Michael Pollan left an overflow crowd at the Farm Institute with a clear message last week: start cooking.
“You can take a deep dive into the soul with cooking,” he said a during a sold-out a reading of his new book Thursday night.
“But it’s not all or nothing. People tell themselves that to avoid cooking. Cooking was a good way to bond with my son and teach him how to eat,” declared the food advocate, journalist and longtime Vineyard visitor.
Mr. Pollan read from Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation before a crowd of 300 people. The event was co-sponsored by The Farm Institute and Edible Vineyard and moderated by National Public Radio station WBUA host Sacha Pfeiffer. The reading will be broadcast as a future segment on All Things Considered. Tickets to the event were so coveted that there were reports of offers to muck stalls in exchange for admission.
Mr. Pollan has written extensively about food issues. But he found there was a void in his research and he found it right in his kitchen.
“Americans are just not cooking as much as they used to,” Mr. Pollan said.
For the book, he apprenticed himself to four master artisans in the categories of fire, water, air and earth. A pit master in North Carolina taught him about the power of fire. He had a lesson in braising from a Chez Panisse alumnus. A master baker schooled him in the art of transforming grain and water into bread. And a “fermento” taught him how to use bacteria to transform food. Each one came with a history lesson that spanned a period of time from the alchemy of cooking eight million years ago to today.
“I like to work with stories of educations and narrative,” Mr. Pollan said.
Take the word barbecue, for instance.
“The word is abused in the north,” he laughed. Mustard is used in barbecue sauce in South Carolina, but abhorred in North Carolina.
Following a running commentary on cracklings that he said changed his life and a detailed discourse on sauerkraut, Mr. Pollan opened the floor to questions.
Audience members asked about the role bacteria and fermentation play in good health, sought advice for the best way to eat on a college campus and queried the next step for the food movement.
On the latter Mr. Pollan did not hesitate.
“How do we make it accessible to everyone and create a situation where people can afford to buy it,” he said.