Last week in my blog about responsibly-raised meat I mentioned Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful book about eating local, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, as well as Mark Bittman’s newer book on his own forays into the messy world of our nation’s food supply, Food Matters.
It got me to thinking about how food, and specifically issues of sustainability and the environment, has become as pervasive a genre as chick lit was in the ’90s. Unlike chick lit, however, most of these books don’t necessarily have a happy ending (although I like to think that happy endings would be created if enough people read them to affect change in our food supply change). They’re also not quite as page-turningly devour-able, but that’s another issue.
If you’re having trouble keeping up with all the must-reads in the food issues genre, here’s a cheat sheet. Take it with you next time you visit the library or your local bookstore, and stock up for beach reading. I’ll forgive you if a Helen Fielding or Jennifer Weiner book sneaks into your stack as well.
By Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver and her family decided to spend a year living off the land on their farm in Southwestern Virginia. Chronicled month by month, the book recounts the cycle of planting, growing and harvesting of their garden, as well as how they preserved and stored their bounty in every way possible to live through the winter. Kingsolver’s honest and unflinching documentation of the “harvesting” of their turkeys and her tangential examination of the meat industry really made me take a new look at my choices and the consumer’s power when it comes to choosing meat products.
By Michael Pollan
In one of the most famous tomes of this genre, Pollan tackles industrial farming and its reliance on oil and the organic food movement, and the problems within. The book is creatively organized (with four meals, ranging from a greasy sack of McDonald’s to a feast made of ingredients foraged by Pollan himself). Although it starts out a little dry, chances are it’ll make you think differently about the food you buy and consume.
Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating
By Mark Bittman
Bittman, whose cookbooks are simple, straightforward and foolproof, offers a similarly practical take on some of the problems with our food supply. Best of all, he gives concrete advice on what you can do about it: specifically, how you can eat less meat and processed foods. Not only is it good for the environment, but for your waistline — Bittman lost 35 pounds following his own advice. What he reveals about the food world’s dirty secrets is far from appetizing, but at least the 75 recipes included in the book follow Bittman’s typical accessible-but-yummy style.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
By Michael Pollan
Pollan follows up The Omnivore’s Dilemma with more revelations about the industrialization of the food supply and a bit of simple advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He’s suspicious and paranoid, rightfully so, of nutritional scientists and the government and the ulterior motives they might have for Americans to eat poorly. The book is full of more eye-openers as well as plenty of sobering advice that will probably make you just as paranoid as you’re trolling the aisles of your supermarket.
What to Eat
By Marion Nestle
The Grand Dame of Nutrition cuts through the marketing messages and claims and offers up an excellent guide to how to grocery shop while tuning out the noise that causes us to make unhealthy choices. She decodes labels and explains the nefarious arrangement of the supermarket, which is designed to influence your purchasing decisions.