Isolated for the holidays? You should feast anyway.

Even during a pandemic, feasting is central to Christian worship.

In his docuseries Cooked, based on his award-winning book by the same name, Michael Pollan sets out to show viewers the importance of tradition and ritual in cooking. The first episode, “Fire,” follows both the Martu people in Western Australia and a family of pitmasters in North Carolina. From the Martu, who have been living on a Western diet for only the past 60 years or so, we learn about the many health problems that arose when they turned from their traditional ways. When they returned on weekends to the bush and to their old ways of eating and cooking, many of those health problems subsided.

In North Carolina, Pollan focuses his attention on pitmaster Ed Mitchell, a Black man whose ancestors served as pit boys on the plantations where they were enslaved. Many others play a hand in hunting and preparing a pig for a barbecue, but it is the pitmaster who cooks it and serves it to his people. Pollan describes Mitchell almost in the terms of an Anglo-Saxon king who, after a war, redistributed the plunder to his people. The process is steeped in tradition and ritual, and it culminates in a feast. The barbecuing of a whole pig is a days-long process, one that involves a large amount of drinking and singing through the night until the pig is ready for the party the next day.

“When we learned to cook is when we became truly human,” Pollan says at one point. The point echoes anthropologist Richard Wrangham, who said that Homo erectus “evolved when an ape learned to cook.” Pollan spends much of the first episode of Cooked hammering home this notion. Cooking and feasting are part of the primal human experience, and Pollan values the importance of tradition and ritual, even when describing the certain amount of bullshit that happens around the fire during a barbecue.