by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

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.

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.

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