What Food Nerd Books We’re Reading

Once upon a time, New York was an oyster paradise. Of course centuries of the city’s industrialization have drastically altered this environment, but landscape architect Kate Orff of SCAPE has a bold proposal for revitalizing the teeming waterfront habitats of yore: oyster-tecture. Watch the video above as she describes her bivalve-centric vision for our local waters.

Ariel Lauren Wilson: Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew by Sam Fromartz
Being a farm kid, my interest in food comes from an ag perspective; I understood the concepts of rotational grazing and integrated pest management before knowing how to roast a chicken or brew a decent cup of coffee. Thus my entry to food writing was through ag writing, and particularly the work of Sam Fromartz, author of Organic Inc. In this book, Fromartz (who just released a well-received book on making bread and is editor-in-chief of the Food Environment Reporting Network) delves into the seeming paradox of the booming organic food and agriculture industries while underlining the risk of the term betraying its founding ideals for the sake of profit. It’s an enlightening read for both food and ag enthusiasts that, at the very least, will have you questioning whether or not you should be making that certified organic mac and cheese for dinner this evening.

Caroline LangeEating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
I fell in love with Jonathan Safran Foer’s fiction, first, but it’s his nonfiction that’s really made me think. I read Eating Animals, his personal investigation into vegetarianism as he and his wife, on the threshold of new-parenthood, debate whether to raise their soon-to-be-born son as an omnivore or a vegetarian. What I love about Eating Animals is its commitment to weighing both sides of the argument: Foer does not leap immediately into a plant-based diet, nor does he proselytize vegetarianism once he and his wife decide it’s the right choice for their family. He considers and validates the cultural significance of many kinds of meats — the Thanksgiving turkey, for example. But he also asks difficult questions about why those meats feel so important to us. Were you to suggest to your loved ones that you all forgo the turkey, there would be uproar; meanwhile, turkey has very low rates of consumption throughout the rest of the year. Eating Animals, which I read shortly after becoming a vegetarian myself at 16, was perhaps the first book that made me realize that food is so much more than what we put in our mouths, and is in fact a signifier socially, economically, historically, environmentally.

Eleonore Buschinger: Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine by Marion Nestle
When I’m not on the road, I’m usually dreaming about my next trip. I like travelling – let’s be honest I adore it. And when I travel, food is crucial. I remember coming back from holiday with my parents with huge amounts of food everywhere in the car. We could barely sit but we did not care because we had our salmon from Norway. The connection between local and global levels has thus always been driving my interest. I read Pet Food Politics like a thriller. Pet Food Politics is an account of the pet food recalls of 2007 and their implications for the health of dogs and cats, but also for our food system. Marion Nestle breaks down how the issue of food adulteration is strongly linked to globalization. Globalization creates competition among vendors, which then drives these vendors to lower prices. In order to be able to sell foods at lower costs, companies have to reduce their production costs. This often drives companies to look for global markets. Yet, the commodification of food and the financialization of the economy increases the disconnection between the consumption of food and the important relationships associated with its production and trade. The pet food recalls of 2007 exposed in fact the difficulty of tracing the origin of food ingredients and the weaknesses in oversight of food ingredients by food companies and by government. What had been set as a goal, has become a challenge.

Gabrielle Langholtz
It’s hard to choose just one.  Marion Nestle’s Food Politics — which illuminates how corporate interests, pursuing profit rather than pubic health, shape government policy and guidelines on what Americans eat — probably remains the book that has had the single biggest impact on my life. It inspired me to enroll in Dr. Nestle’s class at NYU, alongside my longtime Edible colleague Rachel Wharton, where I went on to teach a class on food systems for masters students, all because of this book. If you haven’t read it, get thee to a library. The 10th anniversary edition is out, with a foreword by Michael Pollan and a new preface and afterward. Should be required reading for anyone who eats.

Speaking of Michael Pollan, his Botany of Desire — which examines the human relationship with four domesticated plants — established Pollan as the master food-system storyteller and sets my bar for creative non-fiction. I jumped at the chance to write the book’s teachers guide. This time of year, the excellent apple chapter is well worth reading, or re-reading. Pollan’s rumination on the “sweetness arms race” will have you hunting down a Cox Orange Pippin and swearing off Red Delicious for life.

But my single desert-island food read would have to be Paradox of Plenty by Harvey Levenstein. I picked up a copy over a decade ago at Kitchen Arts & Letters and went on to underline nearly every word of the book (no exaggeration). This well-footnoted social history of eating in 20th century America examines everything from the rise of government hunger programs through vitamin mania, the Americanization of immigrants’ cuisine, the golden era of food chemistry, why the counter-culture of the late 60s ate brown everything and how high-brow ingredients became conspicuous consumption. I already made my mom and sister read this fascinating book; it deserves a prized place on every Edible reader’s bookshelf.

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