My favorite hobbies are in order: eating food, making food, reading about food. While the first two take precedence to sustain me, I wouldn’t be fulfilled without the third. The holidays are an especially great time to share this love of reading. While I don’t force food books onto everyone in my life, if I had to pick a few to share, these would be at the top of the list.
The Third Plate (Dan Barber). If you need a crash course on Dan Barber (and an awesome show to fall into), watch his episode of Chef’s Table. This book presented our food system in an entirely new way to me. Barber’s argument is that the fundamental problem with our food system is we don’t look at it as a whole. Consumers (chef’s included) demand large amounts of specific plants and animals (like tomatoes or beef), which incentivizes farmers to produce those in mass quantities. Though that may allow them to make a living, it takes a toll on the environment and depletes resources in the long run. He says we should instead be asking farmers what they need to grow or how they need to raise animals to preserve the health of the land, and then we should base what we eat off of that. This forces greater variety on the consumer, and necessitates using more of each plant.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Michael Pollan). I reread Cooked this year, and I’m so glad I gave it a second chance. While I was lukewarm after the first reading, I was completely enthralled this time around. I love the organization of the book, Pollan explores one food process to match each element: fire (barbecue), water (braising), air (breadmaking), and earth (fermentation). History, science, and technique are interwoven as Pollan shadows experts and attempts processes in his own kitchen (and backyard).
An Everlasting Meal (Tamar Adler). This book really straddles the line of book about food and cookbook. Recipes, techniques, and food philosophies stew together in Adler’s opinionated and often dramatic prose (“The degrading of mayonnaise from a wonderful condiment for cooked vegetables or sandwiches to an indistinguishable layer of fat has been radical and violent.” p31). Some recipes are written out in the standard ingredient list and instructions format, but the majority of them are within the rest of the paragraphs. While they are a delight to read like this, I have found them much harder to find and refer back to. As the title suggest, Adler believes each meal leads into the next, and we can cook in such a way so little is wasted and maximum flavor is extracted from each ingredient. While her tastes may not match everyone’s, I loved her fiery point of view and many suggestions for simple yet delicious food.
And a few other books I’ve loved: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Consider the Fork, Edible, and Catching Fire.
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