by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Mar 5 2016

Three books about eating: 3. A Short History

This is the third book about eating I’ve been posting about.  The first two were here and here.

Graham Dukes & Elisabet Helsing.  A Short History of Eating.  The London Press, 2016.

Dukes and Helsing, married couple, English and Norwegian respectively, and friends of long standing, have produced a light-hearted, entertainingly illustrated romp through the history of the human diet, from breast milk (on which Helsing is expert) to bubble gum, based on their research into a wide range of sources, literary as well as anthropological.   The authors quote poems in appropriate places:

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman’s food,

It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.

Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good

Oh! the Roast Beef of old England.

The illustrations display cartoons, ads, portraits, and botanicals.

Here is an excerpt to give you the flavor…

Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France before the Revolution, is often cited—almost certainly wrongly—as having suggested that since during a famine the starving population lacked bread they should eat cake instead…But if Marie Antoinette truly did propose that the populace eat cake, what sort of cake, familiar in her royal circle, might that have been?  Modern reference sources define a brioche today as a light yeast bread with butter and eggs…A better clue…may be that provided by that infamous rascal of the day, the Marquis de Sade.  In July 1783, from his prison cell in Vincennes…he wrote a letter to his patient wife imploring her to send him: “…four dozen meringues; two dozen sponge cakes (large): four dozen chocolate pastille candies with vanilla….”

Feb 27 2016

Three books about eating: 2. The Practice of Eating

This is the second of three books about eating.  The first is here.

Alan Warde.  The Practice of Eating. Polity, 2016.

This is a sociologist’s attempt to establish a theory of food consumption.  Advances in theory, he says, have been limited for three reasons:

First, eating has been looked at as a series of practical problems, as a terrain of crises.  Second, the topic has been dealt with in multidisciplinary contexts where theoretical synthesis has had low priority.  Third, consumption remains subordinated to concern about production.

This book makes up for those deficiencies and will be greatly appreciated by graduate students of sociology, food studies, and other academic disciplines.

Feb 20 2016

Weekend reading: Three books about eating: 1. First Bite

You might think that eating is one of those things that comes naturally, but for the next three weeks I’m going to be posting books telling us how.  Here’s the first:

Bee Wilson.  First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. Basic Books, 2015.

Bee Wilson speaks from experience.  She once was a picky eater bordering on having an eating disorder.  Simply eating when hungry and stopping when full is a challenge for many of us.  Wilson explores how food preferences are acquired or made and how culture and environment turn biological needs into obesity-promoting hazards.  Her advice boils down to aphorisms, for example:

  • No one is too busy to cook.
  • Eat soup.
  • Rethink what counts as a main course.
  • Regular exercise definitely helps.
  • If you want your children to eat better, don’t tell them what to do: eat better yourself.
Feb 13 2016

Weekend Reading: Fed Up

Dale Finley Slongwhite.  Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Food.  University Press of Florida, 2014.

Yes, there’s a movie called Fed Up (in which I make a very brief appearance) but this book covers a quite different topic.  It takes a tough look at the impact of widespread pesticide use on farmworkers in the area around Lake Apopka in Central Florida.  Slongwhite tells the individual stories of these workers through oral histories, thereby putting a human face on callous disregard for people and the environment.

Feb 6 2016

Weekend Reading: Forked! (It’s just out)

Saru Jayaraman.  Forked: A New Standard for American Dining.  Oxford University Press, 2016.

I did a blurb for this one, for good reason.  Saru Jayaraman is doing important work on behalf of low-wage restaurant workers, most of them immigrants and women.  This book is her manifesto.

That restaurant workers can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour, and require taxpayer-supported food assistance to survive, is a national scandal.  Forked tells the stories of enlightened restaurant owners who treat and pay workers decently, with immediate returns in employee loyalty, better customer service—and profits.  This book should inspire all restaurant owners to take the “high road,” and all of us restaurant customers to demand that they do.

Read it and join the campaign for decent pay for restaurant workers, farm workers, and everyone else who is excluded from minimum-wage requirements.

Jan 30 2016

Weekend Reading: From Farm to Canal Street

Valerie Inbruce.  From Farm to Canal Street: Chinatown’s Alternative Food Network in the Global Marketplace.  Cornell University Press, 2015.

I live in downtown Manhattan, love to wander through the open-air food markets in Chinatown, and have always wondered how the extraordinarily fresh and exotic vegetables and fruits get there.  Who grows them, and where?

The answers: supply chains based on family connections (of course), in Florida, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Inbruce views the supply chains as an alternative to industrial food systems, one that provides vegetables of outstanding quality at low cost, while supporting small farmers.

Instructors of courses in food systems: this book belongs in your syllabus.  It is essential reading for anyone interested in who produces food for urban areas and how it gets into cities.

 

Jan 22 2016

Weekend Reading: Ingredients

Dwight Eschliman, Text by Steve Ettlinger.  Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products.  Regan Arts, 2015.

The photographer and writer went through the grocery store and jotted down every food ingredient they could find—from Acesulfame potassium to xanthan gum.  Dwight Eschliman acquired samples of each ingredient in its pure form, arranged them in piles, and took photographs.  Steve Ettlinger provided their Code of Federal Regulations numbers, chemical structures, and brief descriptions of how they are used. The photographs are gorgeous.  Even though all the ingredients look like piles of salt, their textures and colors are sufficiently different to make this book weirdly fascinating.

Jan 15 2016

Weekend Reading: Divided Spirits

Sarah Bowen.  Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production.  University of California Press, 2015

This remarkable book, a recent addition to UC Press’s series on California Studies in Food and Culture, uses drinks distilled from roasted, fermented agave as a basis for entering into debates about production and protection of indigenous food products in the face of globalization.

In recent years, traditional foods and drinks have emerged as profitable and politically salient alternatives to the perceived homogenizing effects of globalization.  Initiatives like the Slow Food movement and DOs [denomination of origin] attempt to rescue eating establishments, dishes, and products from the flood of standardization engendered by the industrial food system.  In doing so, they strive to support the rural communities, farmers, and processors involved in the production of traditional products.  And yet, as my research shows, efforts to regulate Mexico’s iconic spirits illustrate the limitations of relying on alternative markets to protect food cultures and the livelihoods of those who produce them.  My work demonstrates how cultural symbolism can be manipulated to perpetuate and deepen long-standing inequalities along global commodity chains.

Or, as she explains much later, “the right to define what constitutes ‘tequila’ and ‘mezcal’ extends as much from market power and it does from a sense of tradition or justice.”

Consider this book with your next Margarita.

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