To Cook or Not to Cook?

The racial history of whole-hog barbecue. How to sweat a perfect mirepoix. Why we are so drawn to umami, that elusive fifth taste.

These topics and many more are dissected in Michael Pollan’s seventh book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. The bestselling author of The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan understands more than most the plants and animals that humans consume—for better and for worse—in this post-industrial age.

As a writer, Pollan, who speaks at the Petaluma Seed Bank on June 17, has hit on a winning recipe: Mix equal parts history, science and personal narrative. Season with sharp sociopolitical analysis and a liberal dose of how-to instruction. Serve earnest, with a side of wit. Hold the bravado.

Whether he’s being splattered with hot pig fat or analyzing the role of the cauldron in ancient Greece, Pollan’s prose is dense yet easy to digest. By exploring the role of each of the four elements—fire, water, air and earth—in transforming raw ingredients into edible meals, Pollan reveals the intricacies of grilling, braising, baking and fermenting.

For those who come away inspired to wrest their nutrition from corporate hands, Pollan includes his own recipes for pork shoulder barbecue, sauerkraut, whole wheat country bread and meat sugo. But don’t be intimidated by his gastronomic piety. As Pollan recently admitted to Stephen Colbert, he does enjoy a box of Cracker Jacks every now and then.

Michael Pollan, presented by Copperfield’s Books, speaks on Monday, June 17, at the Petaluma Seed Bank. 199 Petaluma Blvd., N., Petaluma. 7pm. (Note: Event is now SOLD OUT.) 707.762.0563.

Sonoma County Library