Reading List

I am a grad student, so when I get interested in things, I read books. This list reflects my interests in ethical and organic eating as well as food in history. My reading list and reviews are here to hopefully inspire some of you to do some food-related reading, too.

Food Politics: 
Mark Bittman, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating (2009).
A quick, simplified version of what Pollan has to say in In Defense of Food. (I was less of a fan of this book - I preferred the more detailed information Pollan had to offer.) What Bittman does offer is not only an explanation of how to eat the way he proposes, but recipes and menus that follow his programme.
Barry Estabrook, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit (2011).
A fascinating insight into the food industry from the perspective of a single product. Estabrook discusses how industrial agriculture transformed the tomato into a very pretty, uniform, but tasteless fruit and how small organic producers (and some larger industrial ones) have worked to bring flavor back to the table. There are also eye-opening discussions of human trafficking in the Florida tomato industry - an issue that has fortunately been getting more press in recent years - and the impact of pesticides on the people who apply them. 
Brian Halweil, Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket (2004).
A discussion of the absurdity of our current global food production system, promoting local foods, but highlighting the difficulties faced by local farmers who attempt to compete with corporate food producers.
Marion Nestle, What to Eat (2006).
An excellent book about the choices we all face when we enter a supermarket. Nestle, a nutritionist, focuses on the health effects of various food products and compares them to the health claims made by food marketers. A very interesting look at the way marketing influences both our choices and government policy regarding food. This book is an excellent complement to Singer and Mason, as they discuss many of the same issues from different angles.
Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (2008).
A passionate and beautifully written defense of eating actual food, rather than the highly engineered "foodlike" or "foodish" substances found in most grocery stores. Pollan argues that eating real, whole foods - foods that our great-grandmothers would recognize - is not only healthier, but leads to a greater appreciation of food, making eating a more delicious and enjoyable experience.
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma (2004).
An exploration of the true cost of four separate meals: one of industrially-produced fast food, one of industrially-produced organic food, one of sustainably-produced, locally-sourced organic food, and one of food that had been grown, hunted and gathered by Pollan himself. By providing a thoughtful view of the pros and cons of our various food systems, Pollan forces his readers to consider where the food on their plates came from and how it got there.
Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat (2006).
A thorough evaluation of ethics involved in our food choices. While the authors do not necessarily offer solutions, they do raise awareness of the wide range of criteria that should be involved in choosing what to eat.

Food History:
David Kamp, The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation (2006).
A history of the food business in America over the last fifty years or so. Kamp discusses different chefs and their influences in a well-informed, if gossipy, narrative. In the introduction, he sets out his purpose as celebrating the variety and deliciousness of food in America today (rather than castigating our current food system, like most of the books that I read).
Bob Spitz, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child (2012).
A wonderful tribute to a cultural icon. I found Julia's life personally inspirational. At 30, I feel like I haven't done anything important yet - but at the same age, neither had she. Julia didn't learn to cook until her mid-30s, but once she discovered that it was her passion, she found (and stumbled onto) ways not only to make a rewarding career out of it, but to use it to change people's lives.
Farming and Gardening:
Novella Carpenter, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (2009).
The story of a woman who creates an urban farm by squatting (eventually, with permission) on an abandoned lot in a dodgy part of downtown Oakland. The focus of the book is her efforts at raising livestock in the city, primarily by tapping into the city's waste stream (dumpster-diving in Chinatown). This was a delightful read from start to finish, and has proved immensely educational. I could see myself in Carpenter's shoes someday - enthusiastically expanding my backyard ventures into chickens and turkeys and rabbits and pigs, only afterward considering the consequences. Her ability to mix the amusing with the distasteful in what is ultimately a celebration of her animals' lives should serve as both inspiration and caution for the would-be urban farmer.
Lynda Hopkins, The Wisdom of the Radish and Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm (2011).
An account of the author's first year as a young novice farmer. She explores the rewards and (many, many) disasters of going back to the land, with the ultimate realization that, tough though the lifestyle is, it is ultimately worthwhile. While I never supposed farming to be easy, this book has disabused me of even the most fanciful, unrealistic view of owning my own farm (or even owning some chickens). It has, however, steeled me in my desire to grow my own vegetables every year, for the sheer joy of eking sustenance out of the soil, but also to continue to support those in my community who painstakingly make a living that way.

To Read:
Paul Freedman, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (2009).
Joan Gussow, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader (2002).
Oran B. Hesterman, Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All (2011).
Frances Moore Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet (1971).
Stephen Mennell, All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present (1985).
Massimo Montanari, Cheese, Pears and History in a Proverb (2010).
Marion Nestle, Food Politics, 2nd ed (2007).
Carlo Petrini and Alice Waters, Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean and Fair (2007).
Steven Stoll, The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Countryside in California (1998).
Spring Warren, The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year (2011).
Diane Ott Whealy, Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver (2011).