News and commentary about the American food system.
Our editors and reporters recommend 24 new food and farming books to help you stay informed and inspired during this summer’s downtime.
By The Civil Eats Editors
June 22, 2022
It is officially summer, which for many offers the chance to slow down and read. To help prepare our readers for some time off, we compiled a list of 24 new and forthcoming food and farming titles worth digging in to. From cookbooks to memoirs to thoroughly researched histories, we hope these options will sate a wide range literary appetites. If you want to suggest a book we missed, please let us know in the comments below, or by email. Enjoy!
Blue New Deal: Why We Need a New Politics for the Ocean
By Chris Armstrong
Political theorist Chris Armstrong doesn’t expect all his readers to sign onto the brilliant, deeply-researched vision of ocean governance he puts forth in his new book, A Blue New Deal. He repeatedly warns his readers that some may balk at his more radical proposals, which include abolishing the system for the offshore jurisdiction of marine resources, preserving the statehood of inundated nations, and giving the rights of animals an equal stake while developing ocean governance. Yet these solutions hold water, considering the tragedies unfolding in our oceans. There’s sprawling plastic pollution; rising, destructive tides threatening lives and livelihoods. “Dead zones” that cannot sustain life; a rush in oil, gas, and mineral extraction; an uptick in climate exiles whose homes have washed away; and widening inequality in access to marine resources. And yet Armstrong’s vision of a new ocean economy, oriented around ecological and social ideals, suggests that it is still possible to turn the tide.
I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef
By Vishwesh Bhatt
Chef Vishwesh Bhatt refuses to be othered. In his debut cookbook, I Am From Here, he claims the American South as his home in a voice that is straightforward, confident, and tender towards both his childhood in Gujarat, India, and his adopted home of Oxford, Mississippi. A James Beard Foundation “Best Chef of the South” award winner and immigrant restauranteur who delights in partnering Southern and Indian flavors, Chef Bhatt explores iconic foods from okra to rice to peanuts in 13 ingredient-based chapters, including the humble—and economically important—Mississippi catfish. Too wise for the “food unites us” trope, he celebrates ingredients and culinary traditions with more similarities than differences while shining his light on the social issues of immigrant farm labor and inequity for African American communities. Noting that the story of rice is the story of human civilizations, Chef Bhatt centers the role of enslaved people from West Africa, whose agricultural knowledge and forced labor built the wealth of Southern cities. Come for the Boiled Peanut Chaat, Kashmiri-style Collards, and Upma Grits. Stay for the paens to Southern culinary traditions and a delicious inclusivity that flips the script.
How to Sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT
By Elena Conis
How to Sell a Poison, a shocking and deeply disturbing book, unearths the history of the controversial chemical DDT. Historian Elena Conis meticulously recounts how the toxic chemical—linked to cancer and other diseases in humans and animals—was once deemed a cure-all and sprayed with abandon over forests, cities, and fields to control malaria and typhus, cure polio, and kill agricultural pests. Equally concerning is her analysis of how scientific understanding of DDT was shaped by various social, political, and market-based interests. Conis documents the mechanism of science denial—including the undermining of DDT’s toxicity by private scientists and the U.S. government. Rich in human narratives, the book details how regular people, nascent environmental groups, the United Farm Workers union, and the journalist Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring) sought to curtail the chemical’s powerful hold. It also recounts how Big Tobacco and the chemical industry unleashed a disinformation campaign to discredit the science that revealed DDT’s harms, leading to resurgent calls for its use in fighting malaria. Ultimately, the book reflects on the potential health and environmental impacts of the thousands of unregulated chemicals used in the U.S. And it sounds a warning about how easily scientific understanding can be undermined by outside forces—a key lesson as the world debates issues including vaccines and climate change.
Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers
By Ruth Conniff
It can often be difficult to illustrate the relationship between food and politics. In Milked, former editor-in-chief of The Progressive, Ruth Conniff, leverages human stories to trace this intersection with powerful clarity in her first book, which follows the lives of Mexican farmworkers and the Wisconsin dairy farmers with whom they work. In the process of documenting these stories, Conniff creates a pathway to better understanding two major political crises: the devastation of farm ownership in U.S. rural communities and the intense politics surrounding immigration that often put farmworkers in a precarious position. Conniff finds that the common links between these two issues—and these two communities—are the global economic and political forces that are changing the landscape of food production. In a society where many have grown comfortable writing off farmers and letting workers remain in precarity, Milked makes a deeply moving appeal for us to take a harder look at the outcomes of an increasingly monopolized, industrial food system.
—Lindsey Margaret Allen
Endangered Maize: Industrial Agriculture and the Crisis of Extinction
By Helen Anne Curry
Each year, farmers across the world produce more than one billion tons of maize, or corn, writes author and historian Helen Anne Curry in Endangered Maize. Yet despite the crop’s proliferation, it is deeply in danger, due to the shrinking number of varieties and the fat profit margins driving industrial agriculture. What Curry analyzes through deft and accessible writing is not so much the danger maize faces, but the ways we understand it, and the narratives we use to tell its stories, which shape conservation efforts. Drawing on more than 100 years of history, Endangered Maize outlines how seed conservation has been shaped less by stories about the loss of crops and more by those told about farmers, particularly subsistence farmers, and the presumed eventual disappearance of small-scale production. By showing readers how these narratives have shaped crop science, Curry ultimately argues for a new approach to considering crop diversity and new strategies to effectively protect food as we know it.
Getting Something to Eat in Jackson: Race Class & Food in the American South
By Joseph C. Ewoodzie, Jr.
The ethnographic research Joseph C. Ewoodzie, Jr. presents in Getting Something to Eat in Jackson is hard to swallow. Based upon extended visits to Jackson in 2012 and 2016, Ewoodzie takes readers into the lives of families in various economic classes to explore what African Americans in the Mississippi capital eat and why. What he finds runs counter to popular narrative, which often attributes meal choices among Southern Black Americans to traditions that center on the consumption of “soul food.” Instead, Ewoodzie found that cultural and economic structures portend how Jackson’s Black communities plan and pursue their meals. The unhoused make choices driven by the rules of engagement at shelters and soup kitchens. Families living hand-to-mouth plan and prepare meals based on the availability of food, as well as a complex series of negotiations within their circle of family and friends. And middle- and upper-class Black families consume some of the same foods as those within the working-class—even if they have other options—to retain their identity. Ewoodzie concludes that food is one of the tools used to construct, refine, and reconstruct racial boundaries. As the pandemic continues to spotlight food insecurity in America, his sobering storytelling also offers vitally important insight for food rescue industry service providers and gatekeepers.
—Cassie M. Chew
Feeding Fascism: The Politics of Women’s Food Work
By Diana Garvin
What can cookbooks and oven design teach us about politics? Quite a lot, argues Diana Garvin in Feeding Fascism. Garvin’s book is a fascinating look at how dinner tables, café menus, cookbooks, and kitchen utensils can help us understand the intersection of politics and daily life. In this case, Garvin takes readers on a journey through women’s experiences of Fascism under Benito Mussolini’s regime by exploring their cooking, agricultural labor, and industrial food production in Italy from 1922 through 1945. Feeding Fascism artfully examines how women engaged with or rebelled against fascist politics through their food work. From the protest songs women sang as they harvested rice to the way the founders at the Perugina chocolate factory installed breastfeeding rooms and nurseries at a plant to create a more “efficient” workforce of women to the way model fascist kitchens were designed, the book illustrates these case studies with archival documents—diary entries, drawings, propaganda posts, menu covers, cookbooks, and more. It’s an expansive look at the daily lives of women at the time, and it illuminates how seemingly small choices can have a sizable collective impact. The examples included in the book, Garvin writes, “demonstrate how women transformed the body politic through daily practices of food and feeding.”
The Land Remains: A Midwestern Perspective on Our Past and Future
By Neil D. Hamilton
Land guides water to our faucets, produces the food we eat, and offers us breathtaking vistas. And, as Americans, argues recently retired professor Neil D. Hamilton, we’re all landowners via the tax dollars that go to maintain for state and national parks, forests, and grasslands. Based on the understanding that we all have an inherent stake in these places, The Land Remains delves into the importance of conserving this vast resource because of its essential role in the health of our future. Hamilton cultivates this understanding, in part, by telling some of the story from the perspective of a plot of land on his parents’ Iowa farm. In the patient and teacherly way, Hamilton persuades his readers that all citizens must have a voice in shaping land use and cultivates a gradual sense of ownership throughout the book that must underlie this notion.
A World Without Soil: The Past, Present, and Precarious Future of the Earth Beneath Our Feet
By Jo Handelsman
In the genre of angst-ridden anthropocenic stories that climate-forward readers devour, A World Without Soil should rise to the top of the list. Heavy on science, full of visual aids, and supported by ample storytelling, the book brings the reader on a journey of soil evolution that spans geologic epochs and leads up to the relationship humans have with soil, including the ominous rate at which we are losing it through erosion. Handelsman opens the book with a letter she regrets not sending to President Barack Obama during her tenure as his science advisor. Her mock White House memo is equal parts emergency alert and love letter, and calls for the protection of soil, which she considers the most biologically diverse habitat on earth. Handelsman questions whether nations own this natural resource or whether it should be considered more like water and wind, which cross political borders; she also questions whether soil could be reframed as a global asset that has the power to determine the future of humanity. She makes the case that global food security and climate resilience both hang in the balance, and brings her message full circle by considering a national and global scenario in which farmer, policy maker, and consumer buy-in would converge on a soil-first approach to food production. She draws a clear map for soil preservation (though, oddly, leaves agribusiness reform out of the solution). Ultimately, she reminds us that soil needs our immediate attention, and as with the climate crisis, we are running out of time.
To Boldly Grow: Finding Joy, Adventure, and Dinner in Your Own Backyard
By Tamar Haspel
Clams . . . again? Living on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Tamar Haspel, a food science journalist, and her husband, Kevin, faced this dinnertime dilemma one harsh winter during the couple’s experiment in locavorism. To meet their goal of consuming one locally sourced food every day, they went to the beach, scooped up a pot of seawater, and evaporated it on their wood stove. “Within 24 hours of the formation of the first crystals, we had a pan full of beautiful snowy white sea salt,” Haspel writes. This venture characterizes the series of edible exploits captured in her memoir, To Boldly Grow. As a columnist for The Washington Post, Haspel tackles sticky topics like dietary choice, nutrition research, and food labels. In contrast, this book is a lighthearted slice of life in small-scale food production, including the tedious, messy, and often costly. The story skips across 12 years of growing, fishing, foraging, hunting, and more—from the first tomato plants the couple grew on the rooftop of their New York City apartment to the thriving organic garden they established on Cape Cod’s inhospitable sandy soils. Haspel calls these efforts “first-hand foods.” It’s a familiar story of inexperienced city transplants learning to live, at least in part, off the land. But Haspel’s humorist spin on their mishaps, her self-revelations, and many practical (albeit regional) takeaways make it a Nora Ephron-like beach read for sustainability-minded eaters anywhere.
Foodtopia: Communities in Pursuit of Peace, Love & Homegrown Food
By Margot Anne Kelley
A potential paradigm shift sits on the horizon when it comes to who grows our food and how. Margot Anne Kelley’s new book, Foodtopia, focuses on U.S. back-to-the-land movements throughout time that have prioritized regenerative agriculture, as well as sustainable, fresh, and locally accessible foods. Fueled by the pandemic and led by a younger generation that has an affinity for unprocessed, fresh, and organic foods, the present-day small-scale farming movement is solidly grounded in utopian movements of generations past, including the one supported by the creators of the Whole Earth Catalog. A blend of history book and crystal ball, Foodtopia profiles—and celebrates—a number of communities that have played significant roles in the present-day transformation of the food system. Early pioneers include Amos Bronson Alcott, a transcendentalist who built a farm in the 1840s with a vision of a society built on harmony and self-reliance. Pioneers like him inspired later generations such as the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s, who paved a path lined with granola, and whole-grain bread. The book concludes with the present-day generation of young people choosing to farm “for reasons that combine an interest in healthy food with environmental and social-justice ideals.” Kelley also touches on the efforts of organizations such as Soul Fire Farm, which have built missions based on extending land access to traditionally underserved communities. Foodtopia’s tapestry of food history refreshingly amplifies people and communities outside of the mainstream.
Retail Inequality: Reframing the Food Desert Debate
By Kenneth H. Kolb
“Far too many Americans live in food deserts that severely limit their ability to access healthy food,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said on June 1, announcing $155 million in funding for a program called the Healthy Food Financing Initiative. It was one clear example of how—as sociologist Kenneth H. Kolb details in Retail Inequality—the concept of “food deserts” has caught fire over the past 20 years as a cause of poor diets in low-income communities of color. However, using previous research and his own interviews with food insecure residents in two Black neighborhoods in Greenville, South Carolina, Kolb takes aim at the assumptions embedded in the concept. Distance alone, he argues, does not determine diet. Instead, food choices are determined by a complex web of factors, and even the poorest residents access food in creative, nuanced ways; if individuals cannot afford healthy food, placing a full-service grocery store next door won’t matter. The book is far from the first criticism of the concept. For example, activists have long argued for the term “food apartheid” as an alternative to food desert that takes into account the root causes of hunger. But with the term “retail inequality,” Kolb drives home an oft-ignored consideration: Low-income neighborhoods deserve the same food options as wealthy neighborhoods, regardless of whether that leads to healthier diets. “It’s not about grocery stores, it’s about racism, poverty, and the legacy of divestment,” he says.
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Farming for Our Future: The Science, Law, and Policy of Climate-Neutral Agriculture
By Peter H. Lehner and Nathan A. Rosenberg
Thanks to academic language, copious citations, and deep policy nuance, Farming for Our Future will strike some readers as a straightforward research report. However, the sweeping changes that the authors propose represent a radical—and, many would argue, completely necessary—reimagining of federal farm policy, centered on climate action. After outlining the basic science, introducing stakeholders, and explaining the benefits and drawbacks of various climate-friendly farm practices and systems, Lehner and Rosenberg offer suggestions for aligning farm bill programs with carbon farming practices. They propose updates to crop insurance, requiring farmers who receive commodity payments to adopt climate-friendly practices, and the implementation of payments for ecosystem services. Conservation programs, they write, should dedicate more dollars to carbon farming practices while reducing or eliminating payments to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). As they point out, other government agencies and lawmakers can contribute to the goal of lessening agriculture’s climate impact: The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, could use its regulatory oversight under the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions from large CAFOs, and fertilizer fees could be written into tax policy to reduce overapplication of nitrogen. Finally, Lehner and Rosenberg tackle policy changes beyond the farm gate, such as incorporating climate impacts into federal dietary guidelines, procurement, and food assistance programs. While their suggestions are ambitious, the authors point out that agriculture is—and long has been—an industry shaped and subsidized by government dollars. Shaping it to adapt to and help mitigate the climate crisis, then, is simply a matter of priorities.
Ocean Cookbook 2022: Fish for Tonight, and for Tomorrow
By the Marine Stewardship Council
Make it a fish night. Thanks to The Marine Stewardship, it’s never been easier. This free, online cookbook features 18 seafood recipes such as one for a herbed hake polpettes by Cape Town-based cookbook author and food stylist Georgia East and another for Sylt blue mussels by German fisher and cook Jan Schot. Chefs and sustainable fishers created each of the recipes as a way to highlight sustainable, less popular options. Global seafood consumption has outpaced all other animal proteins, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and it is expected to double by 2050. But just like with other animal proteins, not all seafood is created equal, and The Ocean Cookbook highlights a range of fish and shellfish while subtly outlining the importance of knowing where your fish comes from and eating a wide variety of seafood. “As a child, I sometimes heard about fishermen who returned after a few days at sea without a catch,” writes Chef Dagny Ros in the recipe for Fish Balls with Remoulade Sauce and Cucumber Spaghetti. “I thought those were terrible stories. Nobody wants empty seas. Because of nature and our food, but also for our children, who may want to become fishermen themselves.” Most of the recipes take 10 steps or less to complete, and each includes information about the featured fish as well as tips for what fish to substitute if need be—if you can’t find haddock, for example, Hoki or ling will also work.
What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health
By David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé
If you eat animal-based foods, it’s common enough to pay attention to what those animals eat—i.e., grass versus feedlot corn. But what about our vegetables—does it matter what they eat? In the fascinating book What Your Food Ate, intellectual power couple Anne Biklé (a biologist) and David R. Montgomery (a geologist) document the salubrious impact that healthy soil has on vegetables. Curious, they did an experiment on their own garden in Seattle. After nourishing the lifeless glacial till in their backyard with compost, organic mulches, and cover crops for a decade, they submitted a sample of kale grown there to a lab. Not only did it have far higher levels of calcium, zinc, and folic acid than the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutritional standards for conventionally grown kale, it also contained 31 parts per million of sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting phytochemical. The couple writes about their own research and marshals evidence from no-till and regenerative farms from Connecticut to California, collecting soil samples and vegetables and testing them at the lab. Consistently, they found that farmers who don’t till their soil and who apply compost and manure (and no chemical fertilizers) not only have much higher soil organic matter but their vegetables contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Today, most farms in the U.S.—even organic ones—grow food in intensely tilled soil, which kills the mycorrhizal fungal life below the ground that transmits nutrients to plants. And conventional farms add chemical fertilizers and pesticides to that equation, further stripping the soil of life. Could a diet of the resulting nutrient-poor crops partially explain the dramatic increase in autoimmune conditions and other chronic diseases we see across America today? The science is still unclear, but Montgomery and Biklé build a convincing case: What our vegetables eat matters a great deal.
The Regenerative Garden: 80 Practical Projects for Creating a Self-sustaining Garden Ecosystem
By Stephanie Rose
What would a garden look like if you left it without care—without water, weeding, or fertilization—for a full year? When Stephanie Rose, master gardener, author, creator of the Garden Therapy website, asks most people this question, they describe a sad, forsaken place: dried out, pest-ridden, diseased, or dying. When she asks the same question about a garden space ignored for 10 years, however, she gets a much more verdant description, of a place returned to its natural ecosystem, full of plants and wildlife that thrive without human interference. In her new book, The Regenerative Garden, Rose lays out ways to create the second kind of home-garden environment, one that thrives on its own, with minimal work from the gardener. With vibrant, instructive photographs, Rose provides step-by-step instructions for DIY garden projects related to six areas: soil, water, plants, climate, ethics, and community. Some of the permaculture projects are foundational—such as how to amend your soil with compost or cover crops, save seeds, build a trellis, and grow a bee border—while others are more specific and involved, such as how to train trees or shrubs to grow up vertical surfaces or create an olla water catchment system. While some of the projects will require additional research to execute, this book serves as a solid starting point. Rose takes cost into account—encouraging gardeners to use clear umbrellas to create a mini-greenhouses, for example—and offers a supportive, non-judgmental tone throughout. “Any steps toward regeneration are the right steps,” she writes. “The goal here is not perfection, it’s progress.”
Iwígara: American Indian Ethnobotanical Traditions and Science
By Enrique Salmón
More than 20 years ago, a pair of botanists suggested that humans were predisposed to “plant blindness”—a phenomenon in which people seem chronically incapable of recognizing, or appreciating, the verdant flora around them. But this idea may be less a human tendency than a modern affliction of those growing up in a Western world disconnected from the plants that have fed, clothed, sheltered, adorned, and healed Indigenous peoples for time untold. In Iwígara, ethnobotantist Enrique Salmón offers an antidote to plant blindness: kinship, which is behind the indigenous Rarámuri concept of iwígara. “Knowing that I am related to everything around me and share breath with all living things helps me to focus on my responsibility to honor all forms of life,” he writes in the introduction. Drawing on his own Rarámuri heritage, Salmón profiles 80 plants with particular cultural importance to the diverse Indigenous peoples of North America, highlighting everything from the familiar ash trees and beans in our yards to the fuchsia florets of the Joe Pye weed and the shining red fruit of the bearberry. He aims to bridge the gap between botanical encyclopedias, listing requisite information for identifying and using each plant, and the storytelling typical of passing on Indigenous knowledge. The result is delightful portraits of the intimate and ongoing relationships between plants and their Indigenous stewards—and an invitation to become better acquainted with our photosynthesizing relatives.
Bright Green Future: How Everyday Heroes Are Reimagining the Way We Feed, Power, and Build Our World
By Gregory Schwartz, Ph.D., and Trevor Decker Cohen
The idea underlying this short, hope-filled book is simple: Highlight the positive changes taking place in four crucial areas of human existence. Tackling energy, industry, cities, and farms, the authors have chronicled dozens of effective, high-impact, and often community-driven innovations that have gotten results and offer the potential to inspire even greater change. Regular Civil Eats readers will recognize a number of familiar names, places, and organizations in this book—David Montgomery, Pine Ridge Reservation, Planting Justice, the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, Rebecca Burgess, Leah Penniman and Soul Fire Farm, and others all make appearances in the short chapters dedicated to innovations in food, farming, and community. But anyone looking for a refreshing bit of good news and some optimism about pockets of change in the world—whether from decarbonizing fashion, the building of agrihoods, or the undertaking of guerrilla neighborhood-improvement tactics—will benefit from reading this book cover to cover.
Philanthrocapitalism and the Erosion of Democracy: A Global Citizens Report on the Corporate Control of Technology, Health, and Agriculture
Edited by Vandana Shiva
In a world where many efforts are strapped for cash, philanthropic infusions into projects designed to do good seem like a necessary ingredient. In Philanthrocapitalism and The Erosion of Democracy, however, Dr. Vandana Shiva—a physicist, ecologist, and fearless advocate for biodiversity, conservation, and farmer’s rights—argues otherwise. Instead of bowing to world of philanthropy, Shiva not only questions it but outlines the harm she believes it has done, chiefly how many individuals have effectively coalesced into a singular force that has oversized control of our food, seeds, agriculture, and even our global health systems in the name of profit and market expansion. Shiva’s book offers a citizen’s report on the power of some of the world’s most powerful philanthropists, including Bill and Melinda Gates, and points to the often-failed solutions they peddle, as well as the extent to which she sees them moving our planet towards ecological collapse. Readers will never be able to look at philanthropy the same again—and it becomes clear throughout the book that this reality check is critical if we’re to do anything about it.
No Farms, No Food: Uniting Farmers and Environmentalists to Transform American Agriculture
By Don Stuart
Every five years, Congress authorizes the farm bill, the $1 trillion sprawling legislative package that determines the nation’s food programs and agricultural policies. On the cusp of the farm bill’s renewal in 2023 comes No Farms, No Food, a survey of the behind-the-scenes advocacy of American Farmland Trust (AFT). For more than 40 years, this national organization has built a coalition of farmers and environmentalists with the mission to protect U.S. farmland while improving agricultural practices. Based on its ongoing signature study, Farms Under Threat, the group has rallied for policy changes to address the alarming loss of agricultural lands and, more recently, the risks of climate change. Author Don Stuart, a former regional director with AFT, traces the nonprofit’s evolution from the 1980s farm crisis to today’s spiraling economic and environmental challenges to the food system. He shares the organization’s policy-making playbook along with summaries of its collaborative initiatives with farmers, land trusts, environmental groups, and local governments around the country. While it cleanly presents just one perspective, No Farms, No Food offers a sweeping history of the conservation agriculture movement.
The Blue Revolution: Hunting, Harvesting, and Farming Seafood in the Information Age
By Nicholas P. Sullivan
Over the last 20 years, scallop fishermen off the coast of New England have gone from being hunters to harvesters who rotate scallop beds to protect the health of the stock—and the Atlantic scallop industry is now regarded as a $600 million success story. But as Nicholas P. Sullivan details in The Blue Revolution, the industry’s outlook was bleak in the 1990s, when East Coast scallop landings took a nosedive. Their numbers rebounded after local waters were closed and fishermen, scientists, and academics teamed up to test survey techniques and collect data, paving the way for more responsible scallop fishery management. The nation’s oldest industry is now getting a big assist from the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s smart technology, i.e., robotics and satellite imagery to improve visibility into the health of seafood populations and help stakeholders manage them more sustainably. While the book provides a sometimes sobering snapshot of how humans have decimated populations of Atlantic Cod and other fish, it also illuminates new models that are being tested in New England, providing important lessons for fishing regions around the world.
How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink
By Paco Underhill
Did you know that blockchain technology is being used to trace lettuce heads from the field to the supermarket shelves? Or that the lighting that illuminates the eggplants and cucumbers in your supermarket aisle has been designed to give them a little extra shine? In How We Eat, author Paco Underhill, who made a successful career in consulting for international food companies, takes us behind the scenes of how our food is grown, distributed, and sold through the colorful stories that he has collected over his career. The book is a deep dive into the food ecosystem from seed to table through the lens of producers and key stakeholders. Readers meet a Walmart executive who shares a banana’s journey grocery store shelf. We tour a modern-day supermarket and gain insight into why “tomatoes look like rubies” and “limes look like emeralds.” And we meet a vast spectrum of characters including Tobias Peggs the founder and CEO of SquareRoots, a Brooklyn-based indoor farm. Despite its conversational and breezy tone, there is an underlying immediacy to Underhill’s book. To begin with, growers face pressure to produce enough food for our burgeoning global population—an estimated 10 billion by 2050. Fortunately, solutions are woven throughout the book. “Thanks to technology, we can know everything about our food, including where it was grown, how, and by whom,” Underhill writes. “We no longer ignore the inequities and the cruelties in our food chain.”
An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts
By the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection
In 1887, back before photography was common, the USDA wanted to create a national register of fruits for its newly formed Division of Pomology. The idea was to help the country’s growers accurately identify fruit and nut varietals as the science of plant breeding and production was becoming established. The agency hired botanical painter William Henry Prestele to create scientifically accurate illustrations of fruits and nuts, and over the next 40 years, it commissioned 65 other watercolor artists, including a significant number of women, to join him. Between 1886 and 1942, the group produced a collection of near 7,500 entries, the most compelling of which appear in An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts. A bright orange hardback book printed on high quality paper, the Catalog opens with an introduction by Adam Leith Gollner, author of The Fruit Hunters, and closes with excerpts of fruit-centered pieces by Michael Pollan and John McPhee. Its near 384 pages contain more than 300 full-page illustrations of apples, pears, grapes, citruses, berries, melons, tropical fruits, and nuts. For each specimen, we see various views—including a cross-section revealing its pit or seeds—often accompanied by notes relaying interesting details about the fruit or its painter. The illustrations are scientific, but they’re also works of art, and flipping through the coffee-table-style book can be an education, a meditation, and a pleasure.
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Eating While Black: Food Shaming and Race in America
By Psyche Williams-Forson
At any given office picnic across America, a Black executive who has ascended to the C-suite might forego biting into a piece of crispy fried chicken or a slice of juicy watermelon in an unconscious bow to the unspoken rule against consuming traditional Black foods among mixed-company colleagues. According to Psyche A. Williams-Forson, author of Eating While Black, that’s only one of the ways Black people in America have been shamed for enjoying traditional comfort foods. From cooking lessons that urge “healthier” ways to prepare a pot of collard greens to policies that suggest Black people have the worst health records because of what they eat, in her latest examination of food and culture, Williams-Forson says such food shaming is anti-Black racism. Denigrating Blacks for enjoying foods that represent their cultural and spiritual roots deprives Black Americans their identity. Combining personal experience with insights from popular culture, Williams-Forson describes how even in their consumption of food, Black people are often perceived as transgressing, misbehaving, and in need of “gastronomic” surveillance.
—Cassie M. Chew
Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations
By Nicole A. Taylor
This cookbook, which offers a guide to Juneteenth and Black celebration culture, is both “light with the pleasures of food and heavy with the weight of history.”
The Farmer’s Lawyer: The North Dakota Nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm
By Sarah Vogel
Attorney Sarah Vogel tells the story of her David-and-Goliath fight for North Dakota farmers during the farm crisis of the 1980s.
Slaves for Peanuts: A Story of Conquest, Liberation, and A Crop That Changed History
By Jori Lewis
The book’s engaging narrative, based on meticulous archival research, traces the turbulent history of America’s favorite snack to the slave trade and colonization of the African continent.
Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge
By Erica Gies
As drought intensifies, journalist Erica Gies documents the promise of slow, meandering water and argues that a return to wild, less restricted waterways is a solution.
Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice, and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming
By Liz Carlisle
Environmental studies professor Liz Carlisle shows that carbon can be stored in the soil if we adopt ancestral land management strategies, many of which are held by communities of color.
Gender, Food and COVID-19: Global Stories of Harm and Hope
Edited by Paige Castellanos, Carolyn E. Sachs, Ann R. Tickamyer
Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial
By Corban Addison
Ferment: Slow Down, Make Food to Last
By Mark Diacono
Recipe For Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life
By Dana Ellis Hunnes
Meat Me Halfway: How Changing the Way We Eat Can Improve Our Lives and Save Our Planet
By Brian Kateman
Intimate Eating: Racialized Spaces and Radical Futures
By Anita Mannur
Gastronativism: Food, Identity, Politics
By Fabio Parasecoli
The Meat Paradox: Eating, Empathy and the Future of Meat
By Rob Percival
Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed, and the Fight for the Future of Meat
By Chloe Sorvino
The Scratch Cooking Assessment & Learning Evaluation (SCALE) is a new free digital platform intended to help make school meals more nutritious. Launched on June 2 by the Chef Ann Foundation, the software enables school food service directors to enter their program data and receive back an assessment that can help them increase their district’s whole-ingredient, from-scratch cooking. Results can be used to develop strategic plans and guide decisions around school nutrition.
Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >
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October 4, 2022
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September 26, 2022
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September 21, 2022
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September 15, 2022
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October 7, 2022
Scientists are only now starting to study how ever-more-common heat waves may disrupt the way bees and other pollinators interact with plants, with cascading negative impacts on crop production.
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October 6, 2022
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October 5, 2022
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Our Food and Farming Book Picks for Summer 2022 – Civil Eats
News and commentary about the American food system.