The Books Briefing: Following Food From Field to Market to Plate

Examining how we farm, sell, and consume our food: Your weekly guide to the best in books

The food people eat today is the product of centuries of change and systematization. Not only have contemporary cuisines been defined by historical travel and colonization, but agricultural and economic developments have also shifted how we think about and consume food.

The Way We Eat Now, by Bee Wilson, and Pressure Cooker, by Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott, both examine how and why processed foods have replaced home cooking, dissecting the social phenomena that shape Americans’ reliance on cheap meals. Michael Ruhlman’s Grocery focuses on the role that supermarkets play in the modern food landscape, detailing the evolution of these mega-stores for food and other home goods. The market demand for fish has led to a decline in the wild populations of salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna, which Paul Greenberg covers in his book Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.

In their cookbook Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking, the sisters Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau trace the histories of dishes such as saltfish and ackee—a Jamaican staple that enslaved people once relied on to survive. And Samin Nosrat’s cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat analyzes the chemistry behind how certain foods are prepared.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

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What We’re Reading

Uncovering the roots of Caribbean cooking
“A modern collection of vegetarian comfort-food recipes, the book details the lineage of the invisible contributions of African women, and the savvy meal refinement of their descendants, self-reliant and creative West Indians who innovated the region’s most beloved foodstuffs.”

📚 Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking, by Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau

The why of cooking
“I was looking for ‘a metacookbook’—a book not about a certain cuisine or style of cooking, but about cooking itself—and I found good ones to be surprisingly rare.”

📚 Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, by Samin Nosrat
📚 How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman
📚 On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee
📚 The Food Lab, by J. Kenji López-Alt
📚 Ruhlman’s Twenty, by Michael Ruhlman

(New York Public Library)

A book for anyone who eats seafood
“An avid angler, [Paul] Greenberg takes fish conservation personally ... The four fish he has chosen to focus on mark distinct steps in the grim worldwide decline and human attempts to ameliorate it.”

📚 Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, by Paul Greenberg

Grocery stores: an American miracle
“The grocery store has swallowed up a series of small businesses that people used to shop at one at a time—bakeries, butcher stores, delis, liquor stores, florists—and put them under one roof.”

📚 Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, by Michael Ruhlman

Eat food. All the time. Mostly junk.
“Our relationship with food, wholly transformed since the ’60s in ways both heartening and horrifying, has lost touch with a truth none of us can afford to leave behind: Cooking isn’t a luxury; it’s a survival skill.”

📚 The Way We Eat Now: How the Food Revolution Has Transformed
Our Lives, Our Bodies, and Our World
, by Bee Wilson
📚 Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won't Solve Our Problems and What
We Can Do About It
, by Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott

The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

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About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Myles Poydras. The book he’s reading right now is Mules and Men, by Zora Neale Hurston.

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