Cooked Documentary Episodes
I enjoyed watching the Cooked Documentary series on Netflix. The take away message seemed related to the foods we eat and the cultural origin, which I found very interesting. The cooked documentary has me thinking about a lot of things; like trying my hand at being a pit master or baking a loaf of sourdough bread perhaps, and of course chocolate.
The theory that we evolved as humans based on our ability to cook is an interesting concept; the thought was put out that humans couldn’t live long without cooking, or if we lost our use of fire. Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney is the executive producer in this film, which was narrated by Michael Pollan; based on Pollan’s 2013 book. I like that the series isn’t preaching a particular right or wrong eating style or behavior, instead discusses how we have evolved over time as it relates to foods.
“One of the things I like about this series is that there’s an angle to it,” says Gibney. “It’s not some supposedly objective look at cooking through the ages, not a paint-by-the-number history series. It’s Michael’s point-of-view. That said, within that context, the directors were allowed a lot of freedom of style and content that brought a certain eclectic vitality to the series.”
Here is my synopsis of the four Cooked Documentary episodes:
Fire: explores the history of cooking with fire, going back to Aboriginal culture and a people who still use cooking techniques developed over time. I’ll admit, this episode is difficult to watch at times as it graphically shows the hunt for iguana. As the show moves along, it will leave you with the desire to slow cook pork over slow heat, preferably wood, to experience the taste and smells discussed.
With barbecue they go back historically the African-American culture, how people came together with food, seemingly transcending bias. Barbecue originated from African-American culture, growing in detail as it passed through the Caribbean and spices were introduced.
They discuss the cultural history of the Aboriginal people, how they left their cultural lands thereby changing their diet. At the time when they left their native lands, changing to the western diet, they developed all the metabolic diseases common in our culture. When they went back to their cultural eating styles, removing fast foods and sugar from their diets, their health markers dramatically improved within six weeks.
Water: In this episode we go back to the advancement of cooking; Micheal’s mother cooked stews in a turquoise pot, how that pot has meaning to him as a tool that brought his family together. In this episode we travel to India and their culture of pot cooking, the combination of herbs and spices with the rituals enjoyed in the process.
The various ways food combinations occur differentiates the origin to your cultural cooking habits. Starting with onion, celery, and carrots; typically it’s the herb combination that defines the dish; their combined aromas telling the background story.
Time spent cooking, has shifted from 60 min in 1965 to 27 min. currently, this changes the quality and experience surrounding food. The involvement, time, and effort to feel our families is changing, not for the better. In a short period of time people have gone from kitchen prep time to going to your local gas station for a fill up and to pick up your next meal. Industrialized foods were created during WWII to feed troops overseas. When women joined the work force, industrialized foods shifted our culture from home cooking to industrial cooking. Marketing techniques, which make quick cooking techniques enticing as a quick and easy means to get food on the table, have changed meal prep tremendously.
This clip below talks about cooking with water, foods started to evolve 10,000 years ago, when cooking pots were developed, allowing a mixing of flavors to change foods from its original state.
Air: The heady smells of bread cooking in the kitchen is real treat for all of us; the smell quickly turns a person into Pavlov’s dog. Micheal talks about the history of bread making and gluten sensitivity, he then wonders if bread in its original form, sourdough, would trigger the same allergens; that’s food for thought. (Ha, see what I did there)
How did bread making evolve, how did they discover that ground grains mixed with water, left on a shelf, would ferment to create bubbles that held their form when heated. These are the topics discussed in air; how wheat, the most widely planted crop, are milled and used as currency based on their value to feed nations in both current times and over time. It is believed that bread was discovered in Egypt some 6000 years ago, when naturally occurring yeast caused wheat porridge to ferment and rise.
Over time the original structure of wheat was changed to make a product which cost less to create. When problems arose from the product; instead of going back to wheat in its original form they added chemical ingredients to mimic the original goodness, which had been removed.
Richard Bourdon, a life-long baker from Québec, Canada, works with bread and believes that food in its original form is best. A kernel of grain has everything it needs to support life: carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals; it does need fermentation to make it usable and easier for our body to digest.
Including in the many pieces of information; seed banks and the warehousing of seeds against catastrophe are discussed. As new varieties of seed are developed; the older, more familiar seeds are stored in an effort to protect them from going extinct; allowing the preservation of what is able to survive across multiple cultures.
There are pieces of culture regarding bread I hadn’t realized, for instance:
- In Morocco you can’t cut bread with a knife as it is considered a violent act.
- The word bread is also the word for life in the Moroccan culture.
- Bread was more of a community effort as everyone came together to make it happen; from the farmer, miller, and baker.
- It is mentioned that with just flour and water, eventually a person would die. Once flour and water begins to ferment; people could live much longer.
- That gluten intolerance is a recent issue thought to be caused by the industrialization of bread production.
Earth, is mostly about fermentation, which preserved foods over time, making them available throughout the year and allowed them to be stored safely. The first fermentation is assumed to be alcohol; sugar is needed to create this fermented brew. There are many ways to ferment; one odd way is done in the amazon where a group of people chew a starchy yuca root, then spit it out; it’s hard to watch. The enzyme amylase in saliva breaks the starches down to sugar; who discovered this, why, and how? I shuddered watching them drink this concoction; still alcohol was used to purify dirty water for years.
A few interesting things that use fermentation:
- Ancient people believed beer was created by the goddess of fermentation.
- 1/3 of the foods in our diet are fermented: ketchup, kombucha, kimchi, cheese, hot sauce, sake, beer, salami, even chocolate; just to name a few.
- Dogs don’t bury their food to hide it, but to ferment it, making it easier to digest.
- Birds sprout their seeds to make them more nutritious and digestible.
- People fermented foods by accident, continuing to do so long before it was understood the science behind the process; it was trial and error learned over time.
- The thought of the bacteria which makes cheese smell, is the same family of bacteria from the human foot and armpit will make you pass on cheese; well maybe.
- We wouldn’t have chocolate without anaerobic fermenting of the raw bean before processing. It’s an interesting process deserving of its own post.
- 9 out of every 10 cells of our body belong to microbes; many reside in the gut. What happens with the bacteria in the gut impacts many systems within our body.
- The French are creating designer cheeses in an effort to replace missing microbiome in our gut to improve various conditions.
I enjoyed learning about the cheese nun from the Abby in Connecticut microbiologist sister Noella. Interestingly enough, the removal of wooden barrels used in the cheese making process, to satisfy food safety regulations, actually created a food safety issue. Apparently the naturally occurring bacteria found in the wood casks helped digest the pathogens that might be fermenting within the cheeses.
Overall this is an excellent 4 part series that I think you would enjoy.
Each episode features Micheal Pollen cooking in his California home, inviting friends over to enjoy the meal and discuss the processes behind it. I’ve enjoyed this series and the foods that I’ve been inspired to cook as well.