Michael Pollan is food-shaming us again, this time in a four-part Netflix docu-series. It’s a gentle sort of shaming. Informative, but unless you’ve previously are aware of his work, you’ll come away feeling guilty about what you eat.
The series is called “Cooked,” and is based on Pollan’s book of the same title. In which he explored food past and present through the four elemental categories — Earth, Air, Water and Fire.
Cooked certainly lends itself to a cinematic treatment. It fleshes out Pollan’s musings with trips to a baker in history-rich Morocco. A cheese-making nun in Connecticut, hunters in Western Australia and more.
This is not some boring history lesson of food or how to or where to eat. It’s a measured lesson in how innovations that we take for granted transformed the human species. Cooking with fire relieved us of the chore of chewing raw food for hours, among other things.
The invention of pots that could withstand flame. Made it possible to cook with liquids, to mix things in soups and stews. Most of us hardly think of these facts, yet their daily manifestations are woven in the human food story.
“It opens up a whole new palette of possible flavours. Suddenly you have the birth of cuisine,” Pollan says of Fire.
And then there’s bread, in the “Air” episode.
“Bread requires a civilisation,” Pollan says. “You need people to grow the grain. You need people to harvest the grain. You need people to mill the grain and shape the dough, and it’s a cooperative venture.”
Although a food historian, Pollan is reminding us how far we have wandered from our culinary roots. In one way or another, each of these episodes mourns our detachment from our food and how to prepare it.
Then there is “Water”. Pollan shows how we are way too busy to cook nowadays. By “cook” he means create something, not thaw something out and microwave it.
We’ve abandoned the kitchen to the food industry, which helped create the no-time-to-cook mind-set with its advertising. Now we stand ready to help our busy selves with processed foods of questionable nutritional value.
There is substance to ‘Cooked’ yet some tricky aspects that may well be underdone.