Falling in love with books is much like falling in love with humans: not only do they teach you new and exciting things about yourself, they open you up to as-yet unknown possibilities in life. Hopeless romantic that I am, I fall in love with books continuously, and I have a diverse book collection and an overflowing bookshelf to prove it.
But some books are even more special than others: the following are a few among many that have affected my food life profoundly- introducing me to new ideas about the food industry, food preparation, self-sufficiency, and nurturing a deep and abiding love for chickens (one of these days, I will have a flock of my own!). Hopefully you will find something that sparks your interest among these great authors.
Please share in the comments: Which books are missing from this list? What books have affected you deeply; have any books ever affected you so much as to change your lifestyle?
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver
In addition to being a prolific and widely read fiction writer, Kingsolver is also a noted essayist, and this book reflects her insights of a year’s worth of back-to-the-land adventures. Living in Arizona with a lack of fresh, green food options inspired Kingsolver and her family to move east to Virginia and spend a year learning to grow, harvest, process, and eat only their own food. Each family member was allowed one exception (coffee, spices, dried fruit) and with few other exceptions for flour and oils (for homemade bread), the family of four subsisted on wild-harvested and homegrown goodness. Her adventures in tomato canning, zucchini sharing, chicken breeding, and dinner party making are infused with wit and calm determination that might make the stodgiest city-dweller pine for the freedom to grow one’s own. Find this book and others at Powell’s, my favorite bookstore.
Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan
I was already growing my own food and learning about GMOs, factory farming, and such when this book arrived in my life. It came at just at the right time to congeal my concerns about the food industry and the importance of food sovereignty. Pollan was able to gave a solid voice to a purpose I didn’t know really existed, and cement my dharma as a food activist. Pollan uses a fast food meal with his family as a starting point in a journey across the range of food issues: eating, growing, hunting, buying, harvesting. His meals include the fast food meal (made primarily from corn, as he learns), a processed vegetarian meal (questioning the importance of an organic label), a farmstead meal (enjoying the freshest meal possible on the farm), and meal among friends, all of whom had a hand in harvesting, hunting or procuring the foods (from the gardens, streets, ocean, and forest around his Berkeley home). Although I don’t agree with all of his politics (especially the meat-eating/hunting part), I certainly appreciate what he has done for the food movement in general: getting people to think about food in a new way, acknowledging that most of what we eat is ‘food-like substances,’ and encouraging people to become greater advocates for food that is healthful for our bodies and our planet. Check out all of his books here.
Radical Homemakers- Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, by Shannon Hayes
Just like Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Hayes’s manifesto put voice to something that I was already interested in, but not able to articulate. Rather than thinking of homemaking as an outdated, sexist concept, Hayes reconceptualizes this idea into a feminist, environmentalist, activist argument. People are not moving into the kitchen, garden, and garage just to fulfill gendered expectations, but rather to reclaim skills and knowledge that has been lost to a consumerist culture. Through interviews with various radical homemakers and her own story of making a conscious decision to step out of the city life and into homesteading on a farm, Hayes presents an inspiring and thoughtful argument for growing, canning, harvesting, trading, and skill-sharing for a healthier, community-based economy. Check out this link for a longer review of this book. You can also find Hayes here on her GrassFed Cooking site, and here for Radical Homemakers.
The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements, by Sandor Ellix Katz
I found this book via a dear friend who introduced me to many life-changing concepts. Casey (along with a few others) was my sweet, progressive, fun neighbor for many years at my Mokihana cottage. Danny, Casey, Pete, and Brooke were growing food, making coconut milk, homemade bread, homemade tempeh, and using jars for food storage in my pre-kale days when I was still making muffins from packages. This book might serve the same purpose in your own life, just in case you might lack progressive, homesteading neighbors in your ‘hood. This book covers many subjects, both new and vintage: issues around raw milk procurement, the joy of eating roadkill, the fun of homemade fermentation projects, dumpster diving, and underground food-sharing groups. He also has a book about all types of fermentation, which I just found at a used book store (so look for a review soon!). Find this book at Powell’s here, and check out Katz’s site here.