A Food Writer’s Favourite Food Books

fashionable880If you ask most people, their best-loved books about food are probably cookbooks. They likely don’t actually cook from these tomes but rather consider them light entertainment, to be read in bed, provoking dreams of meals they’ll probably never prepare. As someone who spends most of the day reading and writing about food, books have to have a unique point of view or subject matter to catch my interest, and especially to earn a permanent spot on my shelf.

These are a few of my favourites, chosen mostly for their diversity in demonstrating different styles of food, cooking and eating. There are no celebrity names here, no flashy TV shows to help sell these titles, and no well known food writing personalities, but I think they cover an interesting cross-section of food writing and food history.

bakingbioBaking as Biography – A Life Story in Recipes by Diane Tye
What if the person whose cooking you most admire actually hates to cook? Diane Tye relates the story of growing up as the daughter of a minister in 1970s New Brunswick. Her mother, responsible for preparing food for weekly church functions, drew on recipes from various sources depending on who she was cooking for. Tye’s narration is sometimes clinical, observing food trends as they related to social norms, and sometimes familial and romanticized as she discusses her mother cooking dishes for the family. The book is often uneven as Tye relies too much on interviews with family members as opposed to either strict analysis or her own personal memories, but it’s such a vividly accurate picture of foodways in Atlantic Canada that it is one of my favourite food books.

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The Book Nook

As usual, I’ve got a stack of food-related books piling up here by the desk and I just can’t get around to reviewing them. To the point where it’s been so long I forget a lot of what is in them. So instead of full post reviews, I’m just going to do some brief recaps so I can clear off my desk and further clutter up my bookshelf instead.

Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee
Bee Wilson

Food had been adulterated for centuries. Items like coffee, tea and candy were intentionally tainted to stretch out quantities and garner a bigger profit. Swindled deals with this intentional deceit starting in the mid 1700′s, touching on basics like bread, meat and milk. Wine and beer wereoften tainted or stretched as well, and the book looks at the effort to enforce standards and charge criminals in all areas of food sales and production. However, Wilson also moves into the 20th century and examines ersatz foods (fakes or imitations intended to replace the real thing during wartime), as well as products like margarine. Wilson also touches on current issues such as adulterated basmati rice in India and the fiasco of Nestle’s baby formula scam in Africa. The book was written before last year’s melamine scare in China or the Maple Leaf Foods listeria outbreak, but it’s wise to note that the habit of greedy food producers intentionally tainting foodstuffs – or not properly inspecting machinery or equipment – has never gone away. The historical stuff is surprising in what people would do to make a buck, but is not more frightening than what many producers are still doing today.

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