{from scratch club bookshelf} Memoirs & Policy Reads

In the spirit of our {4 Saturdays, 4 Giveaways} extravaganza, let’s talk books. We all have so many books that are dog-eared and covered with tomato sauce, having been read and referenced over and over. We have even more books on our to-read list for 2012: from light-hearted memoirs to food policy primers and everything in between. Some of these books help us make sense of our food system, some empower us to make changes in our diet and relationship to food, some shed light on important issues of food justice and access.

Here’s a short list of the food memoirs and policy books I love along with a few others that I hope to check out this year. I haven’t included any straight-up cookbooks or books that promote a specific diet, though there are plenty of wonderful resources out there. We’ll stop in periodically throughout the year to share our favorite cookbooks and resources for vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, allergen-free, paleo, raw and any other type of diet you can imagine! If you have any you think should be on our list, send us a note and we’ll include them.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver.
This is one of my favorite food memoirs ever written. Kingsolver writes about her family’s decision to buy only local or homegrown food for an entire year. She offers practical inspiration for adopting a local foods diet while also sharing the ups and downs from her year-long challenge. I love her writing style and those of her children and husband, whose thoughts and recipes are peppered throughout the book.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals &
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
by Michael Pollan.

You’ve all heard of these two brilliant pieces by Michael Pollan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma examines the typical American diet by tracing our food from its original sources all the way into our bellies. In Defense of Food offers strategies and solutions for reclaiming our role in the food system and for making thoughtful food choices. In sum, he boils it down to, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty by Mark Winne.
This is a must-read for anyone interested in exploring gaps in food access and ways we can achieve food justice in disadvantaged communities. Mark Winne draws on his rich experience working in Hartford, CT. to discuss the role of food banks, farmers’ markets, community gardens, public schools, CSAs, and urban agriculture in eliminating hunger, increasing nutrition and promoting awareness in poor communities. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in food justice.

Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon.
Another local food memoir favorite of mine. What started as a journalistic experiment grew into a year of eating food that was grown and produced within 100 miles of their Vancouver home. They write openly about their struggles to maintain the 100-mile diet while maintaining their relationship, social life and sanity. The book documents the rapid success and fame of their experiment, confirming that the urge to eat locally and seaonally resonates in many of us.

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball.
The story of how a New York City vegetarian writer fell in love and became a down-and-dirty farmer in upstate New York, complete with hilarious scenes of wrangling pigs, chasing runaway work horses and slaughtering livestock. Hilarious, heartwarming and inspiring with a great glimpse into farm life and a nice love story as a bonus. I got the chance to see Kristin Kimball and her husband speak, and they are just as delightful in person as they are in the book.

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman.
New York Times columnist Mark Bittman follows up his seminal How to Cook Everything…  cookbooks with a practical guide for eating better. He formulates a plan that is environmentally-responsible, nutritious and realistic; it starts with eating less meat. He’s not a vegetarian, however, and doesn’t propose that one need become vegetarian to make sensible, meaningful change in their diet. Bittman offers a general, flexible formula and simple recipes to adapt into your whole foods diet.

The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food by Ben Hewitt.
Hardwick, VT is a town of 3,000 is filled mostly with hardworking, blue-collar workers and old-time farmers. In a bleak economic climate, Hardwick has been home to a number of food producers and businesses that have bolstered the town’s local economy and put it on the map as an example of a self-sustaining, local food system. This book is an interesting peek into how one town reclaimed it for themselves.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg.
You probably know Molly Wizenberg of Orangette blog fame, and she doesn’t disappoint with her beautifully woven collection of recipes, anecdotes and family history in A Homemade Life. She writes about time spent in Paris, wandering the markets for fresh bread and cheese, falling in love and preparing simple, delicious meals for her loved ones. If you like her blog, you’ll love this book.

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’Homme.
This memoir is based on a series of interviews, letters, and notes that were compiled by her grand-nephew and published in 2006, two years after her death. Julia tells us about moving to France, being madly in love with her husband Paul, learning to cook, writing the epic tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking and creating a life full of adventure. She’s funny, inspiring and brilliant- but then again, we already knew that.

The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway.
In a city filled with world-class restaurants, delicious ethnic eateries and ubiquitous food carts, Cathy Erway decided to eat only homecooked meals for a year. She participates in underground supper clubs, cook-offs, foraging in Central Park and scavenging in dumpsters. If this memoir doesn’t motivate you to get back in the kitchen and get creative, nothing will.

And here are a few that are on my list of books to read in 2012:

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. I’m so jealous of the lucky winner from last week’s giveaway of An Everlasting Meal! From our giveaway post: “A home cook’s manifesto: part memoir, part instructional manual, part cookbook with an approachable, no-nonsense, simple and passionate narrative about how to not only understand some basic kitchen skills and recipes but also how to become an intuitive cook, comfortable in the kitchen with simple pantry ingredients and maybe, just maybe, take pleasure in the process.”

What to Eatby Marion Nestle.
Just as you might guess from the title, Marion Nestle’s instant classic offers guidance on how to navigate the complicated food system to find, buy and prepare healthy food for you and your family. She delves into nutrition labels, federal regulation, bogus health claims and every other complicating factor and emerges with a practical, useful guide for the average consumer. If you’re looking to cut through the mumbo jumbo, this book will help you do it.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook From Scratch by Jennifer Reese.
Haven’t we all wondered this question: is [BLANK] really worth making from scratch? For those of us still wondering whether or not it makes sense to DIY everything, Jennifer Reese has done the research for us. She explores ethics, cost, practicality and offers “make or buy” recommendations and recipes.

Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel.
An investigation of the global phenomenon that there are more starving people in the world than ever before at the same time that the global rates of obesity are at their highest levels in history. Patel examines questions of farm subsidies, monopolies and GMOs and sheds light on global food issues including farmer suicides, famine and international resistance movements.

Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran Hesterman.
Building on the recent slew of critiques of the current food system, Hesterman outlines a series of solutions that we can take to fix the problems that plague the way food is grown, packaged, delivered, marketed and sold. He highlights the inspiring stories of successful projects across the country that address issues of food access, workers rights and organic farming, while offering concrete information for getting involved.

And remember, you have until midnight tonight to enter to win The Art of Braising by Molly Stevens! We’ll announce the winner right here on the blog tomorrow and we’ll also launch our third giveaway of the month. Hint: we’ll be giving away a book from this list so check back and enter!

What are some of your favorite food memoirs and food policy books? Any that you just can’t live without? What ones are on your list to read this year? Stay tuned for our announcement next month of the From Scratch Book Club! We’ll choose a book, put on a pot of tea and meet virtually to discuss, gossip and ponder.


15 Comments Add yours

  1. NadiaNadia says:

    What to Eat by Marion Nestle is so so so good! It’s a very informative, eye-opening book!

    1. Christine says:

      Nice! Can’t wait to check it out soon.

    2. @NadisNadia – I met Marion last fall and was able to talk at length with her. A truly inspiring visionary and advocate! Good call on her book.

  2. Kate H. says:

    I’ve read most of these, but The Town that Food Saved is now on my booklist. Thanks for the roundup.

  3. Mike R says:

    I would love to win “What to Eat” by Marion Nestle!

  4. I am choosing “The Town that Food Saved”

  5. Nice list of food books, thanks! My Life In France by Julia Child is on my “to read” list!

  6. Jessica says:

    Just stumbled on your site while searching for Molly Steven’s braising recipes. Good discussion on garden planning. I’m looking forward to reading Michael Pollan’s books soon, so I was glad to see his (and Mark Bittman’s) books listed.

  7. @Christine – I wish I had more time to read! So many of your recommendations have been on my “to read” list for ages. Thanks for the wonderful inspiration to get my nose back in a book.

  8. suzemyst says:

    Great list of books! The Art of Eating In would be my choice of next book to delve into….lovely inspiration to keep the creative cooking juices flowing. 🙂

    I’ve been thinking and reading so much lately on revamping my own connection to food.

    Thank you!

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