We read, reviewed, and recommend nearly two dozen food and farming books for your gift-giving pleasure.
We read, reviewed, and recommend nearly two dozen food and farming books for your gift-giving pleasure.
December 7, 2022
Despite rumors of their demise, books—and the book industry—are alive and kicking. And it’s our pleasure to once again bring you a list of worthwhile food and agriculture books for your holiday gift-giving pleasure. We hope you have some quiet days to explore these new additions to the cannon and we also hope that these timely and important works will help deepen your knowledge and inspire new thinking.
As always, we are also thankful to the many authors who have spoken with us about their books this year, and we’ve collected those interviews below. Happy holidays and happy reading!
Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial
By Corban Addison
Corban Addison’s Wastelands is a story of environmental injustice and racism in rural southeast North Carolina at the hands of the consolidated swine industry. The courtroom thriller plays out with the suspense of a true crime story, with a cast of characters as well-developed as a Southern Gothic novel. While the tradition of raising hogs in southeast North Carolina dates back to early European settlement, a small group of farms began to consolidate the pork industry and corner the global market in the 1980s, ultimately emerging as the conglomerate Smithfield Foods. Wasteland follows the lives of the mostly Black families living adjacent to the confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), who have been deeply impacted by the mishandling of hog waste, rotting carcasses, and heavy traffic from hog trucks that surrounded their homes, sometimes less than a tenth of a mile from their front porch. Addison tracks the multi-decade fight and the legal battle that roughly 500 families have been waging for the right to clean air, water, and land despite the denial, coverups, intimidation, and death threats they have experienced. Wastelands offers a heroic David vs. Goliath story that could inspires reform across agriculture’s many monopolistic systems.
Eat and Flourish: How Food Supports Emotional Well-Being
By Mary Beth Albright
Are eggs good or bad for us? How much good cholesterol is too much? Even with all our modern knowledge about food, it can still be hard to know what to eat. And while much of the latest research has focused on food’s impacts to our physical health, how does what we eat affect our mental health? Journalist Mary Beth Albright tackles this important question in Eat and Flourish. We all know that a slice of indulgent chocolate cake can make us feel exquisite in the moment, but what else can we uncover at the intersection of mental health and eating? Quite a bit, it turns out. Beyond presenting the science in an accessible way, Albright offers evidence that common sensations such as the anger many of us feel when we’re hungry or “hangry” are, in fact, very real phenomena. She also redefines tired tropes such as “emotional eating” and ultimately finds that eating for emotional well-being is an effective motivation for undertaking the herculean effort to consistently cook meals from scratch and eat more whole foods—which for many will feel far more inspiring than simply adhering to a diet.
More than 30 years ago, while traveling for work, filmmaker Adam Alexander stumbled upon an unusual sweet pepper in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Red, multi-lobed, and “with a fiery heart,” it sparked what became a lifelong quest to uncover the secrets of heirloom seeds, which he began saving and sharing widely. Alexander became obsessed with trying to grow these unique seeds in his own garden, but he also developed a greater appreciation for our relationship with growing our own food, a relationship that has slowly deteriorated over the last century. In his book, The Seed Detective, Alexander details his efforts to learn about some of our most familiar vegetables and prevent heritage seeds from going extinct. For example, he discovers that garlic was so prized in ancient times for its ability to fortify the human body that it was given to the first Olympian athletes. Afghanistan, he also learns, was the birthplace of the world’s first carrots. While the book provides loads of these interesting backstories, it also highlights the importance of saving and growing seeds that are naturally adapted to specific environments, and looks at how they offer communities around the world a solution to repairing some of the soil damage created by commercial monocropping.
An encouraging, thorough, and quick read, Recipe for Survival spells out how and why people should adopt plant-based eating, both for their individual health and the good of the planet. The first half of the book explores industrial agriculture as a major cause of climate change, overfishing, and environmental exploitation. Part two emerges with 21 “recipes” or actions everyone can take to start chipping away at the existential threat of climate change, including composting, bulk purchasing to reduce packaging, and eating more responsibly. “By replacing animal products—such as meat and dairy—with plant-based alternatives, we can eliminate up to 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from foods and reduce water use by up to 75 percent,” writes Hunnes, a dietician and assistant professor of public health at the University of California, Los Angeles. She notes that that “dietary change is significantly more effective” at reducing emissions than switching to energy-efficient light bulbs or recycling. To address the excuses one might have in adopting a plant-based diet, Hunnes loads her book with meal plans, grocery lists, and crops that easily grow in community gardens, backyards, and even balconies.
Sixty Harvests Left: How to Reach a Nature-Friendly Future
By Philip Lymbery
Yet another incisive clarion call from Philip Lymbery, the third in his bestselling Farmageddon trilogy, Sixty Harvests Left reveals how the intensification of the world’s farming systems—the rise of mega-farms and grain-fed feedlots, the spread of fertilizers and antibiotics, and the end of crop rotations—has exhausted the world’s soils. At this rate, Lymbery writes, the United Nations predicts only 60 harvests remain until our soils are too depleted to sustain farming. But the book is far from a doomsday prophecy. He introduces us to a wave of pioneers building the biodiverse, humane food system of tomorrow, confronting readers with the question: “Do we change the way we farm, or do we let it change us?” Each section of the book opens with Lymbery walking his own farm with his dog Duke, reflecting on the entwined future of animals, humans, and the soil that sustains us all.
Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet
By George Monbiot
Agriculture is vital for sustaining human life on Earth, but it’s also one of the leading causes of planetary destruction. So how do we produce food that is healthy and affordable and doesn’t employ shortcuts that destroy the natural world? In Regenesis, George Monbiot, a British journalist, columnist for The Guardian, and environmental activist, digs into this complicated yet vital question. This rigorously researched book lays out the harms caused by the global food system—the destruction of wilderness, the pollution of land and water, and the exacerbation of climate change—all topics Civil Eats readers will find familiar. Monbiot also turns a critical eye toward what he calls “easy” answers, including the local and organic movements, and calls for food-production methods that increase yields while decreasing the amount of land degraded by agriculture. To see these ideals in practice, he visits pioneering farmers who are advancing soil science, low-impact cultivation methods, and climate-friendly crops and talks to scientists who are developing farm-free foods like cellular (i.e., lab-created) meats. Intelligent, engaging, and ambitious, the book sets forth a radical vision for a transformed food system—one capable of feeding the world while regenerating the living systems we all depend on.
Much of our thinking about the natural world is shaped by neo-Darwinism, an assumed struggle for survival on a planet where humans prevail over other species. But what if humans are not simply the apex predator, selfishly driven to devour the environment, destroy habitats, and dominate other creatures? What if they are instead the ultimate cooperators, ensconced in a system of mutually beneficial relationships, wielders of a unique power to uplift the natural world? In Sweet In Tooth And Claw, Kristin Ohlson explores cooperative relationships found in nature, from the evolution of multicellular creatures that form the building blocks of all life to relationships between co-evolving plants and insects and their intersection with humans. With expansive thinking and relatable prose, she tours mutualistic experiments like the Nevada rangeland reinvigorated by beavers and a Mexican coffee plantation shaded by bird habitat, explaining research that makes a case for more such invention. The result is a book that reimagines what is possible when people see themselves as part of the ecosystem rather than as its predator. Refreshing, thought-provoking—and delightfully illustrated.
—Lee van der Voo
The Meat Paradox: Eating, Empathy, and the Future of Meat
By Rob Percival
Rob Perceval explores a central question in Meat Paradox: Should we eat meat? In his search of an answer, he spends time in a slaughterhouse, studies prehistoric art for clues of emotional connections between our ancestors and the animals they ate, and imagines how a future without meat consumption would impact ecological systems. Perceval follows the cultural angst of the death and consumption of animals through Indigenous groups and agricultural practices. He observed how communities showed their respect for the life of an animal by consuming it nose to tail, anthropomorphizing animals into a state where they consent to be eaten, and the farmer-to-animal relationships that revolved around reciprocation of care. By separating animals from nature and bringing feed to them in confinement settings, Perceval describes what he sees as a “post-agricultural world.” He argues that on our current trajectory, we may soon be unable to support any form of agriculture and advocates for reintegrating animals into diversified farming systems. In a writing style that weaves together myth, anthropology, philosophy, and ecology, Perceval anticipates the moral questions of his narrative and guides readers through the reality of human evolution.
Urban Foraging: Find, Gather, and Cook 50 Wild Plants
By Lisa M. Rose
I found myself wishing this book was pocket-sized. I always want to have it within reach so I can identify nettle growing along a streambed, mulberries on a neighborhood tree, and wood sorrel in an open field. In Urban Foraging, Lisa M. Rose, an urban gardener with a background in anthropology and community health, offers an all-encompassing guide to foraging for 50 wild plants common to metropolitan landscapes, such as chickweed, dandelion, and honeysuckle. A recipe accompanies each plant, from a wild apple tarte Tatin to garlic mustard pesto. Beautiful, delicate photographs offer a visual guide to plants, and Rose includes tips on where they grow and what areas to avoid, such as old brownfield sites or fields near golf courses that may be exposed to excess herbicides and pesticides. Rose says she hopes the book provides a jumping off point for readers—a way to learn and enjoy the flavors of wild plants while also using foraging to explore “further issues of urban pollution, soil remediation, water conservation, food security, social justice, climate change, permaculture and regenerative agricultural practices.”
Kuni: A Japanese Vision and Practice for Urban-Rural Reconnection
By Tsuyoshi Sekihara and Richard McCarthy
What is a kuni? The word means “nation” in Japanese, but in Tsuyoshi Sekihara’s manifesto, a kuni is a movement with the ability to halt society’s inevitable march toward greed, anonymity, and technology for its own the sake. It’s not a pastoral homesteading fantasy. “The government can only understand rural revitalization through the utopian theory of returning to the countryside,” notes Sekihara, who instead posits that kunis of the proper scale can create mutually beneficial connections between rural villages and urban centers through solidarity and sustained exchange. It’s a model he’s pioneered himself in rural Japan and has spent time socializing in small-town America. The premise of his theory—that the “bigger is better” mindset is a capitalist trap that promises only a dreary future—isn’t groundbreaking on its own. But combined with his personal history, sharp insights into the modern human condition, and author Richard McCarthy’s own American perspective on the power of food, the whole thing manages to feel refreshing—and even a little revolutionary.
Grass-Fed Beef for a Post-Pandemic World
By Ridge Shinn and Lynne Pledger
As co-founder of the Livestock Conservancy and CEO of Big Picture Beef, which uses regenerative farming practices to produce grass-fed beef, Ridge Shinn has long been a big name in the “better meat” movement. In Grass-Fed Beef for a Post-Pandemic World, Shinn and co-author Lynne Pledger explain how their time-tested philosophy can be applied on U.S. farms. “Regenerative grazing will change the way our society thinks about beef, because the grazing itself is as significant as the meat,” they write. They defend that argument based on climate and health impacts, illustrate distinctions between industrial and grass-fed beef, and propose policy changes to shift production from feedlots to pastures, which they argue could increase food system resilience. The chapters that set the book apart offer deep dives into the unique system the company pioneered in the Northeast. That includes the practical realities of managing healthy pastures, breeding and moving cattle, and weaning calves humanely, all while balancing the economics. Most importantly, it explains how their model of aggregating cattle and moving them from small, local farms to nearby grass- finishing farms has enabled them to create enough scale to sell beef that is typically only available at high prices at farmers’ markets into wholesale markets. For that reason, it might be considered a sort of guidebook for regional, regenerative beef.
The starting point to solve any problem is arguably understanding the conditions that created the problem in the first place. Financial journalist Chloe Sorvino takes on that task in her first book, Raw Deal, as she traces the actions taken by the world’s largest meatpacking companies and their buyers to accumulate a mass of wealth and power that, she argues, has come at the expense of producers, consumers, and our lived environment. Sorvino, who has become known through her work at Forbes as a “billionaire whisperer,” will draw you in with her candid—and at many times mind-blowing—stories drawn from her time spent tracking and talking with meat barons. But Raw Deal is as reflective as it is revealing: Its real power lies in the connections it draws between the machinations of the meatpacking companies and the increasing fragility of the supply chains that we all rely upon. Sorvino goes on to lay out the current movements attempting to challenge the meat industry while imploring stakeholders to start putting equity before greed. Packed with a wide range of expert input, Raw Deal provides a firsthand look into a typically opaque industry and makes the case that changing our meat industry is both possible and necessary.
—Lindsey Margaret Allen
What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health
By David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé
The soil-health pioneers explore the nutrient benefits of regenerative practices, and how they may also be a solution to drought in the West.
By Rachel Carson
Sixty years after its publication, Civil Eats convened a roundtable with a scientist, farmer, journalist, biologist, and community organizer to reflect on the power and ongoing impact of the groundbreaking book, and the work that remains to be done.
Our Fermented Lives: A Story of How Fermented Foods Have Shaped Cultures & Communities
By Julia Skinner
A deep dive into the history and power of fermentation, microbes’ role in biodiversity, and how fermented foods can make us more resilient in the face of climate crisis.
Unpacking School Lunch: Understanding the Hidden Politics of School Food
By Marcus B. Weaver-Hightower
The book delves into how understanding political motivations can lead to better school meal policies, and why pizza is considered a vegetable.
Slow Cooked: An Unexpected Life in Food Politics
By Marion Nestle
‘America’s foremost nutrition warrior’ shares her life’s work influencing nutrition policy behind the scenes, and how she overcame the barriers facing the women of her generation to find her purpose after 50.
Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health
By Gregory Gourdet and JJ Goode
Top Chef star Gregory Gourdet discusses sourcing, sobriety, and equity in his new cookbook and his approach to rethinking hierarchy in the kitchen.
Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers
By Ruth Conniff
Conniff uses human stories to capture the deep kinship between dairy farmers and farmworkers, drawing a stark contrast with the anti-immigrant sentiments farmworkers face at-large in American society.
Retail Inequality: Reframing the Food Desert Debate
By Kenneth Kolb
Kolb’s book is based on a years-long ethnographic looks at neighborhoods in Greenville, S.C. Kolb enters his work thinking that he will learn about how members of low-income communities get access to food and the struggles they face in a food desert. Despite community leaders routinely referencing their “food desert” status, Kolb found that few community members struggle with access to fresh food. Instead, he argues the bigger issue is overall retail inequality caused by years of disinvestment by local politicians and economic leaders—for members of poor communities the term “food desert” became more a symbol for a larger struggle to remain relevant in a rapidly gentrifying city.
By Pascual Baudar
Baudar covers what vinegar is and isn’t, talks about its crucial role in food preservation over the centuries and provides many recipes for creating your own vinegars. Whether you are using a store-bought base to create a unique infusion or using foraged ingredients from your own terroir, this book is a great exploration of food and flavor. I love that he also talks about and gives recipes for actually using the vinegars for cocktails, main dishes, and preserves.
I loved this book. It is beautifully written and completely eye-opening. Very different than any “food policy” book I have read. Technology and food in China (and we in the US can relate).
An autobiographical tale of a fisherman reborn into kelp farming. He tells a good story as only a Newfie fisherman can and puts forth a compelling argument for including kelp in our diets.
Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life
By Alice Wong
This is not a full-on food book but the author includes stories about her experience with food (in)accessibility for herself and other people with disabilities. She also shares cuisines from China. The book is a collection of interviews, essays and artwork from the author.
Food Stars: 15 Women Stirring Up the Food Industry
By Ellen Mahoney
Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America
By Pekka Hämäläinen
Fieldwork (Publishing January 2023)
By Iliana Regan
Cooking for the Culture: Recipes and Stories from the New Orleans Streets to the Table (Publishing February 2023)
By Toya Boudy
Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them (Publishing March 2023)
By Tove Danovich
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