by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Oct 21 2016

Weekend reading: a how-to for sustainable food systems

Darryl Benjamin and Lyndon Virkler.  Farm to Table: The Essential Guide to Sustainable Food Systems for Students, Professionals, and Consumers.  Chelsea Green, 2016.


Oct 14 2016

Weekend reading: Restaurants that changed the way Americans eat

Paul Freedman.  Ten Restaurants that Changed America.  Liveright/WW Norton, 2016.

Image result for ten restaurants that changed america

I was happy to be asked for a blurb for this fascinating, entertaining, and beautifully produced (color illustrations!) volume.  Here’s what I said:

Is it even remotely possible that ten restaurants—from Delmonico’s to Howard Johnson, Sylvia’s, and Chez Panisse—could change the way America eats?  Paul Freedman draws on deep historical research, analysis of contemporary sources, and interviews with surviving players to give us an elegantly written, fascinating, and, dare I suggest, gossipy account of the individuals and social trends that made these restaurants famous.   Whether or not you’ve ever eaten in any of these restaurants, you will have a wonderful time reading this book and will gain unexpectedly delightful insights into modern American life.

I particularly enjoy Freeman’s writing.  Here is an excerpt from his chapter on Le Pavillion (page 336) on what it’s like to get into a high-end restaurant these days:

[I]t is hardly as if American high-end restaurants have become that much more democratic.  Although it is customary to begin any account of the modern restaurant boom by conjuring up the bad old days of damask tablecloths, dress code, leather-covered menus and haughty maîtres-d’-hôtel, restaurants today impose distinctions that would never have occurred to Henri Soulé: near-impossible reservations, no reservations, the speakeasy restaurant type with no visible sign, special telephone lines for favored customers, or forcing clients to pay in advance of their meal.  The model is no longer the nightclub of the Copacabana or El Morocco type, but the culinary version of a dance club complete with velvet rope and line of suppliants, lacking only a bouncer.

Freedman sprinkles wonderfully gossipy digressions throughout.  Here’s one from his chapter on the Four Seasons (page 372):

President John F. Kennedy’s forty-fifth birthday on May 19, 1962, was celebrated there.  Guests, who contributed $1,000, had a rather modest meal of baked crab, chicken broth with spring wheat, beef medallions and birthday cake.  Kennedy had spent so much time chatting with each table, had time only for cream of asparagus soup and a beer before going off to Madison Square Garden where Marilyn Monroe sang him a rather suggestive version of “Happy Birthday.

That comment ought to take you right to YouTube, where you can the “suggestive version” for yourself.

Oct 7 2016

Weekend reading: why we love eating meat

Marta Zaraska.  Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat.  Basic Books, 2016.

If this were just another diatribe against meat-eating, I would not have bothered to read it but this book is much more interesting than that.  The Polish-Canadian journalist Marta Zaraska describes herself as a “sloppy vegetarian,” someone who doesn’t eat much meat but

can’t seem to completely let go of meat either.  There is something in it—in its cultural, historic, and social appeal, or maybe in its chemical composition—that keeps luring me back.

And that’s what this book is about: the cultural, historic, and social (and maybe even the chemical) appeal of eating meat.  Zaraska identifies the reasons—the hooks—of this appeal, linked as they are to genetics, culture, history, and the politics of the meat industry and government.

Although Zaraska clearly thinks eating less meat would be good for health, animal welfare, and the environment, that’s not really the book’s goal.  Instead, it’s to understand why most people don’t want to be vegetarian, let alone vegan, and why even small steps in that direction are worth taking.

What’s impressive about this book is the friendliness, human understanding, and charm of its writing, and the global scope of the interviews on which it draws (full disclosure: it briefly quotes my work).

A couple of scientific points didn’t ring right (beans do have methionine, just not as much as is needed), and I’m not sure that mock meats, meat substitutes, and edible insects will satisfy the “hooks” she describes so well, but these are minor quibbles.

Sep 30 2016

Weekend reading: “Chickenizing”

Ellen K. Silbergeld. : How Industrial Meat Production Endangers Workers, Animals, and Consumers.  Johns Hopkins Press, 2016.

Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences, epidemiology, and health policy at Hopkins, has long been a strong advocate for getting toxic substances out of our food supply.  Here, she takes on our system of industrial farm animal production in a plea for better treatment of everyone and everything involved in it.

Big issue #1: the use of antibiotics as growth promoters.  This not only induces bacteria to become resistant to those drugs, but also is unnecessary.

Big issue #2: the failure of HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point—the method for preventing food safety problems) to prevent harmful, antibiotic-resistant bacteria from reaching the public.

Overall, she says:

The inextricable relationship between industrial food animal production and the environment challenges us in two ways.  First, we are all at risk–not just those of us who consume the products of industrially raised animals–and second, decontaminating food products will not contain the public health problems of this industry.  It is time to think about industrial food animal production as an industry in terms of environmental pollution, and it is long overdue to recognize that its pollution footprint, like its production, is industrial in scale (p. 127).

As for the remedy, “agriculture is an industry, and as such it carries certain obligations.”  These include, among others:

  • Industries must abide by laws that prevent monopolization, price fixing, and overconcentration.
  • Industries must bear full liability for unsafe products.
  • Industries must obey the labor laws of the country.

She has plenty more to say about government’s role in all this.

Our role is to insist that industry and government follow and apply laws.  We had best get busy.

Sep 23 2016

Weekend reading: Food, Ethics, and Society

Anne Barnhill, Mark Budolfson, Tyler Doggett.  Food, Ethics, and Society: An Introductory Text with Readings.  Oxford, 2016

The back cover has a comment from me that must have been something I wrote when reviewing the manuscript for the publisher, who asked: “Who will want to read or use this?” I said—and meant:

This would be extremely useful for undergraduate courses in food ethics or contemporary food issues.  It would work well in courses on contemporary issues in food systems.  The topics are excellent.

OK, I’m biased.  It has two pieces from me in it, one an update on the report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Food Animal Production, which came out in 2008 (I was on that committee), and the other an excerpt from the 2007 edition of Food Politics.  It has loads of interesting excerpts from the work of lots of other people writing about food and ethics from different perspectives.  I really do think it would be fun to use this in a food ethics course or to read if you are just interested in what people are thinking about food ethics .

Sep 16 2016

Weekend reading: Conservation Heroes of the Heartland

Miriam Horn.  Rancher, Farmer Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.  WW Norton, 2016.

Actually, this book should be titled “Rancher, Farmer, Riverman, Shrimper, Fisherman: Conservation of Life around the Mississippi River.” It consists of deep interviews with one person in each category who is working hard to protect some part of the environment.

My favorite is the shrimper, the truly remarkable woman who is devoting her life to saving the livelihoods of the people engaged in Louisiana’s highly endangered—by hurricanes, floods, oil spills, and regulators—shrimp-fishing industry.

Each of the people highlighted in this book is doing something for conservation, not always in the ways you and I might choose.  As Miriam Horn explains in her introduction,

Which is not to say they have found the perfect way to fish or farm; they would be the first to acknowledge that there is no such ideal.  Rather, their heroism lied in the depth of their commitment to consider the largest implications of what they do, across geographic and generational lines; to forever listen more intently, weight each choice for the impact it will have on their neighbors and all of life, challenge themselves to do better as they understand more and the world changes around them.

Sep 9 2016

Weekend reading: Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation

Sandor Ellix Katz.  Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

This is the updated and revised edition of Katz’s wildly popular and influential book—a how to on the theory and practice of preparing, eating, and enjoying fermented foods.

Katz describes himself as a fermentation evangelist, and so he is.

By eating a variety of live fermented foods, you promote microbial diversity in your body.  The live bacteria in those ferments…help to digest food and assimilate nutrients, as well as stimulate immune responses.  There is no one strain that is uniquely beneficial; rather the greatest benefit of eating bacteria lies in biodiversity.

With the microbiome the hot new thing in biology, this book could not be better timed.

And besides.  Fermented foods are delicious.  Ginger champagne, anyone?

Sep 2 2016

Weekend reading: Michel Ableman’s Street Farm

Michael Ableman.  Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

Chelsea Green publishes books on “the politics and practice of sustainable living,” and its catalog gets better all the time.

Michael Ableman’s latest book is beautifully designed, packed with wonderful color photographs, and a must have for anyone even remotely curious about whether urban farming is worth a try.

Ableman was asked to start urban farms in the toughest areas of downtown Vancouver.  His book is a series of thoughtful, personal, and remarkably frank essays about how he turned vacant lots and parking lots into vegetables while engaging with the locals, coping with the city bureaucracy, dealing with landlords desperate for more parking space, and managing the hazards of trying to make this work among people beset by poverty, alcohol, and drugs.

But he did make it work and this book explains how you too can do this.

Street Farm is an elegant how-to manual on using farming to do real community work with populations classically “hard to reach” but thriving on such initiatives.

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