Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Throwback: Five Nonfiction Books for the Frugal Foodie

Every Saturday, we post a lovely piece from the CHG archives. This week's comes from April 2009, when we were crazy hyper-literate. Since this, I've read both Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which was outstanding (read it now!), and Food Matters, which was all right. 

Sweet readers, this week’s a little out of whack with the ant situation. So, instead of today’s regular post, I thought I’d offer up a few of my favorite nonfiction food books. They’re fairly standard reads amongst chowhounds, and don’t concentrate specifically on healthy, low-budget cooking, but all have wonderful qualities nonetheless. I wouldn’t hesitate suggesting them to anyone. (Er, which is why they're here.)

If you’ve ever perused these guys, or have any ideas for good reads, please go crazy in the comments section. After all, reading is FUN(damental).

In no particular order…

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
I never considered myself a particularly daring eater, or imagined cuisine as a huge part of any vacation. But Bourdain helped change that. Cook’s Tour is about food and culture – namely, how discovering one is key to understanding the other. He describes Vietnamese food in such a way that I can’t believe I’ve never been. There’s a reverence not present in Kitchen Confidential, too, which balances Tony’s occasional bouts with ennui and annoyance.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
On its own, In Defense of Food is a really neat guide for everyday eating. As a companion to the more analytical Omnivore’s Dilemma, it’s invaluable. It counters OD’s occasionally relentless skepticism with optimistic solutions, as well as simple, vital messages. (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) Read it first if you can.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
I plowed through this book years ago, and it’s a tribute to its effectiveness that I’ve rarely stepped into a fast food restaurant since. Having worked at both McDonald’s and Wendy’s, I knew about the food prep and employee relations, but the mass production methods used to keep prices down … great scott. (P.S. If you are parent to a socially concerned teen, this will absolutely rock his/her world.)

Heat by Bill Buford
Buford took a year off to learn how to cook under Mario Batali, Marco Pierre White, and various butchers and pasta-makers all over Europe. The result is Heat, which perfectly captures the fascination, frustration, and triumph facing novice denizens of the kitchen. Dude can really write, too, which helps.

I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown
If you can imagine Good Eats in print, I’m Just Here for the Food is for you. Half cookbook, half science manual, you won’t find better explanations of the physical and chemical processes involved in getting a meal to the table. It’s Wired for foodies, or Cook’s Illustrated for nerds.


Also of note

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Reichl’s kind of like an eccentric aunt who dresses up, goes to fancy restaurants, and ruminates on their merits for page after page. Funny, warm insider's look at big-city food criticism.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Though it can get a bit dry, OD’s a must-read for those interested in how our food industry can possibly function. Factory farms are scary, scary things.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Hilarious, hyperbolic behind-the-scenes glimpse into the everyday running of a restaurant, by the man himself.


Reading

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
I’m about halfway through so far. It’s okay. Julie can definitely write, but the book seems more about her crappy apartment than the food. Still, I can relate to the crappy apartment parts. And I WILL be seeing the movie. Meryl Streep as Julia Child, yo.


Would like to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Food Matters by Mark Bittman

How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons


What about you guys? What are you reading? What are your opinions on the books mentioned? Do tell.

(Photos courtesty of Chrismasto, NY Bookworm, and Spill.)

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17 comments:

Sara St. said...

This is a great list! Michael Pollan and Alton Brown are particularly valuable. I did want to point out really quickly though that the Kingsolver title is actually "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." I am pretty sure at least. :)

Katyroo said...

An interesting older book, rather like Fast Food Nation is Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf, by Peter Lovenheim (2003).

Also look at junk food through Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats, by Steve Ettlinger.

Ya gotta read the labels!

Taylor said...

I think you may have made a typo...Are you talking about Animal, Vegetable, MIRACLE* by Barbara Kingsolver?

Kris said...

Whoops. Fixed. Thanks, you guys!

Dee Seiffer said...

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin - great memoir by the godfather of the foodie movement in America

My Life in France by Julia Child - the other half of the movie "Julie and Julia"

Erin said...

"Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone" This was a fun read - it's essays about people's relationships to food, about learning to cook and to enjoy food, and about the fun guilty pleasures we allow ourselves when we're eating on our own. Includes some recipes, too.

sarah said...

Some great tips, here! I am part of an online food book club called The Kitchen Reader and we are reading Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw in March. In fact, maybe you would like to join? We are a friendly, easy going bunch and we post book reviews once a month on food books that we pick together.

lauramich said...

Seconding My Life In France, by Julia Child. If you've read Julie and Julia and seen the movie (which I loved), your experience is still not complete until you've read Child's lyrical memoir.

AJ said...

how to pick a peach was life-changing for me. :) good list!

Grace Lieberman said...

I'm ashamed to admit that I've never read any of Anthony Bourdain's books. I've seen (and loved) just about every episode of No Reservations, but somehow I just haven't gotten around to reading his books. Any suggestions as to which one I should start with?

Natasha said...

I've heard the Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan is a great book.

The Challenged Health Nut said...

Ooh, good list! I have read quite a few books from it, and I'll have to check out the rest. I love reading foodie nonfiction. It's my favourite genre.

Harold said...

Triple recommend Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. Hilarious read, especially for anyone who appreciates the actuality of cooking.

Michael said...

My Life in France is definitely the better book fro, the Julie & Julia craze.

A couple I'd add (all essays with the occasional recipe thrown in):

Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

Jam Today by Tod Davies (this one is not to be missed)

Dai said...

Oh! McDonald's is our favorite place to eat after an Ambit conference and it became a regular diet, looks like I have to buy Fast Food Nation to have some perspective on this.

The Food Hunter said...

Great list of good reads.

lauramich said...

Oooh, I forgot one—What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets. Amazing, eye-opening, humbling. I don't actually buy books often, as the library plays a huge role in my frugality efforts. But I ponied up $24 for this one on Amazon.