Our 2019 Food and Farming Holiday Book Gift Guide | Civil Eats

Our 2019 Food and Farming Holiday Book Gift Guide

We read, reviewed, and recommend more than 30 food and farming books for your gift-giving pleasure.

a montage of food and farming book covers

It’s the start of December, and the days are getting shorter and colder—perfect weather for settling in with a book. The Civil Eats team’s bookshelves are overflowing with great food and farming books, so once again, we’re sharing our favorites with you. Whether you’re on the hunt for your next favorite book or searching for a gift for your loved ones, look no further—we’ve got 33 recommendations for readers of all ages, including for the first time, a handful of new and notable children’s books.


Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor
By Steven Greenhouse
beaten down worked up coverFor nearly 20 years, Greenhouse’s masterful reporting on labor and the workplace for the New York Times brought empathy and humanity to an otherwise challenging topic. This book, brought to life by Greenhouse’s riveting storytelling, covers major moments in the modern labor movement, leading up to chapters on fast food workers in “The Fight for $15” and “For Farmworkers, from Worst to Best,” on the successes of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which our readers will especially appreciate. In Civil Eats’ own decade of reporting, we’ve seen the most growth and political potential in food and farmworker labor, and Greenhouse’s book puts these movements into important historical context.
— Naomi Starkman

Food Town, USA: Seven Unlikely Cities That are Changing the Way We Eat
By Mark Winne
food town usa coverWhat do Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Sitka, Alaska, and Alexandria, Louisiana, have in common? For Mark Winne, a writer and community food activist, these three are among seven of the U.S. cities making some of the biggest strides in building local, sustainable, equitable food systems—usually in the face of significant challenges. While the “food movement” is widely perceived as the domain of elite cities and coastal communities, the seven cities highlighted are overcoming economic, racial, and geographic disadvantages to feed residents, rebuild economic strength, and increase climate resilience. Whether it’s a racially diverse farmers’ market thriving and building bridges in historically segregated and racially oppressive Alexandria, or a long-shot brewpub in Bethlehem that became the epicenter of a food-centered revival of the city’s Main Street, Winne details the cascading impacts that farmers, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, governments, and individuals have on the cities that make up Food Town USA. Despite these cities’ vast differences, he notes that that social capital—how connected a municipality’s population is to one another—and compassion were the two fundamental qualities that underlie each of these cities’ successes.
— Matthew Wheeland

The Food We Eat, The Stories We Tell: Contemporary Appalachian Tables
Edited by Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt with Lora E. Smith; afterward by Ronni Lundy
the food we eat, the stories we tell coverAcross the pages of this new book, writers connected with Appalachia through birth or migration examine various Appalachian foods and food traditions. Lora Smith considers the marginalia of her grandmother’s 1938 copy of The Searchlight Recipe Book, Robert Gipe recalls his days packing pickles on the factory line, and Daniel Margolies dissects the taxonomy of the Blue Ridge taco culture. Karida Brown examines the role of gardens for the Black people working the coal mines of eastern Kentucky, Emily Wallace investigates the giant hotdog sculptures at Pal’s Sudden Service drive-thru restaurants, and, in poetry form, Rebecca Gayle Howell outlines how to kill both a rooster and a hen. In exploring various aspects of food and foodways, the anthology’s 14 essays and handful of poems examine deeper themes including identity, place, power, resistance, memory, and home. Its varied voices present a traditional and changing region—one of cornbread, beans, and fried chicken, but also of kimchi, tacos, and wine—and together, they create an inclusive, nuanced, and dynamic portrait of an often-misunderstood part of the country.
— Christina Cooke

Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants
By Jon Steinman
grocery story coverIn this age of scale and reach, small can still be beautiful. In Grocery Story, Steinman dives in deep to the history of the food co-operative, the rise of the mega-groceries that now dominate the food system, and how smaller co-ops can offer a solution—not only to feed people better, but to build community, fight monopolies, and prepare to adapt to climate change. Not that all food co-ops have to stay small—Steinman uses the Kootenay Co-Op in British Columbia as a case study throughout the book; he notes that, after years in a store with a quarter the footprint it needed, it expanded to a 20,000-square-foot space in downtown Nelson and dramatically grew its sales, wages, and purchases of local meat in the year after the expansion. Steinman has traversed the continent gathering stories and facts to support his argument, and the book makes a compelling case that that co-ops offer a powerful alternative to a world where U.S. supermarkets are controlled by an ever-smaller number of mega-retailers.
— Matthew Wheeland

The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American public Schools
by Jennifer E. Gaddis
the labor of lunch coverSchool lunches are big business: Each school day last year, the U.S. National School Lunch Program fed around 30 million American lower-income school children at a cost of $3.50 per food tray. While affordable nutrition for everyone is a noble goal, Gaddis argues that this infrastructure of “cheapness” is the root cause of the racial, social, and economic injustice of today’s school lunch program. She depicts how the best reform efforts by food movement advocates have overlooked the 420,000 low-wage, non-unionized cafeteria workers, largely women. Overlaying the history of nationalization in 1947 and co-opting by agribusiness in the 1970s with her own field studies, Gaddis traces the “radical roots” of universal school lunch and real food activism on the frontlines by lunch ladies and community coalitions around the country. The book details how revaluing women’s labor, including caregiving, is central to the wider social movement for transformation toward a healthier and more sustainable school lunch program.
— Lynne Curry

Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food
By Lenore Newman
lost feast coverIn Lost Feast, culinary geographer Lenore Newman—the Canada Research Chair in Food Security and the Environment for the University of Fraser Valley—sets off on a journey to understand the history of extinct foods and what that might mean for our culinary future. Her voyage takes her from Reykjavík, where she learns about the rare Icelandic cows whose milk produces a rich, sought-after butter to the far northern reaches of Canada in search of bison to better understand the disappearance of long-gone megafauna such as the mammoth. Throughout, she and her ecologist friend prepare a series of “extinction dinners,” during which they try to re-create meals of the past and consider those that might make sense for the future—comparing different types of lab-grown and plant-based burgers, for instance. An interesting and thought-provoking adventure alongside an engaging, wry-humored narrator, the book forces the reader to consider humans’ role in historic plant and animal extinctions, as well as how we might approach food more responsibly moving forward.
— Christina Cooke

The Meatless Monday Family Cookbook
By Jenn Sebestyen
meatless monday family cookbook coverMeatless Monday—the widely popular public health campaign to encourage Americans to eat less meat for their health and the environment—has been successful partly because of its incremental approach. Based on one doable action: “once a week, cut out meat,” it encourages people to “change their eating habits incrementally and not feel as if they’re giving anything up.” The book provides ample plant-based substitutions, such as butternut squash mac and cheese and roasted cauliflower tacos. Leaning on chickpeas, lentils, and other legumes, it covers soups and salads, grain bowls and pastas, one-pot meals and casseroles along with breakfast for dinner. With a special focus on involving kids in family mealtimes, the more than 100 vegan recipes are designed to be accessible for everyone and easy-to-prepare.
— Lynne Curry

Meat Planet
By Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft
meat planet coverHistorian Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft spent five years researching the lab grown meat industry. In his new book, the gifted storyteller explores the science, history, and sociology of cultured meat. Wurgaft dares readers to dive deeply into imagining lab-grown meat as the future of food, asking questions such as, “Could satiating the growing appetite for meat actually lead to our undoing?” and “Are we simply using one technology to undo the damage caused by another?” The book can be dense at times, but Wurgaft comes across as both witty and sincere, and Meat Planet offers a thought-provoking read.
— Bridget Shirvell

A Place at the Table: New American Recipes from the Nation’s Top Foreign-Born Chefs
a place at the table coverEdited by Rick Kinsel and Gabrielle Langholtz
“Kitchens are a sort of United Nations in miniature,” writes noted restaurateur and social activist José Andrés in the forward of A Place at the Table. “Everyone may speak a different language and have grown up with different spices, but we all have the same goals, the same dreams, the same desire to nourish everyone that comes in for a meal.” Across the cookbook’s beautifully photographed pages, 40 immigrant chefs at the forefront of America’s culinary scene share their personal histories and a favorite recipe or two. Minneapolis chef and restaurateur Ann Kim, who immigrated from South Korea as a young child, offers Korean-style short ribs with fresno peppers, chimichurri, and yogurt. New York chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, shares his recipe for smoked salmon with sweet potato waffles drizzled in an Ethiopian spice blend. And Nashville chef and television personality Maneet Chauhan, who hails from India, offers her lamb keema nacho plate made with traditional Indian papdi chips. As a whole, the cookbook celebrates the delicious diversity of American cuisine and proves that everyone has a place at the table.
— Christina Cooke

Should We All Be Vegan? A Primer for the 21st Century
By Molly Watson
should we all be vegan coverIn recent years, veganism has become a widely recognized, if not widely embraced, dietary choice (roughly 3 percent of Americans identify as vegan), stemming from concerns about personal health, animal welfare, and, increasingly, recognition about animal agriculture’s significant climate footprint. Molly Watson, a long-time food journalist and the editor of Edible Communities, is not a vegan, but approached this book as a thought experiment: What would happen if the world adopted an all-vegan lifestyle? Designed to be easily digestible, the book offers a photo- and data-driven look at the history of veganism—dating back to Pythagoras in ancient Greece—to the current health and environmental impacts of the meat industry. Watson’s findings are likely unsurprising to anyone who’s spent time thinking about food: Total global veganism is spectacularly unlikely to occur, but any level of reduction in meat consumption would bring significant health and environmental benefits, as well as improvements in the quality of life for animals. And she presents her reader with a nuanced but easy-to-grasp way that makes clear that diet is not an all-or-nothing proposition and that less can be more.
— Matthew Wheeland

Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint
By Douglas McMaster
Silo the zero waste blueprint coverPart cookbook, part memoir, Silo is an at-times inspiring look at a possible future food system: one where we waste less and where eating fresh, natural foods is the norm. McMaster has first-hand experience: In 2015, he opened Silo, a zero-waste restaurant in Brighton, England (the restaurant has since opened a London branch), and part of the book reflects on the challenges he faced as a zero-waste restaurateur. Throughout the book, McMaster shares practical tips for reducing food waste—such has how to preserve Japanese knotweed so it doesn’t end up as compost—alongside recipes such as potato skin ice cream; all are designed to help reduce or eliminate food waste. While McMaster’s enthusiasm for a better food system is contagious at times, he sometimes wanders into a preachy tone, and some of the ingredients—like that knotwood or the Red Kuri squash in some of his recipes—aren’t items that many people happen to have on hand or easy access to. Even so, the idea behind the book—as well as the restaurant—is a blueprint the world urgently needs to study.
— Bridget Shirvell

Wilding: Returning Nature to Our Farm
By Isabella Tree
wilding coverAmid an increasingly uncertain time marked by the ongoing climate crisis, comes the incredibly inspiring and hopeful recounting of how Tree and her husband, Charlie Burrell, restored 3,500 acres in the U.K from an intensive farm back to the wild, by putting nature in the driver’s seat and allowing herds of free-roaming animals to mimic the actions of megafauna of the past. Fighting against the British proclivity for tidiness and order, Tree details how she and Burrell have been able to bring back rare and threatened species, restore the health of the soil, and transform their land and community.
— Naomi Starkman

Women on Food
By Charlotte Druckman
women on food coverA spirited collection of interviews, essays, and illustrations featuring 115 female food writers, chefs, and farmers, this book touches on everything from the #MeToo movement to underrepresentation of women of color in leadership to gender bias in labor, and much more. Highlights include New York Times food writer Tejal Rao’s essay on the magician/jam maker June Taylor, Druckman’s interview with famed farmer Cheryl Rogowski, an essay by Korsha Wilson (also a Civil Eats contributor) on the history of female food activism, and British writer Bee Wilson’s essay on “labor-saving” kitchen devices and gadgets. With so many more voices of amazing women out there, here’s to hoping for a second edition.
— Naomi Starkman

Children’s Books

The Thing About Bees
By Shabazz Larkin
The Thing About Bees coverHere’s the thing about bees: If you’ve ever been stung, you probably get that they can be super scary! That’s where Shabazz Larkin is coming from. Larkin, a father of young children and a profound melissophobe, dug into the dizzying variety of bee species and the roles they play in the global food web, all in order to ease his own fear and avoid passing that fear on to his children. The result is a sweet, gentle picture book that, with Larkin’s playful, abstract art, can inspire a sense of wonder and respect for nature’s buzzing buddies. Be sure to check out the “How Not to Get Stung” chart at the back.
— Matthew Wheeland

By Nikki McClure
apple coverIn her unmistakable papercut style, McClure’s first book—newly issued in board-book format for the smallest readers—tracks the travels of an apple, from the tree to the kitchen to a child’s school, then back to the soil. Fans of McClure’s work will love the vivid three-color artwork, and youngsters will love telling the story behind the pictures as an apple makes its way from fruit to soil to seedling. The life cycle of an apple in 16 words.
— Matthew Wheeland

Bilal Cooks Daal
By Aisha Saeed and Anoosha Syed
bilal cooks daal coverIn this beautifully illustrated picture book for 4- to 8-year-olds, Bilal is excited to share his favorite food, daal, with his friends. As Bilal and his friends help his dad make the South Asian slow-cooked lentil dish, though, Bilal begins to worry his friends won’t like his all-time favorite food. Written by Aisha Saeed and illustrated by Anoosha Syed, Bilal Cooks Daal showcases an immigrant family’s traditions and how food can bring people together, while teaching kids the value of teamwork and patience.
— Bridget Shirvell

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Thank you, Omu!
By Oge Mora
Thank You Omu coverOn the corner of First and Long Streets, on the very top floor, Omu seasons and stirs the thick red soup she is making for her evening meal, then sits down to read. One by one, her neighbors drop by, each lured by the delicious scent, and again and again, Omu dips into her pot to share. This book of exquisite cut-paper illustrations tells a story about generosity, gratitude, caring, and the power of food to make connections and build community. Debut author Oge Mora earned the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award for this work, a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book.
— Christina Cooke

Fruit Bowl
By Mark Hoffmann
fruit bowl coverA simple and sweet little book that teaches both food literacy—tomatoes are a fruit!—as well as diversity and inclusion. A big hit among younger readers and pre-readers.
— Matthew Wheeland


United Tastes of America: An Atlas of Food Facts & Recipes from Every State!
By Gabrielle Langholtz
United Tastes of America coverThis colorful, charming cookbook features a kid-friendly, easy-to-follow recipe for each state (including D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands), plus illustrated information about the state’s culinary history and highlights. In New York alone, learn about New York City’s large network of farmers’ markets, the hot dogs of the Coney Island boardwalk, Jewish specialties like bagels and lox, the foods of Dominican immigrants, and the apples grown upstate—then follow the recipe for quick-pickled cucumbers, celebrating a staple of the 19th century pushcarts currently experiencing a renaissance. The book is educational, interactive, pretty, and fun. Ideal for kids 7-10.
— Christina Cooke


We also reviewed some fantastic books over the summer, including those from Ashanté M. Reese, Mark Arax, Robyn Metcalfe, Bob Quinn and Liz Carlisle, Priya Krishna with Ritu Krishna, Teresa M. Mares, Tracy, Dana, Lori, & Corky Pollan, Stephany Wilkes, Abra Berens, Mark Schapiro, Amanda Little, Bee Wilson, Caleb Zigas and Leticia Landa, Yasmin Khan, and many more.

Can We Feed the World Without Destroying It?
By Eric Holt-Giménez
The former Food First executive director argues that responsible, truly sustainable food production will require a convergence of diverse social movements.

Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food
By Timothy Wise
The author argues that powerful forces shape food policies that feed corporate interests.

Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry
By Leah Garcés
The animal welfare advocate spotlights efforts to reform factory farms by working with farmers, eaters, and Big Chicken alike.

Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World
By Bettina Elias Siegel
The blogger and Civil Eats’ contributor explores how food marketed to children became a highly processed, unhealthy minefield—and why it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier
By Ian Urbina
In a new book based on years of reporting, the New York Times reporter charts the reality of fish poachers, human trafficking, and the banal horrors of life at sea.

Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It
By Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott
This book on family cooking discusses the role inequality plays in feeding families and the authors argue that more home cooking is not a silver bullet.

Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America
By Joshua Specht
The author of a new book explains how beef consolidation in the late 19th Century shaped the ecology, economy, and even U.S. politics—and continues to do so today.

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Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper
By Art Cullen
The Pulitzer Prize-winning news editor from Storm Lake, Iowa addresses the urgency of climate change in the Corn Belt and the impacts of agribusiness in his community.

We are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast
By Jonathan Safran Foer
In his second book on the ethics and impacts of food, the novelist urges people to eat less meat to save the planet.

Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry
By Julie Guthman
In a new book, professor Julie Guthman lays out the journey strawberries have made from minor crop to year-round staple, and their impact on people and the planet.


Burgers in Blackface: Anti-Black Restaurants Then and Now
By Naa Oyo A. Kwate

Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle against DuPont
By Robert Bilott

Food: The Cookbook
By Mark Hyman

The Garlic Papers: A Small Garlic Farm in the Age of Global Vampires
By Stanley Crawford

Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook
By Toni Tipton-Martin

Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir
By Kwame Onwuachi

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir
By Ruth Reichl

To Serve the People: My Life Organizing with Cesar Chavez and the Poor
By LeRoy Chatfield

Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >

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