7 Must-Read New Books for Sustainable Eating
Author photo via Goodlifer
When we published our list of 9 Must Read Books on Eating Well over a year and a half ago, it felt like the good food fad may have reached its peak: The 100 Mile Diet had swept the continent, Michael Pollan had laid out the common sense problems and solutions surrounding our food system plain enough for all to understand, and Locavore was named the word of the year by the Oxford University Press. But, like all sticky trends, reforming our relationship with food and agriculture has morphed from fad to revolution and the books keep coming.
This current crop of food books are also worth sinking your teeth into.
1. Diet For a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe
With Diet for a Hot Planet, Anna Lappe brings us the book that we've all been waiting for -- one that compiles all the ways that our food choices and our food system impact global warming. Lappe reflects on why food is so important in solving the climate crisis:
There is real power in our forks, I've discovered. There is hope here. We see it once we see ourselves connected to people creating food systems that are nourishing - nourishing for us and the earth. And we feel this connection in one of the most simple acts we perform every day: eating.
Packed with facts and figures, Lappe's book does a good job of laying out the issues in an accessible way. The conclusion, consisting of seven commonsense principles of a climate-friendly diet, suggests that we select unpackaged, 'real food,' including lots of veggies; go organic and local when possible; and choose food that we prepare, and maybe even grow, ourselves. In addition, we should all go back to that age-old dinner table demand -- and finish everything on our plates.
2. Edible by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian
Ryder and Topalian are the brains behind Edible Communities, a family of regional magazines that celebrate local food across the U.S. and Canada. (Quick disclaimer -- I'm a regular contributor to Edible Vancouver.)
What I love about all of the Edible magazines is that they bridge the gap between the foodie fetishization of ingredients and the real issues that will help build sustainable, local food systems.
Edible the book is a compilation and celebration of all of the energy and excitement that each of the regional magazines expresses. Ryder and Topalian dedicate the first two-thirds of the book to local producers previously profiled in the magazines and the last third to regional recipes. Beautifully laid out with ample color photos, Edible is an equally great addition to the library of any foodie or food activist.
3. Empires of Food by Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas
I'm a sucker for historical analysis so Fraser and Rimas's Empires of Food is my favorite pick in this selection of food books. The writing duo takes us from the accumulation of wealth by Benedictines through agricultural land, to the fall of the Roman Empire, to the contemporary rice research labs in China.
One of the most interesting conclusions coming out of this book is that "Global food and local food offset each other's failings." The authors continue:
Local food is thrifty with energy and buffered from faraway disasters. Global food is economically efficient and, even more importantly, it puts mangoes and salmon on our dinner tables. We need the global system so that the regions can specialize -- to a degree. International trade prevents inefficient uses of land, since it's cheaper for people to buy what they can't grow effectively themselves. This combination of global and local, a nested bio-regional system for want of a more sonorous term, is the best way we have of sustaining our modern food empire.
4. Agricultural Urbanism by Janine de la Salle and Mark Holland
In this first comprehensive view at city planning around food, de la Salle and Holland examine the best practices and case studies that demonstrate what our cities could look like if food and agriculture became one of the pillars of planning. They have dubbed this new planning "ism" Agricultural Urbanism (AU).
The idea caused a minor stir here in Metro Vancouver when the developer of a proposed controversial development used concepts of AU to justify using prime farmland.
Critics are quick to paint the core of AU as a tool for unscrupulous developers. Despite any possible misuse of the overall idea, AU is something that our cities dearly need. It goes beyond community gardens and community canning kitchens to get at the heart of how our cities interact with food. The authors explain:
Agricultural Urbanism is an emerging planning, policy, and design framework for integrating a wide range of sustainable food and agriculture system elements into a community at a site-, neighbourhood-, or on a city-wide scale. In short, it is a way of building a place around food.
5. Food Matters by Mark Bittman
Photo via This Week For Dinner
Mark Bittman is one of my favorite food and cookbook writers. His recipes are practical and straightforward. I'm sure this is partially because he is an enthusiastic home cook, rather than a trained chef.
When Food Matters was first released, I suggested that Bittman underplayed the effect that our eating habits do and can have on the environment.
And this is actually why I like this book. Bittman takes a look at all the ways our food choices can have an impact, but doesn't get caught up in food being the golden arrow that will solve the climate crisis. This book is great for people who are concerned about making positive food choices but want to skip the serving of guilt. Here's a taste of Bittman:
Could improved health for people and planet be as simple as eating fewer animals, and less junk food and super-refined carbohydrates?
Yes. Of course health benefits for individuals would vary, and the effect on the planet would not necessarily be dramatic (as everyone knows, large adjustments in energy use are essential), but it would be a real step forward, and perhaps most important one that can be taken by individuals, with no government intervention.
6&7. Omnivores Dilemma: Young Readers Edition and Food Rules by Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan wrote the Omnivore's Dilemma with impeccable timing. It came out at the beginning of the current wave of what I'll call local food mania.
It's hard to believe that what Pollan was saying back then was anything new, as it has become so entrenched in the green ethos. When Lloyd first reviewed the book back in '06 he started off by stating, "A joy of writing for TreeHugger is that one learns so much, about things we never thought much about before." I can bet that Lloyd has thought a ton about what he eats since then.
Along with uncanny trend spotting, Pollan is a master at recycling the same message to different audiences. After The Omnivore's Dilemma, he wrote In Defense of Food, which basically covers the same topic but more from a nutrition angle, introducing the ideas of real food to a health-conscious crowd. And now, he's released material repackaged for new markets.
The Omnivore's Dilemma Young Readers Edition, as the title suggests, introduces youth to the ideas he explored in his original book. Asking students to become food sleuths, Pollan challenges them to question the assumptions they have about food. It includes fantastic graphics and sidebars that show things like a list of products made from corn (wallpaper paste? really?) and what is in a Twinkie.
The second, Food Rules, contains 64 rules that make up Pollan's eater's manual. This is the reader's digest version of Omnivore's Dilemma. It can be read in one sitting and if you absorb even half of the rules you'll understand how your food choices effect the earth and your body.
Three More Recent Releases Worth a Look:Recipe For America by Jill Richardson: Marion Nestle says, "Jill Richardson is a fresh voice in the movement to create a healthier and sustainable food system. This book will be part of a burgeoning social movement, as it provides a guide to the most important issues and how to work on them.
Farm City by Novella Carpenter: Michal Pollan says, "If you think the local food movement is getting a tad precious, then you'll relish Farm City. Novella Carpenter's captivating account of the funky little farm she created on an abandoned lot in a rough section of Oakland puts a whole new twist on the Agrarian tradition in America: she's going for a mind-meld of Fifty Cent and Wendell Berry, or an inner-city version of The Egg and I -- if you can conceive of such a thing without your head exploding."
Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat by Temra Costa: Alice Waters says, "Temra Costa is a tireless advocate for small-scale and sustainable farming in California. Farmer Jane is a work about good stewardship of the land and it is a joy to see so many peers, colleagues and friends honored in this wonderful anthology."