by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Sep 1 2023

Weekend (all year?) reading: An Italian Feast

I just bought a copy of this book, mainly because I like reading everything Cliff Wright writes.  One of his previous books about Italian Cooking, A Mediterranean Feast, won two James Beard awards in 2000, one of them Cookbook of the Year, deservedly.

This one is a doorstop at 1191 pages and 5.6 pounds.

But no need to be intimidated.  The structure is quite straightforward.

The book takes each region of Italy, in alphabetical order from Abruzzo to Veneto, and takes those regions province by province to discuss and provide recipes for characteristic dishes.

Take Emilia-Romagna, for example.  First comes a history of the region, a discussion of its cuisine and questions about them, followed by characteristic recipes from the region and discussions and recipes of each of the provinces, also in alphabetical order, from Bologna to Rimini.

Wright introduces the book with a summary of how the history of Italy has influenced its food.  For example:

In terms of what people at in Italy in the last fifteen hundred years, there is so much for which one must account, from the diffusion of Islamic agriculture between the seventh and twelfth centuries; the Black Death of the fourteenth century; the transition of the world economy from feudalism to capitalism and the wealth created as a result of the trade in, mostly, food products; the discovery of the New World in the late fifteenth century and the introduction of its new foods in the following century; and the changes in the consciousness of people themselves due to the Renaissance, humanism, and the nascent stirrings of modern science.  This is a complex story, and it all has to be told so we can appreciate why Italian food is what it is today.

Hence, 1200 pages.

Interspersed throughout the book are boxed discussions of fasciinating details.  On eggplant parmesan from the Regional Cuisine of Campania, for example, he says (among other things):

Let us dig a little deeper here.  The first mention of something resembling eggplant Parmesan is from the rhyming poem Il saporetto by Simone Prudenzani (1387-1440).  Prudenzani was from Orvieto, and Il saporetto, while not a cookbook, is about food, where a dish mentioned refers to well-grated parmigiano cheese being stuffed inside (Dentro nel parmiscian ben gratusgiato)….I believe the version we know today, with its Parmesan cheese and tomato ragoût, first appears in print in Ippolito Cavalcanti’s Cucina teorico-practica, published in Naples in 1837….

The recipes come with similar dicussions.

You either love this kind of thing or not.  I tend to be for it.

For that reason, I do have a quibble with the book.  It does not come with an Index of anything except the recipes.

The scholarly apparatus is limited to brief endnotes, a lengthy bibliography of what he read for this (17 pages of small type), and an index of the recipes by category, and by region and province.  But the recipes are only a fraction of what is in this book.

The lack of an index is a serious omission.

Wright self-published this tome.

Still, I’m glad to have it.

Aug 11 2023

Weekend reading: National Dish

Anya Von Bremzen. History, and the Meaning of Home. Penguin, 2023.

I can never get over how many superb books are now published on food themes, on after another.

Consider—and you definitely should—this one, for example.

For starters, there’s the fabulous cover by Roz Chast, no less (I want one for my next book!).

For another, there’s its brilliant structure and what Von Bremzen does with it.  She is a cookbook author, best known to me for her memoir, Masterian the Art of Soviet Cooking, an account of what food was like for a child growing up in Moscow in the former Soviet Union.

National Dish uses what are assumed to be foods representing entire cultures to reflect on the meaning of food for personal identity and larger issues of gastronationalism.  Von Bremzen spent at least a month in each country examining how its particular dish did and did not represent the culture of Japan (Ramen noodles), France (Pot-au-Feu), Spain (tapas), and Mexico (mole), and others, necessarily ending with the most poignant, Ukraine (borsch).

Von Bremzen is great company on these explorations, delving into language, history, anthropology, and whatever else it takes to understsand the role of that particular food in that particular society.  A couple of excerpts:

Neopolitans were not Italy’s original mangiamaccheroni, however; the Sicilians were.  A twelfth-century Arab geographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi, was first to report that people near Palermo were making strings of dough called itriyya–-from the Arabic? Greek?  Hebrew?—which they traded “by the shipload” to Calabria and “other Christian lands.”  The Neopolitans?  They were called mangiofoglie (leaf eaters), or, more quaintly, cacafoglie (leaf shitters) for their massive intake of dark leafy greens—a forerunner of the Brooklyn dream diet.  (p. 52)

This, on “washoku—fuzzily defined as “the traditionally dietary cultures of the Japanese” and modeled on the equally fuzzy but successful “gastronomic meal of the French.”

But it was the UNESCO listing that produced a washoku explosion.  A word only faintly known before to the Japanese public was now everywhere, celebrated in cookbooks, media articles, gastronomic guides, and scholarly studies.  And the government—mixing bunka gaikō (cultural diplomacy and Brand Japan building—promoted washoku abroad as the nation’s ancient and healthy tradition.  An upscale pizza effect swung into action.  International recognition boosted washoku’s domestic cachet, swelling the pride that Japanest home cooks now took, according to polls, in their own intangible food heritage.

Intangible indeed. (p.103)

This is one terrific book, erudite but fun to read and a great contribution to the literature of food studies.  Enjoy!

Jun 9 2023

Weekend Reading: Ultraprocessed People!

This absolutely superb—informative, eminently readable, compelling—book makes the strongest possible case for the benefits of not eating ultra-processed foods.

These, you may recall, are produced by industrial means, loaded with unfamiliar and questionable food additives, unable to be made in home kitchens, and designed deliberately to be irresistibly delicious, if not addictive, so as to make profits for food companies.

They also encourage people to eat more than they realize, and are consistently associated with poor health.

Van Tulleken is a British physician, scientist, and television star with his twin brother Xand.

Although I am thoroughly familiar with just about everything in this book having written extensively about these topics myself, I still found it to be a great read.

Van Tulleken tells stories really well.  I was hooked on page 30 with the description of Lyra, his 3-year-old daughter’s first encounter with a breakfast cereal aimed at kids.  He had decided to do a Morgan Spurlock  (Super Size Me!) experiment on himself and eat mainly ultra-processed foods for as long as he could stand it.  He began with a breakfast of Coco Pops cereal.

I had assumed that, having never tried Coco Pops, she [Lyra] wouldn’t have any interest in them.  But Kellogg’s had got her hooked before she’d had a mouthful.  She knew that here was a product designed with a three-year-old in mind.  Again, I told her no, so she collapsed on the floor crying and screaming with rage…My lingering doubts [about this cereal] were irrelevant ….Lyra had crawled out from under the table, filled her bowl and started to eat great fistfuls of dry Coco Pops, wide-eyed and ecstatic.  Defeated, I poured out the milk, and read the ingredients…Lyra put her ear to the bowl and shut her eyes, entranced. She then began to eat again.

And eat.  And eat.  As I watched her, it seemed she wasn’t fully in control…Lyra had hardly taken a breath.  I normally have to do a little cajoling at mealtimes, but the first bowl of Coco Pops had simply disappeared.  When I tried to suggest that one bowl was enough, the idea was immediately dismissed.  It felt like advising a smoker to stick to one cigarette.  Her eating wasn’t just mindless: it was trancelike.

This is just what ultra-processed foods are supposed to do.

Van Tulleken calls for government policies to be made without food company involvement, and for policies to restrict the marketing of such foods.


The book is published today by Norton. I thought it was a great read.

Apr 28 2023

Weekend reading: “Henfluence” for the love of chickens

Tove Danovich.  Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them.  Agate, 2023 (223 pages).

I’ve followed Tove Danovich’s career with great interest, not least because she took a course with me in the Food Studies master’s program at NYU some years ago.

This is her first book, a nonfiction account of the chickens she raises, each named and identified, the contrast between the welfare of chickens raised in backyards as opposed to industrial batteries, and her love for chickens in general and hers in particular.

During the first year of the pandemic, chicken watching became my main hobby. (Not that there were many other options.)  When the news got to be too overwhelming, watching the chickens was how I reset  Obviously, I’m not the first one to discover the therapeutic power of chickens..Some people pour themselves a glass of wine; others stare at chickens. (p. 107)

She adopts two checkens rescued from factory farms and names them Thelma and Louise.

Some of Thelma’s and Louise’s natural behaviors came back as soon as they were given the chance to express them—dust bathing, foraging, laying in the sun—but their bodies and minds took longer to heal  A year after they were rescued, the hens’ feathers were almost completely regrown with the exception of their still sparse tail feathers.  Some things won’t change.  They will probabl always sleep on the floor of the coop.  Their beaks will never grow back.  But they’ve found a place for themselves in the flock and with me.  (p. 193)

The book has plenty to say about the political, economic, and animal-welfare aspects of factory farmed chicken raising, but mostly it’s a personal account of her enjoyment of raising backyard chickens.

She eats their eggs.  She does not eat the hens.


For 30% off, go to  Use code 21W2240 at checkout.


Apr 21 2023

Weekend reading: Resilient Kitchens

Gleissner P, Kashdan HE, eds.  Resilient Kitchens: American Immigrant Cooking in a Time of Crisis.  Rutgers University Press, 2023.   

I enjoyed reading this book and did a blurb for it:

Resilient Kitchens collects the deeply personal accounts of immigrant chefs, writers, and scholars of how their experience as “other” informed their use of food and cooking to stay centered during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Their stories are vastly different but all bear on why food matters to much to personal identity.

Rutgers University Press describes it this way:

Resilient Kitchens: American Immigrant Cooking in a Time of Crisis is a stimulating collection of essays about the lives of immigrants in the United States before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, told through the lens of food. It includes a vibrant mix of perspectives from professional food writers, restaurateurs, scholars, and activists, whose stories range from emotional reflections on hardship, loss, and resilience to journalistic investigations of racism in the American food system. Each contribution is accompanied by a recipe of special importance to the author, giving readers a taste of cuisines from around the world. Every essay is accompanied by gorgeous food photography, the authors’ snapshots of pandemic life, and hand-drawn illustrations by Filipino American artist Angelo Dolojan.

Contributions by Reem KassisStephanie JollyKrishnendu RayTien NguyenBonnie Frumkin MoralesMayukh SenGeetika AgrawalFernay McPhersonAntonio TahhanSangeeta LakhaniKeenan DavaTim FloresAngelo DolojanGuillermina Gina Núñez-MchiriHarry Eli KashdanPhilip Gleissner

Mar 3 2023

Weekend reading: for kids!

Shannon Saia sent me copies of three books in the series, Gertie in the Garden, aimed at kids ages 6-9.  Here’s one:

The other two are Going Offbeet and Making Peas (puns intentional).

She asked if I would blurb the series.  Once I read them, I was happy to:

The Gertie in the Garden series is so engaging that kids will catch on right away to why growing vegetables and even playing with them will encourage kids to view healthy foods as helping them negotiate their way in the world.  Kids will love these books (and parents will too).

I have to admit to not liking most books aimed at getting kids to like vegetables.  But I liked these a lot.  For one thing, they are focused on Gertie’s struggles to figure out how to get along with others (not easy, in her case), and her social awkwardness feels real—and fixable.

For another, learning how to garden with her grandmother is a relief from those struggles and integrated into her life in a way that again seems authentic.

I think it would be fun to read these to young kids not yet ready to read them on their own.  And the stories raise plenty of issues to talk about as well as offering practical advice about how to grow these vegetables.

Shannon tells me these are available in the usual way through bookstores and online.

Jan 20 2023

Weekend reading: The Fulton Fish Market

Jonathan Rees.  The Fulton Fish Market: A History. Columbia University Press, 2022.

I really wanted to read this book and was appy to do a blurb for it.

Rees’s history of Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market is an elegy for a place that reached peak vibrancy in the 1920s, only to decline steadily as a result of overfishing, developers, the Mafia, unions, politics, refrigeration, real estate prices, and, eventually, more developers.  Rees’s thoughtful analysis of these themes has much to tell us about the clash between the natural and built worlds in American cities over the last couple of centuries.

Rees is a history professor at Colorado State-Pueblo, a food historian.  I’ve long wanted to understand the changes I’ve witnessed at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport and the reasons for moving the fish market to Hunt’s Point in the Bronx, a mile from the nearest subway station.

I remember my first visit—at 4:00 am on a cold winter’s day—to the fish market in the mid-1990s.  It was lit up like a stadium, crowded with people, tables covered with fish, and hand-trucks for moving them.  I thought it looked like a move set on which the director has just shouted, “Action.”  We had to move quickly to avoid being hit.

My guide was the chef-owner of a Chelsea fish restaurant who pulled thousands of dollars in cash out of his pockett o pay for the fish he was selecting carefully for the next few days.  His purchases went to a van that would take them to his restaurant within the next hour or so.

We went for coffee at a nearby café and were out of there by 6:00 a.m.

I picked four excerpts from Rees’ book that help explain the history of this place:

(1) Two developments very close to the Fulton Fish Market spurred the transformation of the entire neighborhood into something new by the end of the twentieth century and beyond: the founding of the South Street Seaport Museum in 1967 and the development of the neighborhood by the Rouse Corporation, a Baltimore firm best known for its successful revitalization of the Faneuil Hall area in Boston… More development increased rents. Businesses which made more money than dealing in wholesale fish then bought up properties that the dealers had moved into earlier in the century, thereby changing the character of the neighborhood. The city and the state never deemed the actual fish market worthy of protection. As a result, every new project that made the neighborhood more desirable made it harder for the fish market to stay a fish market.

(2) From a longterm perspective, the geographical advantage of the Fulton Fish Market disappeared when fish stopped arriving there by water….When they arrived in New York by train or truck it no longer mattered where in New York City the fish market happened to be. In fact, with the arrival of modern refrigeration and freezing, you could have moved the largest fish market in America to Connecticut, or South Carolina for that matter….

(3) The original Fulton Fish Market was obviously a market in the sense that it was a place to buy and sell fish, but the longterm historical significance of the place derives more from the other sense of the word “market,” namely the abstract idea that there is a set of dedicated buyers for the good that gets sold there. The wholesalers who ran the Fulton Fish Market expanded the scope of the abstract market in order to keep their physical market going…Nobody really cared about the public good as long as they were all still making money…the actions of the wholesalers who operated there spurred the general indifference of the wholesale fish industry to the problem of overfishing, despite the obvious cost of this behavior to the overall amount of fish in the sea.

(4) In ancient Greece, the marketplace was the center of daily life. The body politic congregated there to interact, make collective decisions and conduct commerce. Fulton Market bore some resemblance to this situation during its early history, but its operations became less public as it evolved into a wholesale market….Today, without a subway stop anywhere near it, average New Yorkers would have difficulty getting to any of the city’s wholesale markets in the South Bronx. Moreover, because of improvements in refrigeration and transportation, wholesale markets aren’t even necessary for restaurants or groceries to operate in the city anymore… These days, it is very easy to forget that Manhattan is an island.


For 30% off, go to  Use code 21W2240 at checkout.

Dec 2 2022

Weekend reading: Raw Deal

Chloe Sorvino.  Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed, and the Fight for the Future of Meat.  Atria Books, 2022.  

This is the first analysis I’ve seen of the meat industry from a business perspective.  Corvino is a business reporter from Forbes and did an amazing research job to do this book, including visiting CAFOs, slaughterhouses (she doesn’t say how she talked her way into it), chicken houses, and alternative meat places.  She also talked to a vast number of experts on all sides of the meat issue.  Full disclosure: she interviewed me and quoted me in the book in a couple of places.

I was happy to do a blurb for it.

Raw Deal is Chloe Sorvino’s deeply reported, first-hand account of how business imperatives drive the meat industry to mistreat workers, pollute the environment, fix prices, bribe, and manipulate the political process, all in the name of shareholder profits.  She argues convincingly for holding this industry accountable and requiring it and other corporations to engage in social as well as fiduciary responsibility.   Raw Deal is a must read for anyone who cares about where our food comes from.

On meat substitutes

I have yet to meet anyone in this industry who says they do not care about climate change.  In fact, many say they are personally driven by their product’s sustainability and environmental potential.  But it’s still all to a certain point.  There’s a reason Impossible Foods is preparing for a potentially $10 billion public listing, and that neither Impossible nor Beyond Meat is registered as public benefit corporations a move that would legally inhibit the companies from putting profit over their environmental mission.  Half of Impossible’s investors come from venture capital firms and the roster even includes a hedge fund, Viking Global Investors. Backers are no doubt ready for an exit, and they want to get Impossible the best deal.  A sustainability halo helps the cause (pp. 169-170).

On support for small local meat producers

Local infrastructure for livestock producers to cook and package products is a key missing link in making local food systems profitable and viable.  Creating lasting impacts wouldn’t cost much.  “We have the information and we have the evidence.  FaWhat we don’t have are the facilities and shared space where multiple people can leverage that at their business’s scale,” Mickie told me.  “It’s just crazy to me to be in a space where we’re trying to meet so many intersecting issues of inequity, and have to prove it one hundred percent, and then in another realm, people are playing with stem cells and getting two hundred million dollars.  We literally feed people and want to do it better )p. 257).

Chloe Sorvino has also published:

  • An adapted essay in the Los Angeles Times on universal food access
  • An excerpt in Fast Company about whether good meat exists


For 30% off, go to  Use code 21W2240 at checkout.