It’s the height of summer and the perfect time to spend some time with the bounty of food and farming books that have hit bookshelves in recent months. Whether you’re lounging on a beach, repairing in the woods, or seeking a respite from the heatwaves blanketing much of the country, we’ve put together a list of 22 books worth reading—including suggestions from Civil Eats’ writers, books from our recent coverage, and some of the books on our to-read lists.
Our Writers’ Picks
Dirt to Soil
By Gabe Brown
In the mid-1990s, farmers Gabe and Shelly Brown experienced four years of disastrous weather-related crop loss on their conventional North Dakota farm. And yet, Brown writes, “Those four years … turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us, because they forced us to not be afraid of failure, and to work with nature instead of against her.” In the two decades since that revelation, Brown, who co-wrote the book with Quivira Coalition founder Courtney White, has gone on to become one of the most trusted voices in the regenerative agriculture community.
Dirt to Soil tells the detailed story of the Browns’ trials and errors as they built a diverse, resilient, no-till farming operation that operates completely without synthetic fertilizer, herbicides, or fungicides. The book provides an in-depth look at what it takes to build soil health and provides an intriguing window into the no-till regenerative world. The book also includes a half a dozen profiles of other farmers who have transitioned to a regenerative model in a diverse set of landscapes. When farmers tell Brown, “It’ll never work on my place,” as they often do, his response is “Do you have soil? Of course you do. If you have soil, regenerative agriculture will work.”
Food Justice Now! Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle
By Joshua Sbicca
Modern social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15 are increasingly focused on intersectionality—the ways that different forms of discrimination combine and compound their effects on marginalized groups. In Food Justice Now!, sociology professor Joshua Sbicca makes an academic argument for applying that approach to the food movement. Food justice, he shows, cannot be achieved without addressing structural inequalities across multiple systems, a point he illustrates in chapters that dig into the prison-industrial complex, labor movements, and immigration. Conversely, Sbicca sees food justice as a universal cause that can unite and inspire broader social change, and his book provides a blueprint for activists who agree. “Can an expansive notion and practice of food justice create a diverse political platform that inspires new social struggles?” he asks.
The Food Explorer
By Daniel Stone
Author Daniel Stone reminds us that local food can be a misleading term. Sure, your broccoli might have been grown by the farmer up the road, but did you know that it was actually introduced to the United States from Italy in the late 1800s? Stone’s book follows the travels of the young botanist David Fairchild as he travels the world in search of new fruits and vegetables that could be grown in the United States. Fairchild’s contributions to American agriculture irrevocably changed our diets; it’s thanks to him that the U.S. grows avocados. Part food book, part travelogue, Stone’s evocative writing brings the reader inside Fairchild’s mind as he visits exotic locations including Fiji and Venezuela back when much of the world was still unknown to the West. The Food Explorer won’t just make you hungry, it will give you a case of wanderlust as well.
Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith
By Fred Bahnson
Soil and Sacrament traces one farmer’s pilgrimage around the country as he learns to feed people in body and spirit. Over the course of a year, Bahnson visits four farming communities of faith, asking the question: “What does it mean to be fully alive?” Both poetic and rooted in the soil, the book blends immersion journalism with Bahnson’s own story. Readers accompany him from hillside coffee farms in Chiapas to a Jewish farm in Connecticut to migrant labor communities in Washington’s Skagit Valley. Soil and Sacrament makes a case for what farmers, regardless of their faith background, know inherently to be true: Growing food is sacred work.
Formerly Known As Food
by Kristin Lawless
Big Food has played an outsize role in our lives, whether we like it or not. From Kristin Lawless, a nutritionist who was pregnant with her first child for much of the last year of writing and publishing her first book, we read about the ways in which the food industry has sought to replace already “perfect” foods like eggs or breast milk with their own newfangled formulas. By establishing the field of nutrition science itself, food industry giants have capitalized on its so-called findings in ways that would surprise even the most skeptical foodies. Lawless’ book is an astute and straightforward examination of how eaters have been duped.
Super Loaves and Simple Treats
By Melissa Sharp
This British cookbook, like the bakery where these recipes began, is carving new paths. Modern Baker in Oxford is a place to go for—or to go without—gluten, and to take a new look at sweets. The bread-baking section covers sourdough formulas for wheat and rye breads, as well as a sourdough leavening process for granola and gluten-free breads, which may be a first. Sharp’s approach to baking arose from a health crisis, and she narrates some of her journey from cancer fighter to bakery owner. But don’t mistake healthy baking with punishment: This book shows that good-for-you baking has grown up. The emphasis on fermentation reflects contemporary concerns for one’s personal environment (AKA the gut microbiome), and the bakery is involved in the broader environment, collaborating with local research into sourdough science and heritage grain grow-outs. A unique and lovely addition to the bakery bookshelf.
Milk: A 10,000-Year Foodie Fracas
by Mark Kurlansky
Few ingredients have inspired as many controversies, over as long a period of time, as dairy milk. After all, humans’ ability to digest milk from other animals appears to have been an evolutionary aberration, argues Kurlansky, the historian and author of other popular nonfiction titles including Salt. As with many of his previous books, Kurlansky uses the story of one food to guide us through the arc of civilization itself. In modern times, milk has been at the center for the evolution of the food system: Dairy milk was the first food to be tested in laboratories and remains the world’s most regulated food. Not coincidentally, then, milk and its surrounding feuds are still ever-present, as dairy farmers brace for—and push back against—a future filled with more plant-based milk alternatives.
By Jonathan Kauffman
It can be hard today to imagine a world without yogurt, granola, or tofu. These items are almost as ubiquitous as meat and potatoes. But it was only as recently as the 1970s that these foods came to prominence on American plates. Writer Jonathan Kauffman looks at the emergence of such current staples as brown rice and hummus not just through a culinary lens, but through a political one as well. He explains how a distrust of government, the food industry, and chemicals led the “hippies” of the Vietnam War generation to eschew meat, try foods from other cultures, and move back to the land. Hippie Food reminds us that what we eat is never really just about food—and it also might put you in the mood for an avocado, Havarti, and sprouts sandwich.
Turnip Greens & Tortillas
by Eddie Hernandez
If there’s one genre of American cookery that has been hotly contested in recent years, it’s Southern food, which continues to be redefined by all the voices that have been left out of previous generations of cookbooks. A self-confessed “born-again Southern boy,” Eddie Hernandez immigrated from Mexico as a teenager with his former rock band, Fascinación, when he began working at a Tex-Mex restaurant. Today, he’s the executive chef and co-owner of Taqueria del Sol, which has seven locations throughout the South. His first cookbook is both generously instructive and yet defiant of conventions, mixing and mashing up the Mexican food of his heritage with his love of the American South—and finding the ways in which it intersects both deliciously and personally.
The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables
By Ben Hartman
By adapting the “lean manufacturing” production techniques developed by the car manufacturer Toyota, Ben Hartman has revolutionized his methods, cut down his work hours dramatically, and shrunk the size of his farm, all while making a better income. His 2015 book, The Lean Farm, detailed how lean manufacturing techniques could be broadly applied to agriculture; his new follow-up, The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables, goes deep on the specifics of adapting the principles to vegetable growing, from starting seeds and plant spacing to making compost and using specific tools to cut out waste.
Stand Together or Starve Alone
By Mark Winne
For the past four decades, Mark Winne has been involved in almost every conceivable effort to nudge the food system toward greater equity and sustainability, from working in 1970s hippie co-ops to training food policy councils around the nation. But as his career winds down, Winne says the food movement is not gaining the achievements that it could be, based on the number of people it has attracted in recent years. In his newly released book, he focuses on the cause of problems rather than their symptoms—such as acknowledging poverty as the root cause of hunger—and harnessing the power of food policy councils to create change at the local level through greater collaboration.
By Mike Madison
Mike Madison wants to make it clear from the get-go that his new book is not meant to be a guide—even if it does at times veer into granular detail about his farming practices. Instead, he refers to it as a “report card” to himself, a 30-year journal of the small family farm he created in California’s Sacramento Valley with his wife Dianne. This isn’t an idealistic, everyone-should-become-a-farmer kind of book—it’s factual, at times radically transparent, accounting of the hardships, challenges, and rewards involved in farming. Madison’s prose is witty, slightly sarcastic, and poetic at times, which makes reading about seemingly mundane details like tractor parts and the energy efficiency ratio of crops a pleasure.
The Immigrant Cookbook
By Leyla Moushabeck
Leyla Moushabeck knows that food has power, and over the past 18 months as much of the country’s public dialogue—and its president—has been stridently anti-immigrant and often overtly racist, she has seen how people and policymakers have ignored not only the fundamental importance of immigration to U.S. history, but also its importance to our present economy. In this book, Moushabeck gathers recipes from nearly 80 contributors representing 60 different countries of origin, that also reveal the memories, the stories, and the delights behind each dish, and highlight the power of food, and immigrants, to make change.
Other New and Noteworthy Books to Consider
Good Apples: Behind Every Bite
By Susan Futrell
By Steve Gabriel
Food is the Solution
By Matthew Prescott
Eat for the Planet
By Nil Zacharias and Gene Stone