Few of us have the wallets to support our every dream and wish about food and the experiences that go along with eating. Food is a medium that transmits culture, belief systems, politics, health, and human connection. It is no wonder that the millennial generation chose food as the topic to freak out over. We are in search of purpose, for connections, for experiences, and to surpass the old ways that we see around us.
Food has always been a point of interest for me. The nutrition, history, politics, commerce, and sociological ties that food possesses make it outrageously more interesting than anything else. It has changed over the years as the lens through which I view has shifted, but these books have remained (or were added) in my arsenal of go-to recommendations.
1. How To Cook A Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher
I think this book, written at the height of WWII supply shortages, gave more meaning to what it meant to provide for a family. It is simplistic in its message, but Fisher’s prose will always be one of the best in food. She was able to help out women of the home while not causing despair at the lack of provisions. This book is still important today as I try to exhibit minimalistic practices. Not living fat off the hog during times of plenty, but understanding moderation throughout all of life, comes back beneficially during down times.
2. Much About Dinner by Margaret Visser
This is a fantastic cultural anthropology book on what, how, and why we eat what we do. Each chapter follows a meal coursed out to be digestible pieces of history, anthropology, and cooking. This is a great book for those dedicated to food studies. My favorite chapter is “Butter: And Something ‘Just As Good’”.
3. The Devil’s Cup by Stewart Lee Allen
The epitome of a wanderlust writer Allen traverses the globe to follow the migration of coffee’s history. Starting in eastern Africa he provides tales of his excursions with the history of ancient merchants, coffee drinkers, and political commerce. He always adds interesting, tangential facts in his books, but they never slow down the reading only enticing you to one more chapter. For coffee lovers, history or travel buffs.
4. Salt by Mark Kurlansky
Though slow at times, Kurlansky’s book is a comprehensive textbook, interest piece, and conversation starter. He presents what could seemingly be a dry topic and transforms it into how civilization has sculpted much of its modern cities and nations on account of salt. Those interested in the political and commercial aspect of food will find this very entertaining.
5. The Physiology Of Taste by Jean Brillat-Savarin
This is my new favorite food book. I have the edition translated by M.F.K. Fisher with a forward by Bill Buford. It is extremely well written with translator notes for every chapter. Brillat-Savarin was alive during France’s “hipster” era for food following the Revolution and Napoleon. His take on food’s nutritional and cultural significance is vitally important in understanding how our food taboos and ideas have been shaped today. Not too mention his personal anecdotes spread throughout his more psychology-type of writing makes this a perfect book for anyone interested in food as a driving force behind all culture.
6. Terra Madre by Carlos Petrini
I have always been surprised at how little press The Slow Food Movement receives compared to made up fads like paleo, slow-carb, etc. Petrini, always an activist, turned his sights on the culinary world in the 1970s and 80s. His mentality on food was a giant cornerstone in my educational curriculum at school. It moves beyond the dinner table as it blends Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, and Mario Batali into one book.
7. Heat by Bill Buford
I read this (like the book above) as I was working Tuscany in the exact town where this book was written. I later learned that it was not too well received due to its intimate nature of the town’s famous Butcher, Dario. I found it thoroughly entertaining. The writing is fast paced and inviting even through the parts like the history of using an egg or no egg in pasta.