Books to eat by

Helen Zoe Veit wrote an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times that seems to be getting some traction. The Atlantic’s blog picked it up as a top column of the day and she was on NPR talking about it, too.

The premise seems so simple, it’s almost hard to imagine it being newsworthy, and yet its message is one that could potentially have widespread effects on future generations. Teach kids to cook in school. Bring back home ec (or a modern day version of it). In a culture filled with obesity and processed foods, going back to basics seems like a solution worth paying attention to.

As far as books go, there are crusaders out there doing good work on this subject, like Michael Pollan, whose Omnivore’s Dilemma, published in 2007 opened up the conversation about what we eat and where it comes from. Nutritionist and food historian Marion Nestle’s books, including What to Eat, take decades of research and distill them into digestible sound bytes that are accessible to the general public. More recently, celebrity chef and cookbook author Jamie Oliver got out there pitching a book and reality show, Jamie’s Food Revolution, trying to make a difference and teach kids, their parents, and their schools how to cook simple, healthy meals from scratch. And many of my own clients work tirelessly to extend that message of from scratch cooking, like Jennie Perillo of injennieskitchen.com.

Here’s a link to a New Yorker piece I found that talks about some of the books published on obesity, overeating, American’s obsession with fast food, and a myriad of other depressing topics that talk about the way we eat now and how we got here.

I think these authors are making a real impact, even though my house and diet are, like many, full of contradictions. Despite good intentions, the bad habits are so deep rooted (I grew up eating Devil Dogs, McDonald’s, Chef Boyardee, and Kraft mac & cheese every day after school, and I still love all that junk!), and so ingrained in our psyches that it’s going to take a generation to move away from where we’ve been and on to greener and healthier pastures.

Books like Pollan’s,  Oliver’s, and Nestle’s, and op-eds like Ms. Veit’s, are a good conversation starter and reminder of how some basic but widespread changes can really make a difference in the way we eat now and what that means for future generations.

What do you think? Are there any great books on the subject of food culture in America that you can recommend? Any you’d like to see that haven’t yet been written?

4 Responses to Books to eat by

  1. I thought that Ruth Ozeki’s _My Year of Meats_ (1998) was a fine critique of industrial food culture, reasonably well-disguised as fiction. Then, of course, there’s Upton Sinclair’s classic, _The Jungle_. We all eat … it gives us all a stake in the question (sorry ’bout the pun).

  2. Tamara says:

    Have you seen the somewhat obscure Novel Cuisine: Recipes That Recreate the Culinary Highlights of Favorite Novels by Elaine Borish? I love that book! It’s recipes of dishes from your favorite authors – but if I’m remembering correctly – mostly British and mostly Victorian. I would LOVE to see an American version!

  3. Sharon Stern says:

    I loved Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis. It’s centered around the question of what the average American knew about the origin of their food from the 1780’s on. It’s full of fascinating info about how we got where we are today — which it turns out is way more complicated and interesting than what I had originally thought. Highly recommended!

  4. My book is coming out in about two weeks — Homegrown and Handmade — published by New Society Publishers. The whole idea is helping people learn all that stuff about food that our grandmothers just knew. I grew up eating canned ravioli and frozen pizza, and today I make my own noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, and pizza. I wrote it for people who read Pollan’s book and said, “Great! What do we do now?”

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