Looking for a holiday gift for a food and farm-obsessed friend or family member? Here are a few recommendations from the Civil Eats team. Here’s to good reading in a difficult year.
Biting the Hands That Feed Us
By Baylen Linnekin
Laws and regulations are designed to help us, right? When it comes to building a sustainable food movement, that may not always be true. In this provocative book, lawyer Baylen Linnekin makes a case for why U.S. food policy might benefit from a “less is more” approach. He shares examples of how laws have created unnecessary food waste, prevented residents from growing food in home gardens, and overburdened small producers and growers with regulations requiring them to use pricey equipment—instead of less expensive methods that would achieve similar outcomes. Linnekin leaves the reader with guiding principles of how we can transform food policy in a direction that promotes—not inhibits—sustainability.
By Betty LaDuke
In a year when farmworkers’ rights came to the fore in food systems discussions, Betty LaDuke’s beautiful homage to the fruit, vegetable, and cut-flower harvesters of Oregon feels especially relevant. The 83-year-old artist, whose previous books have focused on women, artists, and social change throughout Africa and Latin America, dedicates this book to “the hands in the dirt people” who inspired her nearly life-sized plywood mural panels. Their pulsating colors and simplified forms convey both the joy and dignity of field work while the ever-present hunched backs of laborers speaks to the grueling, repetitive nature of their job.Referring to this year’s political climate, Michael Moore of Fry Family Farm points out that “this is work Americans don’t do any more.” At harvest time he adds 150 grape pickers to his team, noting that among the applicants, “We don’t have a single person who is a naturalized citizen.” To learn more about the LaDuke’s relationship with the farm laborers, watch this affecting video, Paintbrush Harvest.
Changing Season: A Father, a Daughter, A Family Farm
By David Mas Masumoto with Nikiko Masumoto
This book inspired me to write about the need to support farmers earlier this year. The Masumotos are heroes to many, and here they lay bare their fears, hopes, and love of the land and for each other. As father and daughter, they share their stories of history, culture, and farming lessons on peaches and nectarines, as Mas prepares to hand down the family farm to Nikiko, who is leading a new generation of farmers to steward the land.
Steve Clapp’s Fixing the Food System reviews the past and current history of calls for a national food policy, the most contentious controversies over food and nutrition issues that have impeded development of such a policy, and the work of advocates to achieve one. As this book makes clear, this history began decades ago. Clapp has been a keen observer of the food politics scene in Washington for decades and I can’t think of anyone who ought to know it better. Fixing the Food System reviews the major debates he witnessed—the Dietary Guidelines, of course, but also attempts to set policy for food safety, marketing to children, hunger in America, and humane treatment of farm animals, among others.
— Marion Nestle (excerpted from her longer review)
By Julia Rothman
We spend a lot of time here at Civil Eats reading the news and wonky food policy books. Once in a while, we do like to have some fun, and this illustrated food love letter offers just that. Rothman’s illustrations are beautiful, hand-made, and informative, from the multitude of grains to the plentitude of street food; from a how-to on making cheese to the edible parts of flowering plants. Her delicious drawings and descriptions of the universality of food are a joyful reminder that food is love.
Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman
By Miriam Horn
Horn traces the Mississippi River to meet a Montana rancher, a Kansas farmer, a Mississippi riverman, a Louisiana shrimper, and a Gulf fisherman. Through her time in each place, she records how these food producers—even those working at an industrial scale—are making important changes to address today’s environmental challenges with integrity and care, and in turn helping reshape the way we produce food. Heartfelt and beautifully written, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman shows how large-scale farming and environmentalism can go hand in hand thanks to “remarkable innovators with the deep knowledge that comes from having worked the land for many generations.”
Maria Rodale, the CEO and chairman of Rodale, Inc., was born on into a family of organic farmers and activists and she’s still most at home in her garden. Scratch gives Rodale’s admirers a glimpse at how her lifelong commitment to creating a sustainable and healthy food system plays out in her own kitchen every day. Via recipes like Silky Buttered Eggs and Lamb & Barley Soup, she tells readers how growing, cooking, serving, and appreciating fresh, simple, and good food enriches her life and family—and how others can follow her lead.
Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers
By Lisa Kivirist
After spending 20 years farming, inn-keeping, and writing in rural Wisconsin, Lisa Kivirist has become a role model for this generation’s back-to-the-land set, publishing (often with her husband John Ivanko) regular how-to dispatches from the front lines of the rural renaissance. Kivirst, who founded and directs the Rural Women’s Project, regularly holds training workshops for aspiring and seasoned female farmers. In this book, she drawing on her rich community of farmers, tells members’ stories, and distills tips. Readers will learn about everything from conceptualizing and launching the farm of their dreams, to selecting farm tools and creating value-added products, and dissecting the Schedule F profit-and-loss statement that self-employed farmers must file with the IRS. Through it all, Kivirist’s voice is warm, encouraging, and gently humorous. Her resounding message? If she and her network can do it, so can you.
It turns out “into pieces” isn’t the only way to cut vegetables, and the shape of each vegetable can tell us a lot about the best and tastiest way to peel, chiffonade, chop, and dice it. The Vegetable Butcher breaks down (pun intended) the basics of vegetable carving and offers selection and storage tips, bare-bones cooking methods, and vegetable pairings, as well as in-depth recipes. Even meat-carving aficionados can learn from Mangini’s simple, straightforward instructions in knife-wielding, and everyone can eat more veggies in the process.
Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes
By Ronni Lundy
My cookbook stacks runneth over with southern subjects, but the new standout is Victuals. Ronni Lundy is the real deal and the seasoned food writer takes us into the back pockets of the Appalachia region. This piece of Dixie is brimming with characters as Ronni’s Chevy Astro van takes us to many supper tables. Lundy is a founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance and the Appalachian Food Summit and she completes the book with recipes for foods like buttermilk cucumber salad, skillet corn, icebox green strawberry pickles, and skillet fried chicken.
Other books we’ve featured on the site this year:
Forked: A New Standard for American Dining
By Saru Jayaraman
Contested Tastes: Foie Gras and the Politics of Food
By Michaela DeSoucey
Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault
By Cary Fowler
The Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture
By Carolyn Sachs, Mary E. Barbercheck, Kathyrn Brasier, Nancy Ellen Kiernan, and Rachel Terman
Deeply Rooted: Herbal Medicine Cultivation in Techtropolis
By Bonnie Rose Weaver