34 Noteworthy Food and Farming Books for the Summer of 2021 | Civil Eats

34 Noteworthy Food and Farming Books for the Summer of 2021

Your ready-made summer reading list is here, courtesy of reviews by our editors and reporters.

a collage of the best food and farming books in summer 2021

As summer kicks off, we found inspiration in new books that explore the landscape of food and farming. With the hope for some relaxing time in the weeks to come, our editors and reporters share brief reviews of some of the best books we’ve read this year, our recent book coverage, and a number of notable books that will hit bookstores and library shelves this summer.

Books We Read

We Are the Land: A History of Native California
By Damon B. Akins and William J. Bauer Jr.

We are the land book cover

An ambitious attempt to unpack the obvious and hidden meanings of California as a place and as an idea, We are the Land challenges the prevailing colonial history of the state. By expanding a compressed history of the 170 years since California became a state, William Bauer, an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Northern California’s Mendocino County, and historian Damon Akins delineate the enduring and adaptive cultures of many Indigenous peoples, highlighting the mutual influences and trade that characterized inter-tribal relationships. Their writing combines lyrical storytelling with academic narration to foreground Indigenous oral stories. The effect is both whimsical and authoritative: creation stories open up new understandings of California’s geological formations and Indigenous ways of relating to nature. The harvest of acorns, for example, happens as part of controlled-burn land management practices, showcasing the holistic integration of ecological and cultural practices that is central to many tribal traditions. Through spatial vignettes of tribal communities throughout the state, the authors decisively reject tired narratives of victimization and point out how Indigenous people have survived violent policies created to marginalize them. The book’s well-researched micro-histories coalesce to create a necessary rewriting of Californian history.
— Hannah Ricker

We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy
By Natalie Baszile

we are each other's harvest book cover

Natalie Baszile’s 2014 novel Queen Sugar brought a story of African American land and agricultural legacy to readers (and viewers, when Ava DuVernay turned it into a television series for OWN) through a fictionalized account. Now, with We Are Each Other’s Harvest, Baszile shares the true stories of a number of Black farmers, scholars, and artists. The book is an anthology accompanied by essays, poems, and historical accounts from Black food and farming leaders such as Michael Twitty and Leah Penniman. It includes important historical accounts of the factors that have driven land loss, including broken government promises during Reconstruction, heirs’ property laws, and discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Evocative poems like Tim Seibles’ “Fearless” weave in imagery—“the green fire bounding back”—that simultaneously taps into the practical challenges of farming and metaphors of resilience and rebirth. The stories celebrate African American agricultural knowledge and innovation, from Booker T. Whatley’s pioneering of community-supported agriculture as well as mini-profiles of today’s Black farmers who, against long odds, are doing everything from raising goats and cows in North Carolina to tending to vineyards in Northern California. Baszile writes that her intention is to shine a light on systems that continue to oppress Black and brown people but also to reset the narrative around labor, “inspiring communities of color to reimagine what it means to be connected to the soil.”
— Lisa Held

The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora: Recipes and Techniques for Edible Plants from Garden, Field, and Forest
By Alan Bergo

Flora book cover

This lusciously photographed treatise in four chapters explores the many culinary uses and old-timey homesteader appeal of plants found almost everywhere an eagle-eyed forager turns: dandelions from the backyard, roadside lilies, tree nuts growing in nearby forests. Although recipes are the main focus of the book, Chef Bergo, known as the “forager chef,” is more concerned with “normaliz[ing] wild plants,” as he writes in the introduction, as well as helping readers comprehend how the foods they gather will function in various dishes, in order to make them seem less foreign and intimidating. He also provides examples of substitutes in the event that a wild food is unavailable or too tricky to identify. Bergo makes no pretense of helping his readers identify plants, so if you’re new to foraging this may not be the book for you. Or, better yet, take an excursion with a master forager before you hit the kitchen.
— Lela Nargi

Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal
By Mark Bittman

animal vegetable junk cover

In this comprehensive, encyclopedic recounting of the history of food, cookbook author and columnist Mark Bittman poses a timely question: What would a just food system look like? His answer unfolds through a 1.8-million-year history of food production, beginning with the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agriculture, emphasizing the profound consequences imparted through this millennia-long process, from increased crop failures and malnourishment to the rise of hierarchical societies and legal systems to protect private crop lands. Beyond a strict archeological recounting of how technology gave way to more populous, urban centers, Bittman’s brilliant storytelling is supported by his critical historical analysis. He questions his readers’ assumptions about gendered roles of food production and challenges us to see famines and malnutrition not as ecological failures, but as decisive political maneuvers of capitalist logic. Bittman boldly asserts that the pressure to feed the growing population is the foundation for imperialism and colonization, providing case after case to demonstrate how state revenues that relied on trading agricultural surplus could only be achieved by overworking bodies and soils. Bittman encourages a more radical political rethinking: Chronic global hunger won’t be solved by our fertilizer addiction but by addressing the abuse of power and wealth in our globalized trade system. For readers looking to understand how we’ve winnowed what we grow to a handful of crops, depleted our soils of vital nutrients, and made hunger an endemic part of our food system, this book lays bare agriculture as a political project—and suggests a new way forward.
— Hannah Ricker

The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet
By Anne-Marie Bonneau

zero waste chef

By now, you probably that know food waste is a problem. From unharvested crops to forgotten bags of spinach in the fridge, up to 40 percent of food in America goes to waste annually, polluting the environment and emptying our wallets. But reducing personal food waste can be overwhelming. (We meant to use that spinach, really, but forgot it was there.) Anne Maire Bonneau, who has been documenting her near-decade-long mission to live while using as little plastic and wasting as little food as possible on the website Zero Waste Chef, seeks to make it easier in the new book with the same name. The book includes 75 recipes—including Mexican Hot Chocolate Bread Pudding, Black-Eyed Pea and Mushroom Burgers, and many others—designed to help you use up all your groceries. In addition to the recipes, the book includes simple, actionable tips for how to banish plastic wrap, how to best store your food, and more. Whether you’re looking to start working toward a zero-waste kitchen or need some additional tips to get you further along on the journey, you’re sure to find a strategy you can implement or a recipe worth experimenting with in Zero Waste Chef.
— Bridget Shirvell

Why Food Matters: Critical Debates in Food Studies
By Melissa Caldwell

why food matters

If critical thought on contemporary food systems is your thing, Why Food Matters is the book for you. Caldwell’s collection identifies emerging trends and offers challenges to commonly held ideas within the quickly growing realm of food studies. From the juxtaposed value of immigrant farmworkers and mostly white WWOOFers to “guerrilla gardening” as a sovereignty strategy for Palestinians in Israel, this book will keep its readers’ brains churning through new ways of thinking about what food means and why it matters. Tying food studies to anthropology and weaving in threads of social justice throughout, some of the contributions skew deeply academic. However, Caldwell’s clear and accessible introductions to each of the book’s four parts set them up to be digestible for readers of all types. Though it may have been written with students and teachers in mind, Why Food Matters‘ cutting-edge interpretations of what food studies entails—topics range from the fringe like microbiopolitics (a microbe-focused food ethics idea that focuses on the human relationship with microbes, the impacts they have on our lives, and what we decide to do about them) to more well-worn subjects such as animal welfare and Fair Trade—offer thought-provoking value beyond the classroom.
— Cinnamon Janzer

The Perennial Kitchen: Simple Recipes for a Healthy Future
by Beth Dooley

the perennial kitchen cover

The Perennial Kitchen is a cookbook that manages to be both universal and forward-looking. It lauds local farms and includes detailed instructions for those interested in learning how to bake bread, make stock, roast a chicken, and preserve fresh fruit. But author Beth Dooley wants to do more than help her readers master the basics; she also wants to introduce them to regenerative agriculture, a set of practices used to improve soil health, restore rural ecosystems, and capture carbon to help reverse climate change. The recipes and stories highlight regenerative farmers in the Midwest—a region usually associated with corn and soy monocultures—and ingredients grown on farms that use minimum tillage, cover crops, and managed grazing, among other regenerative practices. Dooley, who has authored or co-authored more than a dozen cookbooks, including a James Beard Award winner, advocates eating more perennials such as hazelnuts and berries because they don’t require tilling or replanting. She also gives special attention and multiple recipes to the new perennial wheat variety Kernza, an ingredient with big environmental benefits. And her recipes also champion artisan grains—from older wheat varieties such as emmer, spelt, and kamut to oats, barley, rye, and sorghum—as well as heritage beans, perennial vegetables, and pastured meats. The recipes are accompanied by cooking tips, resources for finding regenerative ingredients, and earthy photographs that will make you want to immediately put down the book and start cooking.
— Gosia Wozniacka

The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live
By Danielle Dreilinger

the secret history of home economics cover

I was lucky enough to take home ec in middle school—though I certainly didn’t think myself lucky at the time. The class aimed to fill young teenagers’ heads with the importance of not just cooking and sewing, but also budgeting, nutrition, and many other functional domestic skills. Although I didn’t acknowledge until much later how useful the class was, I only just learned how the practice of home economics built on nothing short of a radical, 200-year history of work to liberate women through scientific education. In The Secret History of Home Economics, Danielle Dreilinger has woven together the histories of the women who built home economics from an idea of “women’s work” into a department of the federal government, with the 1923 establishment of the Bureau of Home Economics within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As should be the case with any study of U.S. history, Dreilinger examines the role that racism played in shaping the course of home ec—through the sidelining of pioneering Black home economics advocate Margaret Murray Washington, how discrimination and prejudice at the USDA hamstrung the earliest efforts to bring home ec education to communities of color, and even persistent segregation within some national home-ec advocacy groups during the civil rights era. Dreilinger brings the history of home economics up to the present day—although an unfortunate 1993 name change to “family and consumer sciences” only “rendered the field invisible,” according to professor Hazel Taylor Spitze—and closes out this eye-opening history with five suggestions for bringing back home ec. For a home ec alum, Dreilinger’s book was a great reminder of the value of the field, and the importance of these skills for anyone at any age.
— Matthew Wheeland

Just Eat: One Reporter’s Quest for a Weight-Loss Regimen That Works
By Barry Estabrook

just eat book cover

“There are only three diets,” writes veteran food journalist Barry Estabrook in Just Eat—and over the course of the book, he proceeds to explore the myriad permutations of low-fat, low-carb, and calorie-limited diets that have given us Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, keto, South Beach, and so many more. Driven by his own urgent health needs—Estabrook aims to lose weight quickly to reduce his risk of heart attack—he surveys everything from the truly horrible Master Cleanse to the Seventh-Day Adventist diets practiced by the community in Loma Linda, California. What he finds is a truism for anyone who’s been on the diet merry-go-round: Fad diets often provide quick results, but over the long term the diet that works is the one that you can maintain. Just Eat offers a much easier read than a book like Gary Taubes’ epic Good Calories, Bad Calories. Although Estabrook does touch on the science underlying nutrition and weight loss for many of these diets, his goal is to take readers along on his journey to find a healthier way to eat for the long term. So whether you’re low-carb, low-fat, paleo, CRON, or diet-agnostic, Just Eat is an engaging way to learn that what you eat may not be as important as how: Estabrook argues that conscientious, mindful eating is the diet for the ages.
— Matthew Wheeland

Why We Cook: Women On Food, Identity, And Connection
By Lindsay Gardner

why we cook book cover

Part cookbook, part collection of essays, Why We Cook is a bit like eavesdropping on a really cool dinner party. Through interviews, recipes, and profiles, the book features 112 women in food: restaurateurs, activists, food writers, home cooks, and professional chefs, including Leah Penniman, Ruth Reichl, and Julia Turshen, among others. Penniman, for instance, gives readers a glimpse of a day in her life at Soul Fire Farm, while Reichl shares the meals that left the most significant impressions on her. Others, such as restaurateur Nicole Ponseca, share favorite recipes and the stories behind them. Gardner includes watercolor illustrations alongside each woman’s profile. Reading this book had me recalling the women and dishes that tell the story of my own life and looking forward to asking them about the stories behind the foods they share. You’ll want to return to it again and again.
— Bridget Shirvell

What’s Good? A Memoir in Fourteen Ingredients
By Peter Hoffman

what's good book cover

Peter Hoffman is one of a handful of chefs who have directly influenced my life path. When I read his first book, What’s Good? A Memoir in Fourteen Ingredients, I was instantly reminded what a farm-to-table pioneer he truly is, and how influential his iconic New York City restaurants, Savoy, Back Forty, and Back Forty West, were. Hoffman, who left the restaurant world in 2016, has collected wonderful personal stories from moments inside his restaurants and from the field. He shares those stories alongside a farmers’ market guide and exploration of the foods we eat—including his “chloroholic” fondness for spring’s “green foods” (English peas, fava beans, string beans, sugar snap peas, green garlic, asparagus) to alliums (onions, leeks, scallions, chives, and ramps) and autumn’s brassicas (kale, rabe, mustard, cabbage, Brussels sprouts). His recipes and the botanical backstories on seasonal, greenmarket favorites (see: entire chapters on garlic, strawberries, and Grenada peppers) will inspire even the most burned-out home cook.
— Naomi Starkman

Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need
By Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman

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our changing menu book cover

This excellent book shows how our favorite foods are affected by climate change and offers solutions for creating greater sustainability for the foods we love. Beginning with a primer on the sourcing, the authors show the global reach for several simple, everyday foods: grapes from California, coffee from Brazil, and tree nuts from Vietnam. The authors—who work as academics and policy advocates in climate and agriculture—helpfully break down a menu into categories, showing us the small and barely noticeable alterations that climate change is having on what we eat, such as the facts that yields for hops used in beer decrease as weather warms and pollinators are threatened by disruptions to their lifecycles as blooming seasons shift. In addition to all the cautions and concerns, Our Changing Menu offers a celebration of food diversity and concrete suggestions for how we can adjust our diets to new realities. The authors spoke with farmers, fishers, vintners, and brewers to find out how their worlds are changing, carefully weighing solutions for a more stable supply chain in a warming world. The result is a book for anyone who’s interested in how the choices we make today may influence our future diets.
— Nano Riley

Ripe Figs: Recipes and Stories from Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus
By Yasmin Khan

ripe figs book cover

Yasmin Khan’s new cookbook Ripe Figs brought me to tears. And not just because I haven’t travelled anywhere in over a year, or because of the beautiful recipes and photographs from some of my favorite places in the world. Her book is also a reflection on the resiliency of the human spirit, centering stories and foods that refugees have brought to a region that bridges cultures and is steeped in migration history. In between seasonal recipes like muhammara (spicy red pepper and walnut smash) or kashk e bademjan (Iranian eggplant and fermented yogurt), Khan, who spent a decade as a human rights campaigner with a special focus on the Middle East, spotlights refugees fleeing conflict and finding home and community through shared meals. The book transports the reader to a place “where family is central, tradition is honored, myths are revered, and meals are meant to be savored, slowly, and always with good company.” Khan’s powerful stories inspire hope and joy, reminding us about the power of human connection, and the ways food and culture transcend borders.
— Naomi Starkman

Honor Thy Label: Dr. Bronner’s Unconventional Journey to a Clean, Green, and Ethical Supply Chain
By Gero Leson

honor they label book cover

Emanuel “Dr.” Bronner’s original All-One vision, famously written in tiny type on the brand’s bottles of multipurpose soap, didn’t include organic or Fair Trade ingredient sourcing. But his descendants decided to expand his vision to encompass those values when they inherited the company. In Honor Thy Label, Gero Leson, the company’s V.P. of special operations, tells the story of how he and others have changed the company, ingredient by ingredient. Starting with building a coconut oil supply chain and processing plant in Sri Lanka, he details the work of finding smallholder farmers, helping them implement organic practices and gain certification, and setting up processing and distribution from the ground up. Moving to other countries and commodities—olive oil in the West Bank and palm oil in Ghana—Leson explores the challenges of ensuring equity and fair compensation and making costs work when doing things the hard way. The book offers a rare, nuanced look at what it looks like when a company attempts to achieve real transparency in global agriculture supply chains and could serve as both an inspiration and a toolkit for other food companies making commitments to sustainability and fair labor practices.
— Lisa Held

The Nation of Plants
by Stefano Mancuso

the nation of plants book cover

There is a nation on our planet that can help humans overcome climate change and thrive as a civilization. Behold the oldest, most populous, and most extensive nation on earth: the Nation of Plants. In case you still believe humans are superior to other species, this little gem of a book will starkly remind you that plants are the basis of our food system and responsible for fixing carbon dioxide in the air, and making the oxygen we breathe. In fact, your future survival—that of the human species, indeed—squarely depends on plants. With these truths in mind, Italian scientist and leading plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso conjures the Constitution of this global plant superpower, eight short tenets to help us understand, learn from, and imitate plant intelligence so as to increase our chances of survival. “Use us better immediately!” implore the plants. Mancuso reminds us that 450 million years ago, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide had reached levels much higher than the current ones and plants were able to reduce the concentrations to safe levels. To do it again, we need to let plants do their carbon-absorbing jobs by ensuring our forests continue to grow (ending deforestation) and “wrapping every possible surface” of our cities with plants. Beyond this, the plants offer other lessons. They advise us to respect the relationships between organisms (eliminating one species often leads to unintended consequences) and to engage in cooperation and mutual aid. They remind us that migration is a natural mechanism for the survival of plants and animals and will help species adjust to climate change, so open borders for humans may be a concept worth supporting. The plants also advocate for an alternative social structure: decentralized organizations with diffuse decision-making, instead of the hierarchical, centrally controlled human ones that often lead to failures. This small book is truly revolutionary and should be required reading for every human being.
— Gosia Wozniacka

Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice
By Rupa Marya and Raj Patel

inflamed book cover

This gracefully intertextual book spans many realms of knowledge—infectious disease, abolitionist thought, short-sighted colonial cosmologies, immunology, the function of debt—to offer an explanation for the surge of inflammatory illnesses across the world. Written by Rupa Marya, a physician and the co-founder of the Do No Harm Coalition, and Raj Patel, the author of the New York Times bestseller The Value of Nothing, a leading thinker on the Green New Deal, and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, the book reconceptualizes inflammation as the result of wide-ranging injustices, which the colonized medical system has long overlooked. “Racial violence, economic precarity, industrial pollution, poor diet, and even the water you drink can inflame you,” the authors write. Among many examples, they point to Shelia McCarley, who grew up pulling catfish from chemical-laden Tennessee River, and whose health quickly deteriorated in her 40s with no diagnosis but incredibly high markers of inflammation. Her eventual death shows how modern medicine can fail to detect and treat all that is quietly killing us. COVID-19 is perhaps the most prescient example of how inflammation, when understood as a marker of oppression and violence in our environment, can sink our health. As the authors write, “The difference between a mild course and a fatal case of COVID-19 is the presence or absence of systemic inflammation.” An important read, Inflamed calls for deep medicine, and a refiguring of our body as existing in a world that continually shapes us, for better and worse.
— Greta Moran

FARM (And Other F Words): The Rise and Fall of the Small Family Farm
By Sarah K. Mock

farm and other f words book cover

An independent rural reporter based in Washington, D.C., Sarah K. Mock was raised on a small farm in Wyoming and schooled in economic development at Georgetown University. Her debut book weaves personal experience and on-site reporting with USDA data and policy analysis, and the result is anything but wonky. The book’s title is the first irreverent hint that, for Mock, there are no sacred cows in American agriculture—least of all the idealized small family farm. The book’s structure loosely follows her futile, yearlong search for a “Good Farm”—one that has healthy foods, working conditions, and environments. She writes: “Only by understanding what actually makes a farm good, and how to identify one when we see it, can we start to understand how the system is failing the farms we need.” The narrative teems with fresh insights about wealth, land, and labor in farming systems big and small while ripping apart the entrenched mythology of the almighty, virtuous farmer. For anyone who has ever wanted to understand the profound implications of the U.S. farm bill and USDA programs on the food system and society—especially those who put small farms on a pedestal—Mock’s honest inquiry is eye-opening and surprisingly inspiring. “Our vision for American agriculture cannot be a small one,” she writes in the conclusion, offering a blueprint for a more just, equitable, and economically viable farming future.
— Lynne Curry

Bee People and the Bugs They Love
By Frank Mortimer

bee people book cover

With Bee People, Mortimer has created a folksy, highly personal account of a first-time beekeeper coming into his own. The author, now an adjunct instructor of beekeeping at Cornell University, tracks his successes and failures in keeping hives of honeybees while exploring the history and arcana of the occupation. Along the way, he introduces a cast of characters who offer him advice, take him along on bee-related forays, and welcome him into their community. While the author’s enthusiasm for his subject is palpable and will appeal to readers who share his interest—or want to—those with a broader understanding of the complexity of honeybees’ not-wholly-beneficial effects on ecosystems may be disappointed that the book neglects any mention of this point. For example, Mortimer links a love of beekeeping with concern for the environment, without connecting the dots on Apis mellifera’s role in decreasing native bee populations, or of the monocultures of commercial crops they support.
— Lela Nargi

Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey
By James Rebanks

pastoral song book cover

James Rebanks, who lives on a family farm in northern England’s Lake District, is the author of the bestselling 2015 memoir The Shepherd’s Life. His new memoir opens with a boyhood memory of plowing a field with his grandfather, watching from the tractor while “hungry tumbling waves” of black-headed gulls dive for worms in the overturned soil. His story chronicles three generations of family history—from his grandfather’s sheep, cattle, barley, and vegetable fields to his father’s modernized and efficient operation and finally to his own diversified sheep farm. Pastoral Song is a meditation on the changes to the land and the people that the author has witnessed over 40 years. Rebanks points out that the more productive agriculture in the region has become, the fewer lapwings, curlews, swallows, and other wildlife there are on the landscape. In his accounting of the economic and ecological responsibilities of being a farmer, he asks, “How much was a curlew worth?” At a moment when the European Union is reckoning with the profound effects of the intensification of agriculture, similar to the U.S., this intimate and moving book is timely and relatable. But the author examines the nature of farming without sentimentality. Even as Rebanks strives to improve his lands through rotational grazing, tree planting, and stream rechanneling, he does not have any easy answers. With a critical and curious eye, he asks of himself—and society at large—what does it mean to be a “good” farmer?
— Lynne Curry

Toxic Legacy: How the Weedkiller Glyphosate Is Destroying Our Health and the Environment
By Stephanie Seneff

toxic legacy book cover

Every year, nearly 150,000 tons of glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, are doused on American crops. The human-made toxicant is designed to disrupt biological life to kill off pesky weeds. But perhaps it’s too effective. In Toxic Legacy, MIT senior research scientist Stephanie Seneff documents how glyphosate is accumulating in our bodies and contributing to a sharp rise in chronic diseases. Drawing on a growing body of scientific literature, Seneff makes a convincing case for a deeply troubling theory: Glyphosate is analogous to the amino acid glycine, replacing it in key proteins and shutting down their function. “Dozens, if not hundreds of proteins, may be severely disrupted by glyphosate substitution for glycine,” writes Seneff. She attributes this to the prevalence of neurological, autoimmune, and oncological diseases in humans, and “extreme distress” in other species over the last several decades. It shouldn’t exactly come as surprise that glyphosate—a weed-killing poison, a patented oral antibiotic, and a chelating agent that strips mineral deposits from pipes—would be harmful to human life. Yet, for decades, the pesticide industry has claimed that it quickly exits the soil and the body. Toxic Legacy represents a thorough debunking of this claim, detailing flaws in industry studies and pointing to the fact that this ubiquitous toxicant has so far received very little regulatory scrutiny—a fact that Seneff calls “an abdication of responsibility, and a disgrace to democracy.”
— Greta Moran

 

We Are What We Eat: A Slow Food Manifesto
By Alice Waters with Bob Carrau and Christina Mueller

we are what we eat book cover

With an invigorating and timely message, Alice Waters once again brings us all to the table. Her new book is an engaging read, offering a startlingly fresh perspective grounded firmly in the present moment of pandemic recovery, climate threats, and labor inequities while sharing the farm-to-table icon’s evolving thoughts on food’s impact on our society and planet. Waters is unflagging in her desire to inform, engage, and inspire, speaking persuasively about collective accountability and institutional restructuring as the path to food system and social change. She covers what Slow Food is not—convenience, cheapness, and speed—and what Slow Food is—biodiversity, seasonality, and pleasure in work—in a clearly reasoned and convincing analysis. Waters recognizes the pain of enslaved people forced to work the land and demands that we lift up agricultural workers and pay them equitably. From soil microbes to gut microbiomes, her writing satisfies both ride-or-die activists and readers who are new to the cause. Waters writes about educating children through the Edible Schoolyard Project and shares her daily epiphanies around ethical sourcing, waste reduction, and staff engagement in her famous Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. The book’s anecdotes range from expected to surprising, such as when she arrived late to a meeting in Kansas, facing hunger and the lure of convenience, and makes a desperate dash to a McDonald’s drive-in. She parks “next to the garbage can” to eat her hamburger and fries. “The whole experience,” she writes, “was just like refueling a car at a gas station,” which “took all of six minutes.” Oh, for a TikTok video!
Haven Bourque

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From Farms to Incubators: Women Innovators Revolutionizing How Our Food Is Grown
By Amy Wu

from farms to incubators book cover

Women control only 7 percent of U.S. farmland and own only 14 percent of farms, while the majority of agtech startup founders who’ve received funding are male and White. So how do women break in and succeed in agriculture? For years, veteran agtech journalist Amy Wu has been asking the women founders and innovators she meets about their motivations, the challenges they faced, and how they overcame them. Those conversations resulted in the 2018 documentary From Farms to Incubators and her new book, which profiles more than a dozen female agribusiness leaders, focusing on how they use technology and innovation to shape the way we cultivate and consume food. There’s Penelope Nagel, a ninth-generation farmer who co-founded Persistence Data Mining, a soil nutrient mapping and testing company; Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos, the director of marketing and culinary for D’Arrigo Brothers, one of the largest producers of broccoli rabe; and many others. Not only does Wu report on how each woman uses technology to solve a problem, she also covers the pros and cons of tech solutions. It’s an essential book for anyone interested in agtech and how to help the next generation of food entrepreneurs.
Bridget Shirvell

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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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  1. Gail Marshall
    Thanks for this interesting list of books.
    I've read Rebanks' "English Pastoral", or as it's been re-named in the US, "Pastoral Song". In your commentary you state, "At a moment when the European Union is reckoning with the profound effects of the intensification of agriculture...". As you know, Rebanks is in Britain and the country has removed itself from the European Union. The greater threat to a sustainable way of farming in England right now is the government's drive to secure free trade deals with other countries, including the US and Australia, that would allow the importation of meats from animals grown in more industrialized conditions. These products are inferior, less humane and environmentally degrading. Importing them tariff free would result in a race to the bottom because they will sell for less, undercutting English farmers' ability to both compete and strive for improved sustainability.

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Op-ed: How Food Became the Perfect Beachhead for Gentrification

Food trucks at GenR: LA Force For Change I Am Not A Weapon Exhibition, hosted by Generation Rescue and the International Rescue Committe, on June 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Samantha Trauben/Getty Images for International Rescue Committee)

Fast Food and Grocery Giants Promise to Sell ‘Better’ Chicken—Is It Enough?

Farm grass field with chicken in foreground on poatrol with trees and barns in the background under and overcast sky.

A Native-led Land Trust Is Working to Empower Indigenous Youth Through Kelp Farming

Sugar kelp remnants from Native Conservancy's test site in Simpson Bay, Prince William Sound. (Photo By Tesia Bobrycki)

Keeping a Detailed Record of the Changing Climate Could Save This Tribe’s Foodways

The RACCA team in the field. (Photo courtesy of Megan Mucioki)