I was dubious about Netflix but I have really enjoyed it over the last few months. And the other day I discovered that they had partnered with Michael Pollan to create a four-part documentary based on his book, Cooked, and I got very excited! Happily, it did not disappoint.
The show is clearly made after the book has been published; it begins and ends with Pollan reading at a book launch or author event, and there are a couple of points where people are reflecting on what they taught Pollan. It covers a lot of the same ground: it’s broken into the same four elements/chapters, and talks about many of the same types of cooking – which is to be expected. But there are some significant differences, partly to do with it being tv and partly, I suspect, for other reasons.
There really is a difference between reading about someone cooking – making mire poix, or throwing half a pig on a barbecue, or turning a cheese – and seeing someone do it. So in that way, this is a more… visceral experience. There’s something about actually seeing the meat or the cheese or the vegetable, or the bread rising, that is deeply delightful. So there’s that.
Also, though, I found the show appeared more diverse. Again, this is partly because of the medium: I easily forget who’s talking and of course colour isn’t always obvious from a name, even if gender often is. But when the Moroccan/Indian/Aboriginal person is on the screen – well, the colour of their skin is part of what you see. And people were often filmed in their homes, so those are visible too, in their wonderful diversity. That was significant. I definitely felt like there were more women in the show, talking about the how and why of their cooking – that was something I really appreciated. And along with all of those things, making them even better, is that Pollan allows those people to speak for themselves. There are whole minutes without Pollan on the screen! Mostly he’s not even interviewing people – I don’t think he’s even there. Yes, there’s a lot of Pollan cooking and talking about his research, and that’s fine – it’s part of the premise of the show, and he’s a genial person and easy to listen to. But the Moroccan baker and the Indian cooks and the Aboriginal women hunting for goanna: they get to speak about their own relationship with food and elements and culture, and it’s great.
This was a great documentary series. Highly recommended.