If we want to create a better global food system, one that is sustainable and equitable for all the world’s citizens, we need to make some big changes to the ways that food is currently produced, purchased, eaten, and discarded. For individual consumers, learning more about the issues at stake is an important first step on the path to lasting change. Check out these seven books to gain a more holistic understanding of how the food we eat affects our bodies, each other, and the world we live in.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan.
As stated by Pollan himself, this book is a long and involved answer to the seemingly simple question of what to have for dinner. For many readers, The Omnivore’s Dilemma has been a profound wake-up call about how disconnected we are from the origins of our food, and why that’s a problem. From the influence of industrial corn production on our diets to the ethics of eating animals, Pollan explores some of today’s most critical food-related questions in an engaging and highly readable style.
2. Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, by Marion Nestle
This complex book is an excellent, and alarming, introduction to the huge influence that corporations have over what and how we eat. Making food is big business, and there’s no doubt that food industry players are in the game to make money, not to look out for our health or our planet. In this volume, NYU professor and prolific writer Marion Nestle shines a much-needed light on food industry marketing practices and lobbying efforts, which will hopefully help you to think critically about what you’re looking at the next time you pick up a package of processed food.
Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food, by Frederick Kaufman
Why can’t we all have healthy, delicious, affordable food? Bet the Farm is food journalist Frederick Kaufman’s attempt to answer that question. In his quest to understand why the food we eat is getting less nutritious and less delicious and why so many people are going hungry when more food is being produced than ever before, Kaufman visits places as diverse as farms, food research labs, industrial agriculture giants, and the United Nations, exploring topics from how our food has been financialized to the recent push for sustainability in food production.
Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups, by Andrew Fisher
The topic of people going hungry—specifically, Americans who depend on food banks and food pantries to get enough to eat—is the central focus of Andrew Fisher’s Big Hunger. The problem is that these resources, originally intended as a stopgap or crisis measure, are now viewed as reasonable long-term solutions that millions of low-income people rely on. But what if, instead of trying to manage hunger, we tackled its root causes, particularly economic inequality and insecurity driven by low wages? Big Hunger dissects the so-called “business of hunger” with a critical eye, laying out a vision of how to better focus anti-hunger efforts to achieve real and lasting change.
Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman
A truly sustainable food system will not only consider the health and sustainability of our food itself, but also the working conditions of the people who produce and prepare that food. Saru Jayaraman’s book Behind the Kitchen Door is an eye-opening look at some of these people—particularly the millions of people, many of whom are immigrants and/or people of color, working in America’s restaurants, often for some of the lowest wages and under some of the poorest working conditions in the country. This book is a must-read for people who think that “ethical dining” is only about choosing the organic and free-range items on the menu.
VB6: Eat Vegan before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good, by Mark Bittman
Eating meat less often is touted as one of the most important steps that individual consumers can take to help reduce climate change and improve the food system (not to mention benefit one’s personal health). Mark Bittman’s VB6 is a user-friendly introduction to the idea of eating vegan—at least some of the time. Rather than forbidding or condemning meat and meat-eaters, Bittman instead introduces readers to a flexible way of eating that is both delicious and sustainable over the long-term.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan
Rounding off the list is another wonderful Michael Pollan book. This time, Pollan explores not the food system, but the act of cooking itself—one of the most basic and essential acts that humans do for their health and well-being. A kind of love song to the beauty and simplicity of preparing food, Cooked helps readers (re)discover the many benefits and pleasures of spending quality time in the kitchen.