Intentionally or not, Michael Pollan’s latest book is a parody of foodie intellectualism.
By Sara Davis
What do we make of Michael Pollan’s seventh book, Cooked? Is it, as the subtitle suggests, a “natural history” which examines the science and paleoanthropology of cooking? Is it, as many of Pollan’s promotional interviews suggest, a polemic and a manual that tells us how and when to cook in order to repair the social fabric and national health of the United States? Is it a memoir of meals past, with ample nostalgia for a simpler time measured out with head shaking over the bustle of the modern world? Is it the foodie equivalent of a travelogue, tracing the author’s encounters with cooking techniques in such exotic locales as Korea, Portugal, and North Carolina? Is it an intellectual history of cookery, attempting to establish the cerebral value of the culinary arts through the theories of French anthropologists and philosophers? Or does this book and its promotional tie-ins comprise an elaborately executed piece of multimedia performance art, a parody of the foodie intellectual on the level of Joaquin Phoenix growing a beard and releasing a rap album?
I’m going to go with the poorly executed parody theory. Why else publish a book that attempts — with uneven levels of success — to encompass everything I described in the above paragraph? Why else bury the history and science reportage — which are Pollan’s strongest suits — in layers of stultifying narrative about his personal struggle to learn how to cook? Why else send a book to print when it is still peppered with un-fact-checked references (I’m not sure why he refers to The Feminine Mystique by name so frequently when it appears that he hasn’t read it) and contradictory aphorisms?