Cooking with Michael Pollan

Last night, we welcomed Michael Pollan to the University of Mississippi campus for a talk about his latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

If Pollan’s 2006 bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, takes up the subject of what to put on the dinner table, Cooked focuses on how to get it there. Just as importantly, it offers compelling thoughts on why, in an age of take-out and microwave meals, we might actually want to do our own cooking.

Throughout the book, Pollan cheerfully and humbly takes on the role of the novice. He apprentices himself to, among others, an old-school pitmaster, a Chez Panisse–trained chef, a surfer-dude baker, a microbiologist nun, and a mutton-chopped fermentation guru. He learns to smoke a whole hog, assemble a flavorful braise, bake a loaf of springy sourdough bread, and harness fermentation to produce sauerkraut, cheese, and beer.

Pollan explains early on in Cooked, “I learned far more than I ever expected to about the nature of work, the meaning of health, about tradition and ritual, self-reliance and community, the rhythms of everyday life, and the supreme satisfaction of producing something I previously could only have imagined consuming, doing it outside of the cash economy for no other reason but love.”

At the SFA, a big part of what we do is to gather and tell the stories of Southern cooks, farmers, pitmasters, fishermen, and artisans who put food on our plates. Although they do this work to make a living, many of them also mention love with respect to their jobs, whether as a driving force or an added bonus. We share Michael Pollan’s philosophy that cooking and eating for and with our family and friends is what ultimately makes us human.