What with all the new traffic from the PBS mention there’s some renewed interest in my Michael Pollan posts from years gone by. Commentary has been both positive and negative, no surprises there. However a few readers have asked why I haven’t reviewed Michael Pollan’s latest book, Cooked, since that would seem to be a natural addition to the series.
It’s a fair question and the answer is because Cooked isn’t a book about food politics, or at least not primarily, and it’s only when Michael Pollan heads off on one of his ideological benders that I have problem with him. Cooked is a collection of essays that recount Pollan’s own forays into cooking, baking, brewing beer and so on. Oh sure there’s some of the usual food-political blah-blah scattered in there, but most of Cooked is entertaining and informative. It reminds me of the Michael Pollan I liked, the skilled and witty fellow who wrote Botany of Desire, and, quite frankly, inspired me to start writing about food.
That said, I think “cooked” is an all-too appropriate term for the state of the ideological movement that one might call “pollanism”. Stick a fork in it — it’s done. It formally ended when Mr. Pollan declined to pursue the position of Secretary of Agriculture as his fans demanded after the ’08 election. Doing so would have continued a logical trajectory, from polemicist to a man of concrete action. Putting his money where his mouth is, so to speak. When he flatly rejected the idea, it told you everything you needed to know about what Pollan thought of the viability of his own ideas.
So Cooked is a good move for Michael Pollan on a lot of levels. It’s a welcome turn away from the righteous cant he’s been trading in for over a decade now, back toward the lively expository writing that earned him so many early fans (like me). I certainly won’t knock it. Far be it from me to impugn the efforts of a guy who wants to learn to bake good bread at home! I’ll say I hope the trend continues, because even at the time of my harshest criticism I’ve remained an admirer.