Books on the more abstract side of food bring about a different kind of enjoyment than a reliable, dog-eared cookbook. Here is my running list of books that have educated, delighted, and inspired me along my food-loving path.
Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton.
The chef-owner of the highly esteemed Prune restaurant in New York is a muti-talented lady. As a New York Times reviewer put it, Hamilton can also write, popping up in all sorts of publications as “the author of eloquent, spirited glimpses into the heart, mind and sweaty labor of a chef.” In Anthony Bourdain’s own words: “Writing a memoir of one’s life as a chef—or even writing about one’s relationship with food—has, with the publication of this book, become much more difficult. Hamilton has raised the bar higher than most of us could ever hope to reach.”
Real Food: What to Eat and Why, by Nina Planck.
This book really challenged me to think differently about all the industrialized food out there. The daughter of farmers, Nina continued her legacy by starting up the urban green markets London, England. She often takes unpopular and unconventional positions, defending butter, eggs, and whole, unpasteurized milk. Whether or not you follow her wacky, “back to the 1800s” way of eating, her book is an entertaining and informative read for those willing to be challenged on the notion that our food is progressing along with our technology. Includes great sections on fat, Omega-3s, and cooking oils.
Women Who Eat: A New Generation on the Glory of Food, edited by Leslie Miller.
This book is the best collection of food writing I’ve read in a long time. All the contributors are contemporary females, and this is their collective manifesto on the joys of being a woman and savoring the edible world. Dismissing the notion that all women are on a diet, these women’s voices write of nostalgic childhood meals, cooking for the men they love, and even “being food” for the children they birth. Although peppered with the occasional recipe, the strength of this book lies in the gorgeous, evocative, and vulnerable writing that reflects the passions of feeding ourselves and our loved ones.
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler.
Who knew that reflections on eating and dining alone could be so entertaining? I love this collection of pieces by writers and foodies I admire, including Nora Ephron, Ann Patchett, and M.F.K. Fisher. Where else can you read about asparagus-scented urine and learn how to make “Single Girl Salmon” all in one place?
Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon,
This book is subtitled “a raucous year of eating locally.” The Vancouver-based couple decided over breakfast one spring morning that they wanted to understand their world better through food. Their tale of giving up pasta, sandwiches, ice cream and Cheerios is a joyful trip into the world of those who do food more seriously than most of us. I was inspired, after reading it, to be even more mindful of where my food comes from. Not, however, to give up chocolate, coffee, or salt!
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan.
A classic of our time following the dubious development of the corn industry in the U.S., including his now well-known (and oft-criticized) diatribe on farm-to-table eating.
A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman.
Ackerman writes poetically of the world we encounter every day through the five channels of our senses. She brings philosophy, history and psychology to the table, making this book an educational as well as sensual escapade. Always wondered where the word avocado came from? You might not want to know!