by Marion Nestle

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Mar 27 2015

Weekend reading: Fruits of Eden

Amanda Harris.  Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild and America’s Plant Hunters.  University Press of Florida, 2015.

I blurbed this one:

If you have ever wondered how navel oranges, figs, avocados, dates, and other such foods came to be grown in America, here’s the answer: plant explorers.  Amanda Harris tells the stories of adventurers sent out to search the world for delicious foods.  Fruits of Eden is a welcome history of these little-known plant experts who succeeded in improving the diversity and deliciousness of our daily fare.

 

 

Mar 20 2015

Weekend reading: Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids

Kiera Butler.  Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids & How its Lessons Could Change Food & Farming Forever.  University of California Press, 2014.

New Picture (1)

 

Kiera Butler usually writes for Mother Jones (her latest is about how McDonald’s markets to kids) but this time took on an investigative reporter’s immersion into the world of 4-H, the venerable youth-mentoring program aimed at “growing confident kids.”

Although the program’s website says “4-H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System & USDA,” you have to look hard to see how it relates to its farming origins.

Butler follows several individual 4-H members, young teenagers, who are deeply engaged in raising and showing animals at county fairs.  She follows their experiences for a year and observes their demonstrable growth in skills, confidence, and the handling of disappointment.  These are the impressive accomplishments of this program.

But she is also well aware of the many contradictions of 4-H: the high cost of participation, its lack of racial and ethnic diversity, its promotion of the values of industrial agriculture, the divide between urban and rural members, and the surprising lack of attention to what agriculture is about and its importance to the economy and society.

Her conclusion: 4-H needs to be challenged to promote critical thinking about agriculture.

Raise is a good read and is thoroughly convincing about the need for such thinking.

Feb 27 2015

Weekend cooking: Nancy Jenkins’ Virgin Territory

Nancy Harmon Jenkins.  Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.

Although I don’t usually do blurbs for cookbooks, this one goes into so much depth about why olives and their oil matter—and how the olives are grown, harvested, and extracted—that I couldn’t resist.  Jenkins is a wonderful writer as well as a splendid cook.

Virgin Territory takes a deep dive into the history, culture, and taste of olive oil.  Jenkins grows olives, harvests them, and cooks with her own oil.  A terrific cook, she passionately wants everyone to know the difference a high quality extra-virgin olive oil can make to any dish.  I learned so much about olive oil from this book and can’t wait to try every one of her recipes.

 

Feb 6 2015

Weekend reading: The U.S. Food System

Roni Neff, editor.  Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Public Health, Environment, and Equity.  Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Jossey-Bass, 2015. 

New Picture (1)

This is an undergraduate textbook for students in courses dealing with almost anything having to do with food as it relates to larger societal issues of economics, policy, marketing, culture, security, health, and the environment.  It is large (542 pages, 8.5 x 11), easy to read, and well illustrated.  It ought to be terrific in stimulating thinking about these issues, particularly because it covers everything you can think of that’s important in this area, from farm subsidies to school lunches.  The only thing missing is international dimensions, but that would take another book of this size.

Also focused on the U.S. food system is the Institute of Medicine’s report I wrote about a couple of weeks ago: A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System.

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Between the two, you have a full course on food systems, especially because the IOM report comes with:

Jan 27 2015

Reading for a snowbound day: Noodle Narratives

Frederick Errington, Tatsuro Fujikura, and Deborah Gewertz.  The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century.  University of California Press, 2013.

New Picture

 

How did it happen that lots of people subsist on instant noodles?  As the anthropologist authors explain, Ramen noodles are ubiquitous, quotidian, tasty, convenient, cheap, and shelf stable.  The industrial (cheap) versions are loaded with MSG and palm oil.   But then, there’s the David Chang Momofuko version, “cosmopolitan and classy,” requiring pounds of meat and taking hours to prepare (not cheap).  This book is about the commodification of instant noodles, starting from small Japanese markets and ending up as the world’s most widespread industrial food: “a capitalist provision that provisions capitalism.”  But will they feed the world?  “Our hope is that the future will provide at least a modest mosaic of choices—a mosaic in which competing orientations toward food, with an emphasis either on security or sovereighty, will continue to challenge one another in a socially and environmentally productive way.

Jan 23 2015

Weekend reading: Liz Carlilisle’s Lentil Underground

Liz Carlisle.  Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America.  Gotham Books, 2015.

 

I did a blurb for this one:

What does it take to farm sustainably—and make a living?  Liz Carlisle tells the engrossing story of the “audacity rich, but capital poor” Montana farmers who thought lentils were the answer and stuck with them until proved right.  Anyone who dreams of starting a farm or wants to know how organic farmers can overcome the obstacles they face will be inspired by this book.

Dec 2 2014

Locally Grown: Hudson Valley Food & Farming

Tessa Edick.  Hudson Valley Food & Farming: Why Didn’t Anyone Ever Tell Me That? American Palate, 2014.

I live in New York City, where “locally grown” has a meaning all to itself, but the Hudson Valley is a big part of it and a well kept secret from many of us city folk.  Edick, who writes a “meet the farmer” column for upstate newspapers, makes it clear that when it comes to growing food, the Hudson Valley is special.  Her book introduces readers to its farmers, products, and programs, lavishly and gorgeously photographed.

Nov 28 2014

Weekend reading: Vitamania!

Catherine Price.  Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection.  Penguin Press, 2015.

I blurbed this one:

Catherine Price gives us a journalist’s entertaining romp through the fascinating history of the discovery of vitamins, and their use and marketing as objects of health obsession.  Faith in vitamins, she advises, should be tempered by scientific uncertainty and dietary complexity, and the understanding that foods are better sources than pills.

This is the second excellent book I know of with that title.  This one came out in 1996.  It focused on supplements and their marketing.

Both have interesting things to say about why so many of us take vitamin supplements, regardless of the lack of evidence that they do us much good.

As I keep observing, there just isn’t much evidence that vitamin supplements make healthy people healthier.

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