There are so many to choose from, and I’ll resist the temptation to list every good book I’ve ever read on the subject of food!
If I had to choose a “popular” (non-academic) book to recommend to someone unfamiliar with the field, I think I’d go with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: the Search for a Perfect Meal in a Fast-Food World. A lot of thought-provoking content presented in a readable, interesting and accessible way. Structured into three parts, “Corn”, “Grass”, Forest"; a nice way of exploring (respectively) the industrial, pastoral, and personal dimensions of the food system. Cocktail of science, history, ethics, and more personal/journalistic accounts. Even as someone with a reasonable pre-existing knowledge of the subjects covered, I learned a lot of horrifying things (e.g. about organic agriculture – I knew some of it, but not the full extent) and was prompted to further interrogate my own opinions (e.g. around eating meat – an ongoing internal debate for me).
He starts with a rather lovely quotation from William Ralph Inge, which I’d like to share: “The whole of nature is a conjugation of the verb to eat, in the active and the passive.”
On the more academic side of things, I am glad I invested in Pamela Mason and Tim Lang’s Sustainable Diets: How Ecological Nutrition Can Transform the Food System early on in my forays into this area – gave me a good grounding, and is something I refer back to. I also recently read, and would highly recommend, Tim Lang’s Feeding Britain: Our Food Problems and How to Fix Them (aimed at a more general audience). He talks about Britain’s colonial attitude to food supply – assuming others will feed us – which I found extremely thought-provoking, and I absolutely agree on the need for more UK horticulture.
Chris Smaje’s A Small Farm Future: Making the Case for a Society Built Around Local Economies, Self-Provisioning, Agricultural Diversity, and a Shared Earth is not the kind of nostalgic “let’s all go back to growing our own veg and baking our own bread and living in happy little villages” waffle that one might perhaps fear from the title. He makes a strong case for his “small farm future” vision as the most viable solution to the various crises we face (climate, water, land/biodiversity, consumerism, health, economy etc.), whilst remaining alert to the possible dangers (e.g. exploitation of particular marginalised groups, who might lose out under such a model & how to avoid this) and the fact that it’s no utopia (small farms = hard work!). Ranges far beyond farming & food – politics, culture, etc.
As for my reading list – I might have a go at Bee Wilson’s The Way We Eat Now soon, since it’s available in my local library. I would very much like to read Dan Saladino’s Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them, but I’ll have to wait for that one as it currently only exists as a £20 hardback…
On a side note: Walter, I cannot recommend Entangled Life enough! I wouldn’t classify it as a food book (though of course not wholly unrelated) but absolutely definitely worth a read.