So many books, so little time.-Frank Zappa
I am always reading at least 4 books at any given time. Right now I’m in 6. I’ve got my research (food/farm related), and the book I’m cross referencing, the two I’m in for church classes and the one I’m reading to become a better person and then there is the book from a class I took about which I need to refresh my knowledge. In queue, I have every book about food, the food supply and agriculture that I haven’t read yet. It sounds like I have more time to read than I do.
We are living in the golden age of food books. Asking me for favorites is a little like asking me to pick favorite children but some are more suited to specific audiences than others.
Here is my current must read list for the people out there who eat:
If you are craving a broad overview of the western food system, you can’t go wrong with the standard that celebrated it’s 10 year anniversary in 2016, Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. It is a must read for everyone in western society. Truly. You knew I was going to suggest this one, right? I could confidently recommend everything he has ever written. There is nothing I can say here that hasn’t already been said about this book. As he explores why we eat how we eat, Pollan sets the standard for in depth analysis combined with casual readability.
My other favorite overview book is Ellen Gustafson’s We the Eaters. I like this book so much that I give it away occasionally on the Katy Had a Little Farm Facebook page. Gustafson does a great job of approaching the entire food system, beginning to end, including policy, producers, consumers and the effects on those outside the US. She does it all, not unlike Pollan, as she breaks down a typical meal and gives the reader (eater!) clear insights into how to change the world by changing what is on their plate.
Looking for a fun intro to the world outside of industrial health and food? Farmacology by Dr Daphne Miller is a fun and interesting read that follows her journey from conventional methods to a more holistic view of health and food.
Craving something figuratively meaty? Something most of your friends won’t touch? For more in-depth analysis of modern edibles and the social engineering behind them, both political and corporate, Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat is soon to be iconic and Marion Nestle’s Food Politics already is. These books, while not for the faint of heart, are powerful and illuminating.
Do you want a book that takes you from real life crime novel to descriptions of food that make you salivate? Get Real Food, Fake Food by Larry Olmsted. I loved this book. My obsession with quality and authenticity in food was only fueled by this fascinating look behind the curtain. It will affect how you eat and shop.
Speaking of obtaining the real thing with your food dollars, Olmsted testifies to the quality and honesty of the products offered by Zingerman’s which, lucky for everyone outside of their deli, sells via mail order and is an indispensable resource for the authentic food lover. Their book, Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating, is one of the best material gifts I have ever received. In it you will find a trove of information about quality foods that I have found unequaled.
What about the locavore movement? I’m always pushing buying and eating local on you so surely I have a book to push as well. Yes, yes I do. My favorite book thus far on this subject is the thoroughly engaging Animal, Vegetable, miracle by Barbara Kingsolver is a must read for people who want the context and the reality of locavore eating. I highly encourage you to come with her and her family as they commit for a year on a level that most of us never will so that you can learn lessons you otherwise would never learn.
What about the people who just want to a book to help them eat healthier?! I hear your cry. There is so much out there with a grain of truth in it that diet books are soon to be spilling onto the streets from every store front, blocking traffic in metropolises large and small. See what I did there? I took a grain of truth and then ran somewhere else with it, making a mountain out of a comparative molehill. Well, I thought it was clever. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, diet books are awful and terrible and you should ignore most of them. As I have said thousands of times while beating my head against a figurative wall, NEVER DIET. We all live on a diet or we’d be dead. So, is there a book out there about spending your life eating in a way that promotes health? I’m glad you asked. Yes, there is. My go to for people who are new to plant based eating is Dr Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live. This book presents the case for a plant based diet clearly and simply. If you don’t know whether to put that highly processed piece of garbage masquerading as an edible in your mouth and make it part of your very cells, this book is for you. This is not a diet. It is about your diet.
Next in my queue right now in the realm of food books are What the Fork are you Eating, Swallow This and The Third Plate by Dan Barber, which is waiting for a road trip so I can listen to the audio version. One must be economical with their time.
Happy eating (and reading!)