Thursday, March 28, 2013

National Nutrition Month: Books About Food

It's National Nutrition Month. Nutrition is weird, because every 5 years they tell you that everything you thought was good for you will certainly kill you tomorrow if you aren't already dead. So, instead of focusing on nutrition specifically, here's a list of books about food generally.

And, when putting this list together, I realized they are all adult titles. They are all ones I think will have teen appeal, but some are for your more mature reader (I mean that both in terms of being OK with naughty words but also in the sense that they enjoy and understand heavier, denser prose.)


The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8. Lee. The frame is about fortune cookies and where they come from (they aren't really Chinese) but overall it tells the story of Chinese food in America (and, to a lesser extent, around the world.) Not only does it delve into the dishes themselves (what's "authentic" and what's American) but also how Chinese restaurants revolutionized the restaurant business (for instance, delivery.)

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. This book shows human history through the lens of the most important beverages of the day-- how history shaped the beverage, and how the beverage shaped history. (In case you're curious-- beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola. In the epilogue it comes full-circle back to water as the most important and politically charged beverage of today.)

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuschia Dunlop. In 1992, Dunlop was studying in Chengdu when she fall so in love with the food, she decided to enroll in cooking school. In addition to being an incredible love letter to food and cooking, it's also a wonderful look at how much China has completely changed in such a short period of time. It includes recipes and I must recommend Dunlop's many Chinese cookbooks. Her latest, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking is a good one for teens or others looking to start with dishes that are easier to make.


97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman. Ziegelman looks at 5 families who lived in New York between 1863 and 1935 with a focus on their food cultures and how they families adopted to American food and cooking, while also showing how American food and cooking absorbed so much of the food immigrants brought with them. (For the curious, Italian, Irish, German Christian, German Jewish, and Russian Jewish).

The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice by Trevor Corson. Through the frame of following a class of students training to be sushi chefs in LA, Corson teaches the reader as the students learn about the history of sushi, its role in the US and post-war Japan, but more importantly about the fish-- where they come from and why they taste the way they taste and why we like them.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl. As a noted food critic, Reichl has written a lot about the subject. I chose this title because it talks about the lengths she went through so she wouldn't be recognized when showing up at restaurants to review them. The focus on appearance, and how it changes how people treat you, is an angle that will resonate with teen readers more than some of Reichl's other work.


How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Bittman has a way of breaking down the cooking process so not only are the recipes easy to understand and follow, but you really understand WHY he recommends cooking things the way he does. This is an excellent choice for someone who's never cooked before (it will tell you how to boil an egg) but is so complete, that I also recommend it to very experience cooks of all ages.

No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach by Anthony Bourdain. The best way to know a people and a culture is through their food. In his awesome TV show with the same title, Bourdain travels the world to discover its food. This companion book is great for fans of the show, but also offers a good glimpse into the life for those without cable.

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel. I could have done this entire list with books about one specific food. I chose this one because the wars and politics of bananas are recent and the future of the banana is rather uncertain with an unknown blight wrecking havoc. (Also, bananas keep coming up in my daily life for odd reasons lately, so a book about bananas it is!)

What are your food must-reads?

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