These 20 summer reads are guaranteed to broaden readers’ perspectives on food, agriculture, and society. Whether you’re a food enthusiast, an avid home cook, or are simply passionate about the relationship between food, identity, and society, this list has a book to satisfy any palate.
1. Accountability: Why We Need to Count Social and Environmental Cost for A Livable Future by David A. Bainbridge
The escalating levels of greenhouse gas emissions are posing severe threats and escalating global disasters. In Accountability, author David Bainbridge argues that it’s necessary to understand the full cost of people’s actions to secure a sustainable future. Bainbridge details how effective accounting of emissions and environmental costs is not just an economic necessity, but a critical tool towards a livable future.
2. Agave Spirits: The Past, Present, and Future of Mezcals by David Suro Piñera and Gary Paul Nabhan
Agave Spirits, written by ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan and restaurateur David Suro Piñera, delves into the vibrant world of tequila and mezcal production. The book uncovers the rich history of agave spirits, celebrates their diversity, and highlights how traditional mezcal methods are shaping the industry’s future—all while navigating climate challenges. This read invites both connoisseurs and novices to unravel the flavorful history of these unforgettable spirits.
3. A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community by Natalia Molina
In A Place at the Nayarit, historian Natalia Molina explores the story of her grandmother, an immigrant from Mexico who established a thriving restaurant in Echo Park, Los Angeles in 1951. The restaurant also became a home to a robust community of immigrants who maintained their cultural ties while finding a sense of belonging.
4. Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook by Jules Sherred
Crip Up the Kitchen is a cookbook tailored for disabled and neurodivergent individuals. Food photographer and disability advocate Jules Sherred leverages the convenience of modern kitchen tools to challenge the inherent ableism found in conventional cooking guides. Beyond the 50 recipes, the book offers practical advice on pantry prep, meal planning, shopping, kitchen organization, and safety tips to make home cooking accessible and enjoyable.
5. Earth to Tables Legacies: Multimedia Food Conversations Across Generations and Cultures by Deborah Barndt, Lauren E. Baker, and Alexandra Gelis
Earth to Table Legacies offers an insightful exploration into food sovereignty and justice, addressing the impacts of industrial food systems on health and global inequities. The authors showcase the stories of diverse food activists through multimedia content including photo essays, links to videos, and scholarly commentaries. This read provides an enriching platform for students and activists to critically engage with the pressing issues of our food system.
6. Food Power Politics: The Food Story of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement by Bobby J. Smith II
Food Power Politics delves into the integral role of food in American civil rights history. It explores how food was weaponized against Black communities and later transformed into a tool of resistance. Drawing connections between past civil rights activism and today’s food justice movements, Bobby J. Smith illuminates the ongoing battle for food autonomy. And he shows how Black communities are envisioning and creating self-sufficient local food systems.
7. Guaraná: How Brazil Embraced the World’s Most Caffeine-Rich Plant by Seth Garfield
Seth Garfield’s chronicle of guaraná, an Amazonian vine with high caffeine content, offers a unique perspective on Brazil’s history. The narrative traces the journey of guaraná from its indigenous origins to its transformation and commercialization in the modern soft drink industry. In doing so, it uncovers insights about Amazonian ecosystems, knowledge circulation, and the dichotomy of tradition and modernity in Brazil.
8. Imperial Wine: How the British Empire Made Wine’s New World by Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre
Imperial Wine explores Britain’s role in the development of the wine industries in Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre argues that the current global wine industry emerged from settler colonialism, with viticulture in British colonies being integral to imperialism. The book traces the transformation of colonial wines from their initial rejection by British consumers to their eventual acceptance due to strategic marketing and post-war societal changes.
9. Making Better Coffee: How Maya Farmers and Third Wave Tastemakers Create Value by Edward F. Fischer
Edward F. Fischer investigates the value system governing the high-end Third Wave coffee industry that connects taste, terroir, and social, moral, and political values. Making Better Coffee connects a consumer’s pursuit for a quality cup of coffee to the life of a highland coffee farmer in Guatemala. Through this narrative, Fischer examines quality, craft, justice, and necessity, demonstrating how the true worth and value of coffee is determined.
10. Retail Inequality: Reframing the Food Desert Debate by Kenneth H. Kolb
Retail Inequality delves into the challenges faced by two Black communities in South Carolina, overlooked for decades concerning their inadequate retail options. Kenneth H. Kolb critiques the well-meaning but ineffective concept of a food desert, arguing it has failed to alter local eating habits. Instead, Kolb asserts, the roots of today’s unequal food access lie in the history of deindustrialization, urban policy, and racism.
11. Simply West African: Easy, Joyful Recipes for Every Kitchen by Pierre Thiam
Simply West African serves as a guide to West African cuisine, unlocking its essential tastes for everyday home cooking. It features familiar dishes with a West African twist to one-pot crowd pleasers and hearty vegetables, showing how these vibrant, flavorful dishes can become a regular part of your meal planning. With the book’s 80 recipes, chef Pierre Thiam extends a warm invitation to experience the rich culinary rhythms of West Africa.
12. Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden by Camille T. Dungy
In Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden, Camille T. Dungy embarks on a seven-year journey to diversify her garden in her predominantly white community of Fort Collins, Colorado. The book uses the garden as a metaphor to explore how diversity is crucial for the planet’s future. Dungy urges readers to recognize the deep connection between the African diaspora and the land, emphasizing that home is wherever soil lies beneath their feet.
13. Spoiled: The Myth of Milk as Superfood by Anne Mendelson
Anne Mendelson’s new book offers a critique of the modern dairy industry, tracing its origins from domestication of the cow to the current day. Spoiled dispels misconceptions about milk, including its perceived universal health benefits and highlights the environmental and animal welfare issues associated with mass dairy production. Throughout the book, Mendelson calls for a more sustainable and ethical future for eaters’ relationship with milk and dairy-producing animals.
14. Takeaway: Stories From a Childhood Behind the Counter by Angela Hui
In this poignant yet humor-infused memoir, Angela Hui reflects on her childhood in a Chinese takeout in rural Wales. But amidst the struggles of racial tension and the harsh realities of maintaining a family-run business, Hui found joy in the rhythm of life within the restaurant. Takeaway celebrates the author’s culinary heritage and East Asian traditions, weaving a compelling narrative of identity and culture.
15. The Kingdom of Rye: A Brief History of Russian Food by Darra Goldstein
The Kingdom of Rye by food scholar Darra Goldstein takes readers on a cultural and historical exploration of Russian cuisine. The book compellingly illustrates the idea that to understand a nation’s history, it is critical to know culinary traditions. Goldstein thoroughly examines how food has shaped Russia’s national identity and social structures amid climatic challenges and political hardships.
The World of Sugar offers a comprehensive 2,500-year examination of sugar’s history and its profound impact on society and the environment. Ulbe Bosma traces sugar’s journey from a luxury good in ancient India to a ubiquitous ingredient in our diets today, underscoring its role in fostering health issues and environmental crises. Bosma highlights how sugar has altered cultures and shaped political policies, laying bare the significant risks this commonplace commodity poses.
17. Ways of Eating: Exploring Food Through History and Culture by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft & Merry White (Forthcoming September 2023)
Benjamin Wurgaft and Merry White delve into the intricacies of food history and anthropology, exploring everything from the dawn of agriculture to contemporary culinary authenticity. Using narratives featuring Panamanian coffee growers, medieval women beer makers, and Japanese knife forgers, Ways of Eating unravels the connections between migration, politics, group identity, and our diets. These stories reveal the profound social dynamics that shape our meals from the plate to the kitchen, factory, and field.
18. Wonder Foods: The Science and Commerce of Nutrition by Lisa Haushofer
Wonder Foods by historian Lisa Haushofer explores the link between the nutrition sciences and the commercial world from 1850 to 1950. Haushofer illuminates how novel food products promised revolutionary solutions to personal and societal issues, but these innovations perpetuated discriminatory views on who had the right to food and health. Wonder Foods exposes the exploitative and economic forces that shaped colonial and industrial food initiatives, ultimately molding modern food regimes and our perception of food.
19. Why SNAP Works: A Political History– and Defense– of the Food Stamp Program by Christopher John Bosso (Forthcoming October 2023)
This book is a crucial read for anyone interested in understanding food accessibility and welfare in the United States. Why SNAP Works is a comprehensive exploration of the history, evolution, and impact of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the U.S.’s largest initiative to combat food insecurity and poverty. Christopher Bosso provides a balanced analysis of SNAP, shedding light on its far-reaching benefits and making a persuasive case for its continued support.
20. Yerba Mate: The Drink That Shaped a Nation by Julia J.S. Sarreal
Yerba Mate is the first book to chart the captivating journey of Argentina’s cherished caffeinated beverage from its indigenous roots to the modern day. Through meticulous documentation, author Julia Sarreal showcases how yerba mate has intertwined with Argentina’s cultural and racial dynamics. She sheds light on yerba mate’s transformative role in shaping the country’s national identity and its present ubiquity.
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