by Marion Nestle

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Dec 23 2016

Weekend reading: Larry Cohen’s Prevention Diaries

Larry Cohen.  Prevention Diaries: The Practice and Pursuit of Health for All.  Oxford, 2016.

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Larry Cohen is an old friend and I was happy to be asked to do a blurb for his terrific book:

Prevention Diaries is Larry Cohen’s intensely personal and introspective account of why stopping health problems before they start makes sense for individuals and for societies—and is possible.  His stories of how advocates have successfully intervened to prevent problems caused by unhealthy eating, cigarettes, automobiles, guns, violence, and system inequalities should inspire everyone interested in public health to get involved in prevention programs that will make a real difference in people’s lives.

Here’s a brief excerpt from his “food for thought” chapter:

The realities of our food system can feel overwhelming—too large and too entrenched to change all at once.  But, as with so many big problems, communities and businesses are taking valuable steps to create the system we want and need.  Indeed, it feels like the United States is at the beginning of a sea-change in its pproach to food—with a swell of interest in seemingly old approaches, like farmers’ markets, heirloom produce, and cooking from scratch, which benefit consumers and workers.  As the movement has been building, its momentum and innovation have increasingly started to reshape government policies and industry practices in ways that ensure all people can enjoy the fruits of a healthier food system (p. 93).

From his lips to God’s ear, as the saying goes.

Dec 15 2016

Weekend reading: a how-to for sustainable food systems (again)

I’m not sure how this happened, but I posted the title and cover of this book in October without saying a thing about it.  My apologies.  Here it is again.

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

 

This is two books in one.

The first part, Farm, is about the real costs of industrial agriculture, environmental and human, and what can be and is being done about them.

The second part, Table, is a how-to for restaurants, schools, and institutions who want to source from local farms and for local farmers who want to supply those places.

The book gives specific examples illustrated with charts and photos and provides theory as well as practice suggestions.

The chapter on marketing gives the seven Ps–product, price, place, promotion, people, process, and physical evidence—along with things to consider and tips.

We have emphasized throughout this book that Farm-to-Table products sell themselves.  This is usually true once people have sampled their quality, understand their importance to the community and to the environment, and know where to find them.  The role of marketing is to facilitate those connections.

This is a great guide for beginners but there is plenty to learn hear for everyone.

Dec 9 2016

Weekend reading: Chow Chop Suey

Anne Mendelson.  Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey.  Columbia University Press, 2016.

When this book was sent to me for a blurb, my first thought was do we really need another book about Chinese food in America? As it turns out, we most definitely do.  I did the blurb, and happily:

Chow Chop Suey is an eye-opener, a book that will give everyone a deep appreciation of the exquisite skill required to produce authentic Chinese food and the sweep of history that brought Chinese cooking to America.  Anne Mendelson’s prodigious research has given us a highly respectful, insightful, refreshing, wonderfully written, and utterly compelling account of the role and plight of Chinese restaurant workers in this country.  I learned something new on every page.

An excerpt to give the flavor, from a section explaining the problems with translating Chinese cooking to American cooks.  In discussing an early attempt by Mrs. Yuenren Chao and her daughter Rulan:

Apparently Professor Chao had found Rulan’s translation too neatly compressed into proper usage and gone through it in a correctness-be-damned spirit, supplying back-formations with a more original take on Chinese nuances.  The result was sentences like “Roughly speaking, ch’ao [stir-frying] may be defined as a big-fire-shallow-fat-continual-stirring-quick-frying of cut-up material with wet seasoning.”  Anyone who has ever seen the action in a Chinese kitchen will recognize this as an unerring slap shot.

If, like me, you don’t think Chinese food is nearly as delicious as you remembered it from your childhood, you are right and this book explains why.

Nov 25 2016

Weekend reading: Fig Trees!

Mike Shanahan. Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees.  Chelsea Green, 2016.


I have a particular interest in this book.  The summer before last, I bought a small fig tree at New York City’s Union Square Farmers’ Market and stuck it in a pot on the terrace outside my apartment.   Pleasant surprise: it survived last winter and produced a modest crop of small, brown, sweet figs.

This puzzled me because as far as I could tell, the tree had never flowered.

Mystery solved, thanks to this book.

Shanahan, a rainforest ecologist, explains that figs do flower but the flowers are inside the “fruit.”

Even weirder, the flowers are pollinated by specific species of fig wasps, which works through whatever the “fruit” is and do their work.

The book does not explain what fig wasps are doing in Manhattan or how they found their way to my 12th floor terrace, but the figs were great and I thank them.

I also thank Shanahan for writing a truly informative book about why Ficus species are so important to forest ecology and to reforestation programs, and what figs have to do with Gods (figs in mythology) and Stranglers (a kind of fig tree).

I raise as post-Thanksgiving fig in his honor.

Nov 11 2016

Weekend reading: how to manage a small organic farm

Connor J. Fitzmaurice and Brian J. Gareau.  Organic Futures: Struggling for Sustainability on the Small Farm.  Yale University Press, 2016.  

This is an academic analysis of organic farming by two sociologists based on classic ethnographic fieldwork at a small organic farm in Massachusetts.  They introduce this book by exploring the meaning and consequences of organic “bifurcation,”

the observation that there are increasingly two organic sectors, one made up of relatively large farms that look more and more like the highly mechanized and highly capitalized conventional farms of agro-industry, and the other made up of small farms that are less mechanized, less highly capitalized more likely to sell directly to the consumer, and (at least in some cases) less likely to consider profit ahead of other concerns…we hope to extend and complicate the concept of bifurcation by paying attention to the relational, emotional, and moral underpinnings of organic farmers’ market relationships.

In trying to make a living in organic farming and to maintain personal values about how organic farming should be done, farmers encounter “moral, economic, and relational ambiguities.”  The authors refer to ways in which farmers manage those ambiguities as “good matches.”  Much of the book deals with what organic farmers have to do to achieve such matches.

This is real-world analysis.  Anyone interested in becoming a small farmer, or in what is entailed in doing this work, will find this book a reality check.

Oct 28 2016

Weekend reading: Joy Santlofer’s Food City

Joy Santlofer.  Food City: Four Centuries of Food-Making in New York.  WW Norton, 2016 (publication date: November 1)

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I wrote the Foreword to this book:

When Jonathan Santlofer asked me to write a few words of introduction to Food City, written by his late wife, Joy, I felt sad but honored.  Joy, my friend and colleague at New York University, died unexpectedly in 2013, leaving this book—her life’s work—to be completed posthumously by  grieving family and friends.

Food City is a tribute to the memory of a wonderful person, but it is also a very good book, standing easily on its own as a welcome contribution to food history and to the field of food studies.  In her work at NYU, first as a master’s student and later on our faculty, Joy discovered evidence of New York City’s food manufacturing past and began writing about this largely unexplored topic.  She published her discoveries as short pieces that formed the basis of this book and also of her work as editor of the journal of the Culinary Historians of New York.

For those of us who use food to explore the most pressing social, environmental, and political issues through the lens of food—how we at NYU define food studies—Food City is exemplary.  In recounting the stories of the rise and fall of New York City’s bakeries, breweries, dairies, and meat-packing plants, and of its makers and sellers of flour, sugar, pasta, ice cream, chewing gum, and soda water, Joy Santlofer necessarily wrote about slavery, immigration, unions, child labor, wars, ethnic and racial discrimination and segregation, and the migration of populations to the suburbs and their eventual return.  How odd, she said, to think that factories spewing filth once occupied the sites of today’s luxury apartments.

Food City’s theme is the historical arc from artisanal food manufacture to the emergence and eventual disappearance of industrial manufacture to today’s newly artisanal production of beer, chocolate, and coffee.

Joy put her scholarly curiosity to good use.  She had a knack for finding just the right detail to bring history to life.  I had no idea that New York City housed 2,000 bakeries by 1900, or that one of them employed 700 horses to deliver bread door to door, nor did I know that through the 1930s, $14 a week was the standard wage for factory workers, a synagogue on Rivington Street was located over a still, and cattle had to be driven across the entire length of 44th Street to be slaughtered.  Such tidbits are so vivid that you even get a sense of what the City must have smelled like until well into the last century.

For several years, Joy had the office next to mine, and I was able to check with her often on the book’s progress.  I couldn’t wait for it to appear and at last we have it.  It’s heartbreaking that she did not live to see its publication, but Joy Santlofer leaves Food City as a generous gift to us all.    

–Marion Nestle, May 2016

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.

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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.

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