by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Jan 8 2016

Weekend reading: Sugar!

After all the talk yesterday about the Dietary Guidelines’ advice to cut down on sugar, and our sadness at the passing of Sidney Mintz who wrote Sweetness and Power, it’s good to consider just why we like sugar so much.  Oxford University Press has an encyclopedia on Sugar and Sweets.  But this weekend, for a short and sweet reminder, consider this contribution to the genre.

Andrew F. Smith.  Sugar: A Global History. Reaktion Books, 2015.

This is one of Andy Smith’s entries in Reaktion’s Edible series of small, brief, lavishly illustrated books devoted to a single food or beverage.

Andy discussed the genesis of this book in an e-mail memorial to Sidney Mintz.

Sid Mintz had an influence on my professional life as well. In the early 1980s I decided to use sugar as a vehicle to write a history of the world.  It was going to be a three volume work: one volume on Southeast Asia/India and the ancient world; one on the Middle East/Mediterranean in the Middle Ages/Renaissance; and one on the Americas and the modern world. I acquired and located thousands of potential books/articles and these were likely just a small portion of the material I assumed would be necessary to examine.

I continued plugging away until Sid published Sweetness and Power (1985), I assumed publishers would not be interested in another book on sugar history, so I decided to wait a couple years for it to go out of print before I resumed work on my sugar project.  So in the interim I decided to write a book on the history of the tomato, which was published in 1994. Then one topic led to another and sugar ended up on the shelve…

When I dined with Sid in 2001, I told him my sugar story, and asked him if he’d take his book out of print so I could write a sugar book. He laughed, and told me what I knew to be true– the topic of sugar history was big enough for many books.

I finally got around to writing Sugar: A Global History, which was published last spring. Rather than the three volume extravaganza I had planned, it ended up one of the shortest books I’ve ever written.

Maybe, but lots of that information got into it, wonderfully written, and beautiful to behold.

Dec 26 2015

Weekend Reading: Food Wars

Tim Lang and Michael Heasman. Food Wars:The Global Battle for Mouths, Minds and Markets.  Second Edition.  Taylor & Francis, 2015

I did a blurb for this as well as for its first edition.

What’s so terrific about this book is its basis in theory applied to real-world, cross-cutting food issues involving government, business, and civil society.  The authors emphasize the need for all of us to advocate for healthier and more sustainable food systems, for food peace rather than food wars, and to do so now.

Dec 18 2015

Weekend Reading: Mark Pendergrast’s Fair Trade

Mark Pendergrast: Beyond Fair Trade: How One Small Coffee Company Helped Transform a Hillside Village in Thailand.  Greystone Books, 2015.

fair trade

Mark Pendergrast is the author of the definitive history of Coca-Cola, For God, Love, and Coca-Cola, about which I have warmly appreciative things to say in my own contribution to that genre, Soda Politics.  

He writes a “semi regular”column on coffee for the Wine Spectator, and this is his second book on coffee.  The first was Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed the World.

Here, he focuses on the Doi Chaang Coffee Company, the result of a business partnership between a Canadian coffee company and a coffee-growing hill tribe in Thailand.  This is an inspiring story of social entrepreneurship at its best. Sometimes these things work.  It’s worth reading about how this one did.

Dec 11 2015

Holiday reading: Savoring Gotham

Andrew F. Smith, ed.  Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

Oxford’s latest food encyclopedia celebrates the food of New York in 570 entries written by 180 foodies.    Full disclosure: two entries are mine—menu labeling and soda “ban.”  And I also turn up as an entry in the biography section (thanks Judith Weinraub).

The entries cover everything that Andy Smith and his team could think of,  in alphabetical order from A&P to Zeppole (following Zagat).  The entries cover specific foods and beverages, of course, but also history, politics, biography, museums, restaurants, retailers, publishing, media, holidays, neighborhoods, organizations, and bars.

As you might expect from anything edited by Andy Smith, the entries are written well and easy to read.  It’s lavishly illustrated and fun to browse.  A small sample from the “C’s” to illustrate the range: Cosmopolitan, Cotton Club, Cream Cheese, Cries of New York, Cronut, Cuban.

Something for everyone.  And it’s in paperback and affordable.

Dec 4 2015

Weekend Reading: Digesting Recipes

Susannah Worth.  Digesting Recipes: The Art of Culinary Notation.  Zero Books, 2015.

I did a blurb for this unusual book:

Digesting Recipes takes an off-beat and highly refreshing post-modern look at cookbooks as markers of cultural identity.  Recipes, it makes clear, are far more than cooking directions.  After reading this, I have a whole new appreciation for what recipes can tell us about the deeper meanings of modern society.

Nov 27 2015

Weekend Reading: Kima Cargill on Food Psychology

Kima Cargill.  The Psychology of Overeating: Food and the Culture of Consumerism.  Bloomsbury, 2015.

Capture

I did a blurb for this one:

Psychologist Kima Cargill takes a tough, critical look at today’s consumerist culture from the perspective of research as well as of observations drawn from her clinical experience with patients struggling with weight issues. To stop overeating in today’s food environment means finding effective ways to counter the many moral, political, economic, and social imperatives to consume. The ideas in this book should inspire readers to think of obesity in an entirely different way—more as the result of a consumerist society than of individual weakness.

Nov 13 2015

Weekend Reading: Philosophy Comes to Dinner

Terence Cuneo, Andrew Chignell, Matthew C. Halteman, editors. Philosophy Comes to Dinner: Arguments over the Ethics of Eating.  Routledge, 2015.

I was happy to do a blurb for this book, having met Andrew Chignell and participated in an online course he ran at Cornell based on the book.

In recent years, I’ve seen an explosion of student and public interest in the politics and ethics of food.  It’s great to have philosophers contributing to this discussion, and this book explains why.

When thoughtful people differ about issues in food and nutrition, it isn’t always easy to decide what the right thing is to do.  Philosophers have ways of looking at controversial issues that help with such decisions.  This book lays out some typical arguments and explains how the major philosophical frameworks can help sharpen the discussion.

Nov 6 2015

Weekend reading: Yael Raviv’s Falafel Nation

Yael Raviv.  Falafel Nation: Cuisine and the Making of National Identity in Israel.  University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

Yael Raviv is an adjunct instructor in my department at NYU and has been researching and working on this book since I have known her.

The cuisine of Israel is trendy right now, something that Raviv could not possibly have guessed when she began this project.

Although her book focuses on the years from the Zionist immigration wave beginning in 1905 (the Second Aliya) and the 1967 Six-Day War, it deals with older and more recent ways in which food affected and was affected by the complexities and contradictions of religion, ethnicity, nationalism, and subsequent waves of immigration in this country.

Raviv is not claiming that food can solve the political problems of the region, but her book demonstrates that food can help us understand them.

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