March 07, 2012
My Five (and a Half) Favorite Books About Food
by David Draper
Throughout the history of the written word, there are many great scenes about or relating to food—from that forbidden apple in "Genesis" to a can of peaches in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But as a genre, good writing solely about food is a bit harder to come by. Until recently, that is.
Though the blogger-turned-book-writer fad of a few years back has slowed some, our food-obsessed world continues to crank out tomes of literature about food. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a good thing, even if you have to wade through the slush pile to find a few pearls, like these 5 ½ picks (listed in no particular order) that are among my favorite books about food.
1. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan: Whatever your feelings are about Pollan and his punditry, you have to hold some admiration for a man who went to such great lengths to learn where his (and ultimately our) food comes from. This book arguably kick-started our national obsession about food. I have loaned and gifted several copies, mostly to vegetarians.
2. The Mindful Carnivore, by Tovar Cerulli: I think I’ve mentioned Tovar Cerulli and his thought-provoking blog before. Subtitled “A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance,” this new book takes a hard look at Cerulli’s life as a reformed vegan and subsequent decision to take up hunting. The questions he asks himself about what it means to take an animal’s life are ones we should all be thinking about. Expect to hear more about and from Tovar Cerulli here soon.
3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver: The author and her family resolve to remove themselves from the agribusiness supply line for one year, eating only the food they grow on their farm or can source locally. It’s not a story about suffering, but instead one of surprising abundance, adding an exclamation point to Kingsolver’s statement: “Food is the rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure.”
4. The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, by Steven Rinella: Like Kingsolver, Rinella goes on a food quest of his own, though one a bit more peculiar. Using a copy of Georges Escoffier’s 1903 Le Guide Culinaire as a guidebook, Rinella plans a game feed for friends and family using ingredients ranging from antelope bladder to young pigeons. What he goes through to obtain these ingredients is both funny and fundamental to who we are as hunters and eaters.
5. The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker: Okay, so this is a cookbook, but it deserves to be on any list of the best books about food. I read The Joy of Cooking cover to cover in college and would recommend anyone serious about food do the same. But not one of the new editions. Find an older version, one that still has recipes for turtle and small game, even if you have to steal it from your mother, like I did.
5 ½. Just Before Dark, Jim Harrison: Don’t take the ½ as some sort of slight against Harrison, who is a national treasure and in my mind the greatest author alive today. Only the first 50 pages or so of this collection of essays deals with food, but the writing is so damn good, any list of best food books would be remiss to omit it. His takes a subject as simple as chicken thighs and turns it into something deliciously brilliant.
I’m always looking for good books to read, so let’s hear it from you. What are your favorite books about food?