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6 books that will change how you think about food (forever)

6 books that will change how you think about food (forever)

A snapshot of the books taken from our groaning shelf

We know what it’s like - it can be hard to make time for a sit down and gobble up a good book. Now summer is here, it’s the perfect time to open your mind to the realities of where your food comes from with the help of some very talented need-to-know writers.

Whilst you’re probably already in-tune with the journey your fresh seasonal produce has made to reach your plate, our food system clearly has a long way to go. What’s the truth behind the ethics of food manufacturers? What does the future hold for sustainable farming? How can I make a difference in the way I cook and eat? To help you out, we have rounded up the most-loved books that have had a real impact on our day-to-day lives. So sit back, digest some truly life-changing ideas and get ready to have your mind deliciously blown. Remember people, knowledge is power….

1. Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat by Phillip Lymbery

This rocked the world and shook the core of the food industry.

This book contains all the scary and forgotten truths about what’s gone wrong with our food system since the 1947 Agriculture Act. Most importantly it puts a simple point beyond any doubt - namely, that production methods which are kind to our environment and animals are the same ones that make healthy food. So, despite the raft of alarming statistics describing just how harmful the industrial food system is, I have this book to thank for keeping my family healthy and happy (and away from the doctor!).

Favourite quote: “The way food is produced has a key bearing on it’s quality, not just from an ethical standpoint, but also in terms of its nutritional quality and how it tastes.”

2. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

This book changed everything.

Journalist, author and all round nature-lover Michael Pollan takes it upon himself to compare three meals based on where they have come from: one is born from the industrialised agriculture that makes for the majority of the American food production; another is made from food grown on small independent farms that thrive on synergies between cattle and crops; and the last is foraged, hunted and baked by himself from start to finish. This book is effortlessly brilliant because it asks a very simple question: where does our food comes from? Michael goes on a journey all the way through the massively layered food chain of the American food industry to find out that it has the sole purpose of finding some use for the massively over-produced corn that is cultivated and the industrial complex working of its production. Hopefully though, not all is doom and gloom as the nightmarish description of industrialised American agriculture is followed by an in-depth firsthand account of an alternative (having spent a week working on a small-scale farm), showing that small local farms might hold the solution to a brighter future.

Favourite quote: “We North Americans look like corn chips with legs.”

3. The Third Plate by Dan Barber

Another game-changer.

Dan Barber is a chef but also a farmer. His restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns is 25 miles north of Manhattan in Tarrytown, New York and is also a farm that produces everything that is served in the restaurant. While Dan agrees with Michael Pollan’s ideology around local, farm to table food, he believes that the movement it generated doesn’t go far enough. The core of his thinking is that it is not enough to promote better produced and locally produced food. It is also crucial to curate and build a food culture that celebrates the diversity of ingredients that can be found in a local ecology. Dan thinks that chefs have actually a great responsibility to curate the good taste and to promote the right diet. By analysing old Italian or Spanish traditions and food culture, he illustrates how America has lost track of any food culture that promotes a sustainable and local agriculture. This book is amazing for how it analyses food culture and reveals its direct relationship with how we eat, but also how we produce food.

Favourite quote:

“In the rush to industrialise farming, we’ve lost the understanding, implicit since the beginning of agriculture, that food is a process, a web of relationships, not an individual ingredient or commodity.”

4. The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks

James Rebanks is the eldest son of a family that has been farming sheep and working the land in the Lake District for over 600 years. However, rather than a romantic account of countryside idyll, James describes in delicious detail the ups, downs and gritty realities of his everyday life as a sheep farmer. If you want to learn more about farming and discover about how passionate farmers can be, this is the book for you. It’s a lifestyle, not a day-job, and James is so absolutely passionate about rearing his hardy native Herdwick breed of sheep that you can’t help but get wrapped up in his love of what he does. His unique story is beautifully written and framed around the four seasons of a year of in life of his local Lakeland fell shepherding community. Growing up, all he ever wanted to do was to farm and he left school with few qualifications. In his late teens however he caught the reading bug, started going to night classes, took A-levels, did well and ending up going to Oxford (still working on the farm during his holidays). However, whilst at Oxford he never really felt he was part of that world and always longed to be on the farm, around his sheep. James’ book effortlessly weaves together autobiographical tales of his personal life and upbringing together with family history. One thing that’s obvious is that this isn’t anything like intensive farming and couldn’t be any further from it. Hill farming is a tough job, but he wouldn’t swap it for anything else.

Favourite quote:

“When Molly was four years old she looked at me sternly across the kitchen table and said, with a wisdom beyond her years, ‘The trouble with you, Dad, is that it is all about the sheep.”

5. First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson

An absolute eye-opener on the psychology of eating.

This book was a fascinating read as it really hit on some personal notes! All these years I thought I didn’t like bananas because my parents don’t and I assumed it was down to some kind of genetic connection - but now I realise it’s more likely down to nurture and my upbringing (thanks Mum and Dad!). Bee Wilson’s book gets to grips with the nature versus nurture debate to get to the root of what defines how we learn to eat. She draws on a lot of science and looks at examples and case studies from around the world - tackling factors such as biodiversity and a economics in the process - and puts a lot of how we learn to eat down to how we’re brought up. Bee’s points are backed up by scientific research that is as old 1900s and she explains how when it comes to how we eat, certain principles (choosing to make our own decisions influenced by nurture) have stood the test of time. The book is helpfully broken up into chapters that start with ‘Likes and Dislikes’ and moves onto ‘Children’s Food’, ‘Brothers and sisters, ‘Hunger’ and ‘Change’ and she shares a handy round-up of personal insights gathered over a lifetime of writing about food in her wittily titled epilogue: ‘This is Not Advice’ - the mantras of which I’ll be quietly trying to live by!

Favourite quote:

“A change of appetite does not involve a total change in personality. You can still like the same music and films…if you find a way of actively desiring - and therefore eating - a wide variety of healthy foods, the odds are that you will feel better, have more energy to exercise, get ill less and enjoy meals more, because you eat without guilt.”

6. The Ethicurean Cookbook: Recipes, foods and spirituous liquors, from our bounteous walled garden in the several seasons of the year

Inspiration for cooking with British seasonal produce.

The ethos of the Ethicurean cookbook is eating in the best way possible by using ethically and sustainably sourced seasonal ingredients and celebrating their natural flavour. The chapters are split up into seasons, each showcasing cleverly crafted dishes that explore the British produce that is available at the time, along with information on how to source your ingredients and make the most out of them. Recipes like Elderflower Sorbet with Fennel Sherbet and Wild Strawberries or Chilled Beetroot Soup, Walnut Ice Cream and Roasted Cobnut Oil are the brainchild of four self-taught cooks and friends who set up a restaurant and kitchen within their walled garden in the Mendip Hills in Somerset. Their menu changes daily according to what’s available and together they rediscover old techniques. I love this book because it gives me so much inspiration for my supper clubs which focus on showcasing the best of British seasonal food. Now all I want to do is buy my very own walled garden and “live off the fat of the land.” Anybody want to join me?

Favourite quote:

“We are watching day by day as our friends, customers and suppliers are re-establishing and strengthening their rural communities and taking control of their food production. We are seeing and enjoying the rediscovery of old techniques and adaptations for the future.”

Happy reading!