“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” Michael Pollan wrote in his 2009 “eater’s manifesto” In Defense of Food. It needed little elaboration. Still, a 10,000-plus-word explanation and more than a couple books followed.
Food writing (and viewing), in all its forms, is something we likely won’t grow weary of soon. This month at 1book140, we’ll be taking part in a literary feast—and keeping our contributions to the conversation to 140 characters at most. Readers suggested a variety of works celebrating and condemning food from its basic ingredients to its larger governing structures. Over the last few months, we’ve indulged in a range of fictional landscapes (and food fictions are certainly not lacking). But choices this month will all dabble in truth (however you might interpret that).
Vote below to choose what to read for June and then follow along at @1book140. Voting closes Saturday, May 31 at noon Eastern. Soon after, I'll announce the results and post a schedule to The Atlantic and to our Twitter hashtag, #1book140.
Foodopoly by Wenonah Hauter (@WenonahHauter)
For Food & Water Watch’s Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, fast food is the least of America’s eating problems. The simple pleasures of the family dinner have been replaced by a modern-day corporate structure that has robbed us of choice, money, and most importantly, democracy. Writing much more than a book, Hauter uses smart reporting in the form of a call to action to reveal how policy, wealth, and industry have come together to con independent farmers, governments, and the public.
In the San Francisco Chronicle review, Christopher Cook writes: “Foodopoly is politically brave - not just naming names in the agri-industrial complex, but pushing us to think more deeply about the politics and economics that dictate our diets beyond our own roles as shoppers and eaters.”
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
Posthumously published in 2006, this pivotal memoir from the classic chef has enjoyed sparkling success in recent years, thanks in part to a less-than-appetizing Meryl Streep vehicle and a centennial birthday, which the Smithsonian commemorated with a peek into the shape and perfection of the quintessential kitchen. More than anything though, it capitalized on the American love affair with Julia Child and the ideals she represented. At the heart of Child’s memoir, written with her grand-nephew Alex Prud’homme, is a tale of love and learning, both in Julia’s relationship with her husband Paul and with that of French cuisine. Child’s stories shine with a message for every reader: “Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber (@DanBarber)
Celebrity chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns previewed his new book The Third Plate in the New York Times Sunday Review this past weekend, throwing a wrench into the organic, grass-fed, free-range lifestyle with some big disclaimers about how our “healthy” lifestyles might be hurting the small-time farmers we rely upon to supply us with our guilt-free nutrition. The current Band-Aid that is the farm-to-table system, Barber writes, is broken. “Perhaps the problem with the farm-to-table movement is implicit in its name,” he says. “Imagining the food chain as a field on one end and a plate of food at the other is not only reductive, it also puts us in the position of end users. It’s a passive system—a grocery-aisle mentality—when really, as cooks and eaters, we need to engage in the nuts and bolts of true agricultural sustainability. Flavor can be our guide to reshaping our diets, and our landscapes, from the ground up.”
Already acclaimed by more than a few notable players, The Third Plate is sure to rise quickly on that bestseller list and likely change a few grocery lists and menus in the process.
Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford
In Heat, former New Yorker fiction editor Bill Buford delves into the high-pressure, perfectionist world of a first-rate kitchen. Buford, whose first book-length project, Among the Thugs, detailed a different kind of obsession (soccer), here traces his own trial-by-fire as a “volunteer” in the kitchen of Mario Batali at Babbo.
While close calls with knives, flames, and difficult-to-please sous chefs dot the story, Oscar Villalon points out that the book is much more than a funny novice’s foray onto a three-star frying pan. Like Julia Child with French cuisine, Buford’s journey to learn the proper way to cube carrots is really only one step on his path toward a passion for Italian cooking. In NPR, Villalon notes, “[Heat is] also a memoir about Buford falling in love with an existence that affirms his humanity. What should have been a straightforward assignment becomes a reckoning for him.”
For a quick taste of Buford’s style and wit, take a look at his 2013 New Yorker Notes of a Gastronome which details a similar attempt to cook under the Michelin-starred, Lyon-hailing chef Daniel Boulud.