Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, is one of the best-known experts and advocates in the world of food and nutrition. Her James Beard Award-winning book 'Food Politics' was a groundbreaking study of the corporate influence on the food we eat, and her new book, What to Eat, a comprehensive and entertaining guide to the nutrition, environmental impact, and, of course, tastiness of the vast and bewildering array of food in our supermarkets, is destined to become a standard on the shelves of thinking eaters everywhere. Here she shares with us her 10 books to read on one of the most basic, and endlessly fascinating, of human subjects:
When my NYU department first developed undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs in Food Studies, we attempted to put together a list of books that we thought everyone interested in food should read. The chosen few would have to show how food is not just about cooking or nutrition but instead is about life--the most interesting and important issues facing today's society. Because everyone eats, the books on this list also would need to be exceptionally well written and fun to read. That list never happened, in part because we couldn’t agree on what to include. But I have my list of personal favorites, and here they are. Some may show up on everyone's idea of classics, but I like all of them for their use of food as an entry point into exceptionally interesting topics, clear writing, and forthright point of view.
Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney Mintz
Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History: This book is #1 on every food studies list. Mintz, an anthropologist, tells the story of our love for sugar, and shows how this love affected the culture and social institutions--from afternoon tea to slavery--of sugar producers and consumers.
The Gastronomical Me: I envy anyone who has not yet read MFK Fisher; what a treat awaits the lucky reader. I'd start with this one. Fisher was a deeply engaging writer who wove her love of food and cooking into the fantastic story of the loves of her life—and what a life she led (or so she said)!
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen: If you want to know what food is and what cooking does to it, McGee knows. He spent 20 years revising the previous edition of this book, and it shows. If you cook, you need this book in your kitchen. If you don't cook, read it anyway and amaze your friends.
Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio
Hungry Planet: What the World Eats: This photographer-writer team posed families from countries all over the world in front of all the foods they eat in an entire week. The photographs are gorgeous. Even better, they reveal how global marketing changes the way poor people eat. I was so taken with this book that I agreed to write its introduction.
The Portion Teller: Smartsize Your Way to Permanent Weight Loss by Lisa Young
The Portion Teller: Smartsize Your Way to Permanent Weight Loss: I wrote this introduction to this one too. Lisa Young is a former student of mine who turned her research into a clever, appealing, and effective story about how portion sizes got so big and, surprise, how larger portions have more calories. Eating less solves a lot of health problems, as she explains.
Sweet Charity?: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement by Janet Poppendieck
Sweet Charity?: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement: This is a thoughtful, compassionate, eloquent book about what it means to us as individuals and as a society to give food to the hungry. Poppendieck, a sociologist, interviewed Americans working in soup kitchens and food banks. Generous as such work may be, it does not work well as public policy.
James L. Watson, editor, Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia
Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia: Watson, a Harvard anthropologist, asked former students from East Asian countries to find out how McDonald's--hardly an Asian cuisine--changed and was changed by its new cultural environment. Their fascinating observations explain how fast food companies can get their products accepted in countries where nobody ever ate such food before.