australian society. It is suggested that some of the group, who tend to suffer the afflictions of diabetes and other ailments often associated with modern, western diets, see an improvement in their overall health after embracing their traditional lifestyles. It is interesting stuff, indeed.

At one point Pollan says he wants to “lure people back into their kitchens” instead of lecturing them. He makes a compelling case by showing how enjoyable cooking at home can be and how entertaining at home is capable of bringing people together and encouraging human interaction with friends and family. His backyard pig roast and his dinner party of braised meat and other dishes certainly look like a good time to me.

He also attempts to demystify the act of cooking by providing some thoughtful insights from people who cook for a living and by explaining some food science in layman’s terms. In the final episode, he explores the often overlooked process of fermentation and how important it is to many cultures in many different ways.

I think that, on the whole, Pollan’s objectives are realized in the series. The stories are engaging and important, the visuals are compelling and the message is clear and easy to follow. I certainly felt compelled to cook after watching it, even though I may not be as hard to convince as others.

Copyright 2016 Kevin Penner