If you want to suggest a book we missed, please let us know in the comments below or by email. Happy reading!
Appalachia on the Table: Representing Mountain Food and People
By Erica Abrams Locklear
Through textured storytelling and academic exploration, Erica Abrams Locklear uncovers Appalachia’s cultural food history in her new book Appalachia on the Table. A cookbook her grandmother created sets Abrams Locklear off on a quest to figure out where her own notions of Appalachian food traditions originated and why ideas about the region’s culinary inferiority proliferated. Appalachia has been stratified as a stand-alone region in the Southern United States since the founding of this country, and Appalachian mountain communities have often been branded as unsophisticated. Through deep investigations of historical records and texts, Abrams Locklear uncovers the source of the internalized shame that Appalachian people feel around their cultural stigma, and she challenges that preconceived attitude. In the end, we learn that Appalachian foodways are complex, delicious, and as diverse as the region itself.
Pollinators have attracted a great deal of attention in recent years, with bees at the forefront. And while many of us have a basic understanding of what bees do, do we know who they are? It’s exactly this shift in perspective that Stephen Buchmann, an ecology professor at the University of Arizona, offers in his new book. As he informs his readers, not only can bees count to four (!), but they can also taste pollen with fine hairs on their legs and antennae. They also might dream when they’re asleep, they get anxious due to low levels of dopamine just like us, and they are capable of remembering events for days. Even though a bee’s brain houses just 1 million neurons, a small number compared to the 100 billion in the human brain, they have abilities that we don’t—like seeing patterns of ultraviolet light reflected on flowers or those of polarized light in what appears to us to be a uniformly blue sky. You may pick up the book for these and other facts about our buzzy pollinator friends, but you’ll want to keep reading for the fascinating way Buchmann challenges our core ideas about a bee’s place in the world.
Feeding Each Other: Shaping Change in Food Systems through Relationship
By Nicole Civita and Michelle Auerbach
Authors Nicole Civita and Michelle Auerbach assert that the global food ecosystem is broken—an especially troubling assertion given that the World Bank expects the world population to reach 10 billion by 2050. The beauty of the book, however, is that it not only points out the cracks in the system but provides case studies for solutions. It makes a case for relationship-based food systems, driven by individuals and local communities. A notable example is Belo Horizonte, a city in Brazil known for tackling hunger with a series of smart strategies. It has launched a Family Farm Food Purchase Program, wherein the municipality buys produce from local farmers, and that has directly resulted in initiatives such as Restaurante Popular, which feeds the community some 14,000 nutritious meals daily. As a result of this strategy, infant mortality and child hospitalizations there have significantly declined. This book is rich with examples of the ways relationship-driven food systems are both sustainable and a win-win for consumers and producers. The authors have a vision for a new paradigm, one where individuals and communities collaborate to create their own systems and structures for food production. It is a guidebook to change, or at the very least consider, what change might look like.
Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden
By Camille T. Dungy
Because the word “garden” is in the title, you might expect Camille T. Dungy’s focus to remain neatly enclosed within the bounds of her flower beds. And while Dungy does recount how she transformed her standard-issue suburban lawn in Fort Collins, Colorado, from a sod-smothered landscape into a biodiverse native plant oasis, her narrative goes much further. For Dungy, gardening isn’t simply plopping plants into soil, but an avenue to explore what it means to both connect with and confront community, place, and history. Through her thoughtful prose and well-placed poetry, Dungy takes us across the continent, tracing her ancestors’ history as they escaped racial violence, describing how early white explorers collected and named plants at the expense of Indigenous peoples, and questioning why environmental literature prioritizes “narratives of solitary men in the wilderness” without a human relationship in sight. Dungy gives the genre a reason to move past that convention by writing beautifully about the environment as a working Black mother. She also acknowledges the countless ways she is connected to the plant, animal, and human communities around her—and encourages us all to think about the complex ways we are a part of the greater-than-human world.
Resilient Kitchens: American Immigrant Cooking in a Time of Crisis
Edited by Philip Gleissner and Harry Eli Kashdan
Two friends and a teenager quarantined together in a small New York City apartment find a bright spot in the kitchen despite a cancer diagnosis. A hungry sourdough starter baby keeps a food writer company. A restaurant owner pivots until the word “pivot” makes her nauseous—but finds a way to comfort her community with meals. And vendors in Los Angeles feel the sting as the pandemic revives racism against street food. Each essay in the book paints an intimate portrait of how recent immigrants work out some of their toughest moments through food: eating it, preparing it, sharing it, shopping for it, writing about it, making shows about it, and even simply storing it in the pantry. In the early days of the pandemic, some found solace in the kitchen—a new routine in a topsy-turvy world, a familiar collection of the tastes and smells of faraway homes, and a way to comfort those who were struggling. At the same time, COVID pulled the rug out from under restaurant owners, chefs, food service workers, and food writers, presenting unprecedented dangers and obstacles. The stories of how a range of people overcame adversity (or didn’t) in the kitchen seem to be an allegory for immigrants’ experiences in this country. There’s always more work to do, this book suggests, so let’s bring a mix of flavors to the table and work together to make life delicious.
Though diet-related illness in the U.S. has long been a serious concern, emerging economies are now ground zero for this complex public health challenge. In this rigorously researched book, Eduardo Gómez, the director of the Institute of Health Policy and Politics at the College of Health at Lehigh University, reveals how big names in the junk food industry—for instance, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi—have all strategically targeted countries where free trade and deregulation have allowed them to obtain a strong foothold. (One of their motivations for saturating these emerging markets is the fear that U.S. consumers will continue to shift toward healthier options, according to Gómez.) The book is laid out as case studies of Mexico, Brazil, India, China, Indonesia, and South Africa. Each section reveals the often-cozy relationship between industry and political leaders, and how that influences regulation and policies. The book also details how these industries attempt to prove themselves as allies. For instance, Nestlé has funded female empowerment and employment programs in Brazil and Mexico, and the companies often partner with governments for anti-hunger campaigns. Gómez argues these corporate responsibility efforts help industries gain stature and win over leaders who could pull the lever on junk food taxes or limits on advertising sugary foods to children, but often don’t enforce meaningful policies.
Cracked: The Future of Dams in a Hot, Chaotic World
By Stephen Hawley
Stephen Hawley examines the history of damming rivers to explore the short and long implications of leveraging the power of water for urban, industrial, and agricultural expansion, as well as hydroelectric power. With the fervor and pace of an environmental essay and the granular research of a multicentury history textbook, this playbook for the future holds the reader in a striking balance between narrative suspense and a feeling of urgency to protect rivers, the communities they feed, and the biodiversity they support. Hawley investigates the impact of intensive irrigation in arid landscapes, which leads to selenium and other heavy metals contaminating surrounding watersheds. He also looks at land theft, water hoarding, and indigenous fishery habitat encroachment. Hawley details the rise of big dams and the political and financial mechanisms created to fund the harnessing of water, while tracking the false water accessibility promises made to small-scale agriculturalists to rationalize dam projects. With the Colorado River and the states that rely on its water at the center of civic debate, the book adds technical context to the water scarcity facing the West and explores what is at stake if we do not reconsider our current water infrastructure.
“How do we continue to give license to farmers to do whatever they want on their farms, and then ask taxpayers to pay for the environmental consequences?” That is the question at the heart of this new collection of essays by Chris Jones. A former lab supervisor at the Des Moines Water Works and a recently retired research engineer at the University of Iowa’s Institute of Hydraulic Research, Jones spent the bulk of his professional life studying the impacts of Iowa’s corn, soy, and hog farms on the state’s—and ultimately the nation’s—waterways. As Jones writes, Iowa is home to 4,700 hogs for every farmer and was covered with wetlands until farmers added a massive tile drainage system and stopped many of the waterways from meandering, which “allowed water [polluted with nitrogen and phosphorus] to rush off the landscape much faster.” The book is adapted from Jones’ blog, where he developed a following for his wry humor and cogent, well-researched analysis of an industry with very few other vocal critics. (The blog had been hosted by the university until this spring, when Jones says his supervisors received pressure from state legislators to take it down.) It’s an excellent primer for anyone interested in boning up on Iowa’s entrenched agricultural system, and its final list of solutions are all spot on. In the writing, Jones comes through like a cranky but lovable uncle who ultimately hopes to inspire his readers to defy convention and imagine what’s possible—all while keeping a clear eye on what is.
In the final chapter of her book, author Alicia Kennedy makes a provocation: “Food media at large does not take climate change seriously.” The San Juan, Puerto Rico-based writer, who has grown a devoted following through her weekly newsletter, envisions a world of ethical gourmet eating, in which consuming food from agricultural systems that minimize their impact on the environment is part of the pleasure. The book combines three narrative threads: 1. Kennedy’s personal transformation from suburban omnivore to yogi vegan to, finally, locavore vegetarian; 2. Her reflection on the diversity and importance of vegan and vegetarian diets; and 3. A history of vegan and vegetarian subcultures in the U.S., traced through key texts and restaurants. Kennedy admires the weird and countercultural and guides readers to see plant-based eating through a culturally appropriate, justice-focused lens. For all its intellectual richness, however, the book left me wishing for more lush, sustained scenes that captured the sensory pleasures Kennedy has placed at the center of her life. Nevertheless, her invitation remains enticing: to follow her into plant-based eating as a way of unlearning monocultures and standardization in farming, eating, aesthetics, and the other routines in our lives.
The Ark of Taste: Delicious and Distinctive Foods That Define the United States
By Giselle Kennedy Lord and David S. Shields
Maryland’s dark, juicy Fairfax strawberry. Connecticut’s thin-walled Jimmy Nardello pepper. Massachusetts’ Wellfleet oyster. What do these foods have in common? They’re all part of Slow Food USA’s The Ark of Taste, a catalog established in 1996 that features more than 6,000 heirloom varietals, shellfish, nuts, and even poultry, rabbits, and hogs that are delicious and unique—and that, sadly, face extinction due to the demands of our industrial food system. Just as Noah built an ark and boarded the animals two at a time, Slow Food “boards” seeds, animals, and traditional recipes and processes onto the figurative Ark of Taste. The project has now taken book form. Giselle Kennedy Lord and David S. Shields’ beautiful volume delivers a thorough primer on the distinctive foods that are grown or raised in the U.S. Interspersed between the history of South Carolina’s Carolina Gold rice, the Dakota Territory’s Hidatsa Red Bean, and Kansas’s Red Turkey Wheat are recipes, grower profiles, and beautiful illustrations by Claudia Pearson. Curious eater-activists will want to use this as a guide to help them seek out these foods, both to savor them and to promote lasting biodiversity in our food system.
White Burgers, Black Cash: Fast Food from Black Exclusion to Exploitation
By Naa Oyo A. Kwate
Why in the U.S. today are fast-food restaurants disproportionately found in neighborhoods with predominantly Black residents? In her new book, academic Naa Oyo A. Kwate answers that question with a thorough, compelling history of systemic racism in the fast-food industry. The public health crisis resulting from fast-food consumption cannot be attributed to individual choice, Kwate argues. “If we are concerned with diet, obesity, and chronic disease, the food environment must be interrogated,” she writes, “and for Black neighborhoods, that means a landscape where segregation quarantines disproportionate densities of fast food.” The book charts the evolution of fast food from the birth of the industry in the early 1900s to the present, primarily in New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. In an important narrative that is rich with both Black historical figures and jarring, behind-the-scenes facts about the nation’s biggest fast-food chains, Kwate recounts a century of racism—from the initial exclusion of Black Americans from fast food under Jim Crow laws to the industry’s present-day targeting of urban Black communities. “The story of fast food’s relationship to Black folks is a story about America itself,” she writes.