Books on food

Meredith, bless her heart, asked for some of my favorite culinary reads. So I did a quick gleaning, and scooped up “something for everyone” in this pile. She wanted ten, but I’m giving you eleven.

Mary Frances Kennedy (M.F.K.) Fisher: any and all essays, but a good place to start would be The Art of Eating. She is able to limn the most attendant details: if you read her, you are seated across the table from her.

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison: Italian Days. This is another instance of food plus autobiography. BGH returns to Italy in her 50s. I did not want this to end.

Julia Child: My Life in France. Like the previous two books, this is personal history. This is a love story, though: love of food, love of France, love of her husband. Child is just as witty and charming as ever, willing to make mistakes and quick to laugh about them. Now, if I could only find out if her pot/pan shop is still open somewhere after Les Halles closed…

Eat = Memory, so I cannot in good conscience overlook Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu: Remembrance of Things Past. If you have a lot of time on your hand, you should try this.

Paul Bertolli: Cooking By Hand. Bertolli is a former chef of Chez Panisse, and now mostly makes sausage. I admire his passion, and the depth he takes with his subjects. This book handles balsamic vinegar, sausage, and pasta-making to a depth that will astound you.


Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel. What the hell am I thinking, including a book about the rise and fall of civilizations in a list of culinary books? The social history of food is directly tied to the success or failure of any civilization. The cultivation of grain, the domestication of animals, the migration of peoples: it is all here.

Michael Pollan: The Botany of Desire. Pollan, who’s well-known thanks to his recent book, has actually been around for quite a while, writing his little heart out. This book’s my favorite of his, covering the history of apples, potatoes, tulips and…pot.

The Oxford Companion to Food
. Everything, and I mean it, is in this book.

Studies, Polemics, or A Bunch Of Food Nags
These books will hopefully make you think about what you eat.

Peter Singer and Jim Mason: The Way We Eat (hardback) or The Ethics of What We Eat (paperback): Why our Food Choices Matter. Singer is the preeminent philosopher and ethicist best known for his work in applied ethics (i.e., weighing life choices) and animal liberation. That said, this book will give you a lot to think about regarding food choice: local versus organic, farmed fish versus wild…it’s all here. And you won’t turn vegan after reading it.

Want to figure out how to negotiate the fraught aisles of your grocery store? Marion Nestle’s What To Eat will show you just how very devious stores and food companies really are.

Nina Planck throws bombs, too. Her book Real Food is one I turn to often, mainly because I cannot readily remember which oil I should grab for what purpose: this book is the best one I have found to decipher the mono- versus polysaturated fats. It is an interesting read.

5 responses to “Books on food

  1. Cheers for BG Harrison!

  2. Great list.

    Ah, Michael Pollan – I heard him talking about “Botany of Desire” on our public radio years ago. It was perfect timing, I was just starting to garden at my own place – it was the start of an education.

    The Singer book is good too and not nearly as ‘hard-line’ as I was expecting from him. You are right;no veganism here, just lots of thinking.

    MFK Fisher – I love her writing. For some reason she reminds me of Mary McCarthy. Did i read them at the same time?

  3. Thanks for the list! I leave soon for a vacation at the beach and I’ll try and find some of these to read. Although I’m not sure it’s wise to be stuck in a vacation house with limited cookware and limited ingredients with the extreme urge to cook.

  4. You know El – I have not read any of these – thanks for the recommendations,

  5. Thank you for the list. I’m getting close to the bottom of my stack which includes a few of these and now I know where to look next. I love Michael Pollan and he is an enlightened being at our house but I have not been able to get into Botany of Desire. I’ll have to pick it up again.

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