Movie and TV show recommendations are a dime a dozen, and often heavily depend on the tastes of the viewer (no pun intended). One person’s recommendation of a “great” show might be another’s sleep-inducing waste of time. So, in the interest of clarifying up-front my own preferences for recommendations on this blog, I’m going to stick with the overall theme of this blog: Technology, Science, and Ideas. My first recommendation is largely a manifestation of the recency effect of having watched this 4-part series in the last week, but it has already had a substantive effect on my outlook on food. The series is called Cooked (Netflix link) and is a fascinating look at the fundamental ways in which human beings have learned how to transform food.
The series is hosted by and based on the book by Michael Pollan, which I’ve added to my never-ending reading list based on how much I gleaned from the Netflix series alone. I don’t necessarily think I’ll take up cooking as a hobby as a result of the ideas presented in Cooked, but I certainly have a newfound appreciation for some of the quotidian food transformations I have always taken for granted. Considering I have a soft spot for the general fascination about the world around us and how it works, this series sparked an interest to learn more about the science behind food. Also as a result of watching this series, my interest has been piqued by Modernist Cuisine – frequently referenced in the Cooked series.
Probably the most important concept I came away with from watching this series is the idea that food transformations modify and/or increase the nutritional value of certain foods. The term “unlocked” is used a lot in reference to nutritional value and taste being increased by cooking food. I know; it’s not rocket science that cooked food can be more nutritious for you. But the science behind food transformations is, for lack of a better term, totally cool in the geeky sense.
Take for example the humble loaf of bread – a perfect example of why food transformations are so important:
When I was interviewing a food scientist at Davis named Bruce German, he told me something I didn’t realize. That if I gave you a bag of flour and water, and you had nothing else to live on, you could live on that for a while, but eventually you would die. But if you take that same bag of flour and water and bake it into bread, you could live indefinitely.
I don’t have the expertise or additional research to back up this kind of claim (hopefully reading the book will provide more insight), but it does drive home the profound impact of chemical changes that cooking food can have for sustaining human beings. In an age of questionable paleo-diets and abhorrence of carbs and gluten, the fundamental process of baking bread stands in stark contrast. The shift in perspective can largely be blamed on the industrialization of bread-making (which processes the ingredients in ways that no longer provide the same balance of nutrition that traditional bread-making maintains). But by understanding the fundamental process of baking bread and the nutrition it can provide as a result, understanding and knowledge begets appreciation.
I never considered myself one to bake bread thanks to the convenience of picking up a loaf from the local grocery store. But with a new perspective and more nuanced understanding of the science and process of baking bread (especially the traditional methods that maximize nutritional value), I might just try my hand at it someday. The rest of the Cooked series is well worth the time to watch if the bread example is of interest to you. I also look forward to reading the book (and some of Michael Pollan’s other books) as a dialectic complement and potential foil to my Soylent adventures.