Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Favorite Food Reads of 2012

(A shared post with my UrbanFarmJunkie blog)

According to Goodreads, I read eleven food-related books in 2012, not counting the couple I tried and abandoned. If you find yourself on December 19th (or later), with no ideas in the pipeline for the foodie in your life, consider a book! (Or, alternately, if some of your recent kitchen-gift concoctions have gone woefully awry...)

You may have seen some of these at the Bellevue Farmers Market, those times we hosted Readers to Eaters. They can also be found at the wonderful University Book Store Bellevue, which gift wraps in the loveliest papers and ribbons for free. They also ship media rate gratis, so if your recipient doesn't mind lateness, that option is still open for you. For friends with ereaders, these books can be found in the usual cyber places, and University Books now sells Kobo ereaders.

And now, without further ado, my 2012 favorites:

Best Memoir
Le Billon undergoes food culture shock after moving to France. The book combines memoir with cultural studies with parenting. I can't say it changed what I fed my family (though it did cure us of car snacking for about three days), but it made me wish I could start over with my kids, food-wise. I posted a more complete review here.

Best History
Granted, I only read three food histories this year, but this one was the most consistently informative and fascinating. Pretty self-explanatory. Pair it with your favorite peanut butter and you're set! As promised, here is my extensive Goodreads review of it.


Best Exposé


An astonishing, informative, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful book about the tomato in general and the conventional tomato industry in Florida, in particular. Halfway through I was vowing that, should I ever find myself on the East Coast, I wouldn't touch a single conventionally-grown tomato, in protest of the dreadful working conditions; rampant lethal pesticide and fungicide use; and--let's face it--awful hardness and lack of flavor. By the end, however, Estabrook had me feeling optimistic about the dreadful working conditions, at least. Not only had major fast-food chains and Whole Foods signed on to pay a wee bit more for fairer worker treatment, but nonprofit private groups were improving worker housing and job conditions. With the momentum going that way, I imagine the other grocery store chains will follow eventually. The things may still taste like big, watery NOTHING, but at least no one would be poisoned, enslaved (not kidding) or dying, so that I could have chunks of the big, watery NOTHING in my winter salad.

A couple interesting facts I learned about tomatoes in general:

1. They were declared a "vegetable" by the Tariff Act of 1883 to protect American farmers from Caribbean imports.

2. "All varieties of cultivated tomatoes that have ever been bred contain less than 5% of the genetic material in the overall tomato gene pool" (p.12). Yes, all those different sizes, colors, shapes, and flavors found even at the best farmers markets are very similar at the DNA level--inbred, feeble, and vulnerable to just about everything.

3. An acre of FL tomatoes receives 5x as much fungicide and 6x as much pesticide as a CA tomato.

Your best bet? The local farmers market. If you didn't know already, tomatoes grown in soil and picked when ripe have the best flavor. And you can ask the farmer himself about how he treats and pays his workers.


Best Scary Book
This one doesn't really count because it's not available until December 27. I suppose Lustig and his publisher figured no one wanted to hear this news before Christmas. Per my earlier post, this is quite the book. I swore off sugar for all of two days before succumbing to Christmas cookies and some kind of almond cake, but I vow to try again in January.

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