I remember reading Fast Food Nation in junior high… and being utterly traumatized. Fingers in nuggets. Chemical flavoring. Sad cows. It was all there, and my young heart was broken and disgusted. That is, until I got hungry. This was, to be honest, at the height of the KFC Twister era (don’t act like you don’t remember it), and this girl couldn’t be stopped from getting a snack after school. Gigantic sandwiches, frosty drinks, fried chicken buckets (sometimes wrapped around hot dogs) — I think you get what I’m going for here.
These were my habits until a few years ago, when I was diagnosed with Celiac disease. The news changed everything: I started really paying attention to what I put in my body, and it was only a short leap from there to wanting to know more about where my food was coming from.
You guys, food is delicious. We #foodstagram it. We think about it. We talk about it. We review every bite that goes in our mouths. We are attempting crazier dishes at home. Yes, yes, yes, we love it. But I promise that caring about food doesn’t have to be the Portlandia skit in which you learn the names of each animal on your plate, visit the farm, commune with the soil, and meet each farmer before returning to your plate. It can be as simple as making small changes in what you eat and where it comes from. Or at least just learning something more about the food you’re putting into your body. At the risk of my earth-child showing, I think it’s time for all of us to learn more about food policy, the restaurant industry, and what we can do for ourselves and for our communities to keep everyone well-fed and -cared for.
These 10 books will get your stomach rumbling while simultaneously jump starting your nonfiction brain, and will inspire you to give a second thought to that third CroissTwinkie, and think more like…
Generation Yum by Eve Turow
Last time I checked my hashtag search on Instagram there were more than 20 million uses of #foodie and more than 60 million #foodporn images, the Millennial set has brought food obsession to a whole new level — a topic Eve Turow explores in Generation Yum. Turow is like anyone of us who grew up on Clarissa Explains It All, made our parents stand in absurd lines for Tamagotchis, hid under the blankets during Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and binged on junk food. What I’m saying is that she’s a Millennial through and through. Generation Yum breaks down where our generation’s obsession with food stems from to get a better understanding of the “why” behind your cousin’s fourth hot dog picture this past Fourth of July weekend.
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
The granddaddy of food policy books, Fast Food Nation looks at the “dark side of the all-American meal,” as it says in its subtitle. From the financial implications of fast food, to our nation’s obesity epidemic, to the invasion of American eating habits abroad, and more, this book will scare the shenanigans out of you… but in a good way. I promise you won’t ever look at a trip to the drive-thru in the same way again.
A Bone to Pick by Mark Bittman
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook
Like many of these books, Tomatoland started with an article that, once written, wouldn’t die. If you’ve watched Food Chains, you know how one-sided the power structure of the farmworker’s relationship with farms is and how, especially in the tomato industry, exploitation has been an engrained principle. Tomatoland delves further into the $4 billion industry to take a look behind the curtain by reporting on the agribusiness and environmental issues of the beloved fruit. The book reads more like a whodunit than a dry, preachy piece (which it easily could have been under a less-seasoned pen). If I can be so bold, watch the documentary and read the book close together for full mind-blowing effect.