5 Questions

Michael Pollan on Why We Should Cook (plus a Giveaway!)

April 30, 2013

We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.

Today, we talk to Michael Pollan, who got back into the kitchen for his new book, CookedBe sure to enter our giveaway below!

                   Cooked Pollan

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Michael Pollan's writing on modern food systems has played a huge role in how we think about what we eat and where we purchase our foods. If you haven't read The Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food, get thee to a bookstore -- but first, add one more book to your shopping list. Cooked, Pollan's most recent work, proves that the solution to many of our problems -- personal, philosophical, environmental, and social -- is as simple as getting in the kitchen.

We stole a few minutes of Michael's time to discuss what he loves about cooking, what he learned from his latest book, and what his daily eats look like. Be sure to enter our giveaway to win one of five copies -- Cooked is sure to inspire you to get cooking. And we're totally on board with that.

Your book is all about the importance of cooking at home, but you're sort of preaching to the choir here -- it's one of our favorite things to do. As home cooks, what's the best way to inspire others to spend more time in their kitchens?
I think that if you're a passionate cook, inviting friends into your kitchen is a great way to share your passion. Also, by watching or helping others, you can learn things you could never learn from a book or even a video. Side-by-side teaching is the best kind there is. Over time, dinner parties at our house have evolved in such a way that people show up an hour or two early to help out in the kitchen, and the cooking is as central to the experience as the eating. 

We're nosy, so we want to know: what do you eat? What does an average day of (whole) food look like in your life?
I often have eggs for breakfast, or yogurt and fruit in the summer, or oatmeal in winter. For lunch I try to eat leftovers, and usually cook enough dinner to roll over into lunch; otherwise I'll make a sandwich of whatever's around. Dinner midweek might be fish on the grill with three or four vegetables -- often roasted on a cookie sheet with olive oil, or greens from the garden -- kale, chard, spinach -- sautéed in olive oil. Pretty simple. We might make a stew, braise, or soup on a Sunday and have that a couple of nights during the week.

More: Roast any vegetable, in just 4 steps.


What is your favorite thing about cooking? 
For me it's a lot like gardening, which I've been at much longer. It gets me away from screens, from paid work, and it reacquaints me with all my senses, which I immediately realize are feeling neglected and in need of a workout. Learning to be present in the kitchen is a great gift to one's sanity -- to be there, taking in the smells and tastes, and letting the world fade away. What could feel like drudgery can feel like the most wonderful immersion. 

One of the simplest -- and most valuable -- tips you have for shoppers is to only buy foods found on the perimeter of the grocery store: whole foods like dairy, produce, eggs, and meat. If we were to catch you in the inner aisles, though, what Edible Foodlike Substance would you be buying?
I do wander in there from time to time to buy simple processed foods like canned tomatoes, chickpeas, and frozen spinach, which are all fantastic ingredients. It's the hyperprocessed foods -- those with dozens of ingredients, that are meant to be whole meals -- that get you in trouble, and I am really not tempted by them. But I do have a weakness for chips of all kinds, and the occasional bag of Cracker Jacks -- though I tend to buy these from gas stations, a notably terrible place to shop for food.

In Cooked, you learn about cooking from bakers, barbecue masters, chefs, and "fermentos" -- what is the most interesting fact, or valuable lesson, that you learned from these professionals?
"Practice, patience, and presence" -- the mantra of one my teachers, Samin Nosrat, which she picked up from a yoga teacher. I learned to be patient -- to let the onions sweat and sautée for 45 minutes rather than five, the braise at 225 not 300, to overcome my usual time panic and let things unfold. As a baker told me, "baking bread takes a lot of time, but it's not YOUR time."  

Looking for more motivation to cook? Beautiful tools are a good first step.

We're giving away five copies of Michael's new book! For a chance to win, tell us: what do you think is the most compelling reason to cook? Winners will be chosen at 3 PM EST this Friday, May 3.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • fen1027
  • LouLu
  • Oluseyi Segun
    Oluseyi Segun
  • Iuliia Uzun
    Iuliia Uzun
  • Karina Vaguez
    Karina Vaguez
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



fen1027 January 12, 2018
Cooking is about reconnecting with all of your senses and realizing that respecting ingredients is a way of respecting yourself and the earth.
LouLu August 15, 2016
That's an easy answer. We must cook for ourselves because when you cook your own foods, you know exactly what your foods are made out of. I do not trust any food establishment and never eat 'junk foods' at all. I was not raised with that belief. Having a garden to me, is the best thing anyone can do for oneself.
The saying that 'we are what we eat', is more true now than when I heard it as a child.
Healthy eating to all,
Oluseyi S. May 16, 2013
Hey Luliia,

I messaged them. And they said that: "they notified all the winners via e-mail."

Either way,it was a great contest and everyone had such fantastic answers!

Iuliia U. May 16, 2013
Who won? :)
Karina V. May 3, 2013
Cooking for my family is not only an honor, but also the opportunity to get inspired by my love for them. Feeling that i am actually loving them through my effort and creativity.
The Omnivore's Dilemma changed the way that I think about food and helped me to define who I am as a cook and as an eater. There are many reasons why I cook. The biggest reason is because I enjoy it! It's fun, it's relaxing and it gives me great pleasure to feed loved ones, particularly my young daughter. I love watching her when she discovers a new food for the first time and sees how transporting a delicious meal can be. There is nothing that I enjoy more than sitting down at the dinner table with loved ones, hearing about everyone's day and savoring a delicious, thoughtfully and lovingly cooked meal. To me, cooking is also about family connections. When I cook, I feel the presence of those who have come before me in the kitchen -- it nourishes my soul to spend time in the kitchen and rediscover the food of my roots, whether it is cooking my Mexican grandmother's Hatch green chile or trying my hand at my Italian great-grandmother's homemade ravioli.
MichelleWalkden May 3, 2013
Cooking is my favorite way to eat beacuse it is fresh and just how you like it!
Tadej May 3, 2013
To enjoy better food and bring smile to faces of the people you care about.
Alley's R. May 2, 2013
My parents never cooked. I grew up on fast food and frozen meals, which is why I cook every day now. I use as many raw ingredients as possible so I know what is in the food that is fueling my body. Reading In Defense of Food was really my turning point from eating "foodlike substance" to now eating real food.
Sandra E. May 2, 2013
My most compelling reason to cook is because most everyone I know sucks at it!!! My family have all decided to eat smart many years ago. Love cooking what is in season and what's at hand at local farmers markets. I would love to have a copy of "Cooked"!!
LC's K. May 2, 2013
I married 27 years ago. My husband and I grew up with mothers that cooked our meals. We have raised 4 children on home-cooked meals. For cost savings, yes, but the indulgence of eating out several times a week was unthinkable to us. Eating dinner, at home, as a family, was an important part of our day. Because I have been a cook all these years, my children have grown up and become very competent and adventurous in the kitchen, and I have found great satisfaction in the creative art of cooking.
SariS May 2, 2013
Cooking helps me to relax and unwind after a long day!
BMCourtney May 2, 2013
I cook for the pure pleasure of eating a meal, whether at a place set for one at my dining room table or for a tableful of friends and family. Each delights me equally.
Elsa May 2, 2013
I sat here for a few minutes trying to break down "why cook?" into separate reasons... but more than any other daily task, this one seems to me to be composed of an endless braid of interwoven practical, emotional, sensory, and cultural motives. Cooking --- and, even more, sharing that cooking --- nourishes me and those I feed not only physically but emotionally. We use cooking as a canvas to express our affections, our histories, our hopes, our respect, our desires.

When I remember a guest's favorite flavors or honor a friend's dietary restrictions or bring a packet of homemade candy to celebrate, that's not just food, but a token of love. When someone shares a nostalgic treat or a traditional dish, they're sharing something history as well as food. When my husband spends his one free afternoon every week cooking dinner for the two of us, he's doing something more than just feeding us.

And that is why I cook: because it both satisfies an essential need and communicates complex (sometimes even ineffable) ideas and feelings with the people around me.
Nataliee May 2, 2013
The most compelling reason to cook: all the learning, the creativity, the experience of world history through cuisine, the understanding of all ingredients and processes needed for a good dish and thus eating well, the "instant" gratification for the efforts, and (since I love cooking for people) the pure joy of seeing faces light up when they taste the food.
My grandmother used to say that you can't just throw something on a plate, you have to put some love into it. :)
beyondcelery May 2, 2013
My most compelling reason to cook is the joy it gives me to feed other people and hear those happy sounds of crunching, munching, and slurping. It's also self-preservation: I'm very allergic to gluten, so if I want sourdough, a Cornish pasty, or potstickers, I'd better make them myself or I risk being sick!
Deborah H. May 2, 2013
I enjoy cooking with fresh whole foods - & I like knowing what is in the food that my family and I are eating
Bonhomie May 2, 2013
Engages you more with the entire globe and those right around you.
Victoria C. May 2, 2013
The most compelling reason is to eat well. When I was young and just married, I knew that I would be eating every day for the rest of my life and wanted to eat well and wisely. What I didn't know is that it would morph into one of the three greatest pleasures of my life: cooking, reading, and writing.
AntoniaJames May 2, 2013
To engage in a joyful activity, every day, that not only enables me to manage stress effectively but also allows me to provide the best-tasting, most cost-effective, most nutritious meals possible. ;o)