Good books on food and farming for 2017

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Yes, I have a reading season, and each year the season gets a little longer as I reject television and radio more and more.  The current state of our news cycle has helped push me back into books and this year I came across 4 titles that I particularly liked because they deepened my understanding of food and farming.

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat
British food writer and historian, Bee Wilson, might as well have this book referenced in the pre-natal care part of the bookstore.  She explores how the way we eat as adults is shaped by our very first experiences with food (for better or worse).  Indeed, our tastes are shaped by what our mother eats when we are in utero and later breastfeeding.  We may like the taste of chocolate over broccoli only because our Mother puckered up at our first taste of the vegetable and she looked heavenly as she savored a bite of chocolate.  While anyone can learn the nuances of taste preferences I do think that parents can learn how to navigate good eating habits starting at an early age by understanding how we learn to eat. (Basic Books, 2015)

Third Plate: Field Notes on the future of Food
Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns shares a decade of thoughts and experiences about where the Farm to Table movement might be missing its ecological roots.  I like his writing because he brings together all the elements of the Farm to Table movement.  The expectations of sustainable farming look a bit different from the perspectives of the farmer, the chef and the restaurant patron.  Barber addresses each element acknowledging that what the chef puts on the menu often dictates what the farm will grow and this is not necessarily good for the ecology of the area. Barber is advocating for a more ecologically sustainable menu that reflects what is good for the farm’s soil and its livestock. There are fantastic stories of people farming ancient grains, carrots with a Brix reading of 16.9, bringing flavor back by growing old varieties of corn and wheat, natural foie gras, jamon iberico and much more. (Penguin, 2014)

Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat
This was a superfast read for me because author Barry Estabrook knows how to keep you engaged in a story about pigs and the people that manage them.  His three categories include feral pigs, confined pigs and pasture raised pigs.  Estabrook is on an investigative adventure that describes attempts to manage feral pigs in Texas to the confinement barns of Iowa and the pastures of Vermont and slaughterhouses of Denmark.  My students had it as assigned reading and loved it, particularly the part that documented the pig’s social intelligence.  What I like most about this book is its honesty and how it finds solutions to some of the industry environmental and animal husbandry problems.  (Norton, 2015)

Meathooked: The History of Our 2.5 Million Year Obsession with Meat
This examination of our global obsession with meat was my favorite of the season.  It’s sweeping treatment of the evolution of our social, cultural, biological and financial relationship to meat-eating was fascinating.  Science writer Marta Zaraska has put together a comprehensive look at why we eat meat, why we don’t, why we crave it, why we have taboos against it, and what it says about who we are socially, culturally, economically and ultimately what it means for the health of the planet and of our collective selves.  (Basic Books, 2016)


December 28, 2016Permalink