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…
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.
Click here to buy.
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.
Click here to buy.
Bittman’s most recent book, A Bone to Pick,
is going to make you that super-annoying person
whom your friends can’t take anywhere. Why? Because between telling everyone
about the facts from this book on the bus, or spouting off figures to your
friends and family, your world is going to be rocked. The book is a
culminations of Bittman’s best of the best articles from his ongoing column at The New York Times
. Essentially, he takes
on distilling massive amounts of information to make the food policy world
approachable and interesting.
The best part? Bittman doesn’t create some
complicated mess that you have to untangle in order to make a difference.
Instead, it all boils down to: Eat less meat. Eat more vegetables. Eat more
whole food. Support human and animal rights. Sounds doable.
In The Omnivore’s
Michael Pollan follows the food chain from ground to table
ties the whole thing back to a meal at the end of each of the book’s three
sections — industrialized food, alternative/organic food, and hunter gatherer
style food — which can be traced from start to finish to reveal the hidden
environmental and physical consequences. Pollan’s anecdotes are supported by
the kind of facts and figures that can scare the extra-foamy double tall Slurm
right out of your hands.
To me, Blood, Bones
is the perfect marriage of inadvertent food commentary, memoir,
and food porn. The book chronicles Gabrielle Hamilton's path
from bar slangin'
teen to renowned chef and owner of New York City restaurant Prune, mother, and
soon-to-be divorcée. Although, unlike many of the others on this list, this book
doesn’t rely heavily on hard data, what it does do is make you step back and think
about your relationship with food, where it comes from, and how we enjoy it. I
love thinking that Hamilton would have made a great addition to Generation Yum
because, in a way, she had the mentality of a Millennial before that was even a
thing — fetishizing local, handmade goods; dreaming of a simpler life; and eating
the heck out of some delicious food.
Salt Sugar Fat
the O.G. of books on gluttony. Try this fact, straight from the book, on for
size: “Every year, the average American eats 33 pounds of cheese (triple what
we ate in 1970) and 70 pounds of sugar (about 22 teaspoons a day).” Yes, you
read that right — and the book is full of plenty more Fast Food Nation
-style facts just like it. Although we have learned
a lot more about the food industry and its atrocities since this book was
published in 2013, the book is still a must-read
for anyone scared to open
another bag of cookies.
To eat or not to eat, that is the question. Personally, I’ve
always struggled with the idea of eating meat, so I can wholeheartedly relate to Jonathan Safran Foer, who explores the question: Why do we eat animals? And would we eat them if we knew how they got to
our dinner plates? A cross-section between philosophy, science, undercover
sleuthing and internal debate, Eating
is really more of a reckoning that we all have to come to terms
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.
Click here to buy.
Although many of the books on this list contain great
theoretical knowledge, some are hard to apply to everyday life. Eve O. Schaub wanted
something a little more practical. Not only did the author attempt to eliminate
sugar from her own diet for a year, but also from the diet of her husband, and 2-year-old
daughter. Through stories, recipes, and commentary,
Schaub shares more about the
real cost of our sugar-laden diets both in the short and long term, ways to eat
out while maintaining a low-sugar diet, and how to go grocery shopping.
Although many readers are wary of Schaub’s disdain of the veggie world, the
book is a good introduction to how changes can be applied practically and to
get readers thinking about daily food choices.
Regardless of how you feel about Anthony Bourdain and his no
B.S.-style, the chef was one of the forefathers in bringing attention to the
restaurant industry and making cooking “cool.”
Would we care about our locally
sourced, organically farmed, happy-go-lucky whosiwhatzits if it hadn’t been for
this book? Would I have taken a third Instagram of the farm feed at the local
dairy farm? Would we even know what umami is? Either way, Kitchen Confidential
, Bourdain’s exploration of the trade, is
witty, passionate and goes down smooth.