Good books about farming & food?
March 15, 2010 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Recommendations for good books about food, sustainable agriculture, etc.?

Trying to think of a good gift for a friend. She's into organic food, the connection between food and public health, sustainable agriculture, knowing where your food comes from, that kind of thing. Favorite books on the subject? Thanks!
posted by aka burlap to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I really like The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I haven't read his other books, but would like to, so I'd recommend him as a writer in general.
posted by questionsandanchors at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2010

This is a UK-centric answer, so may or may not be suitable for your needs, but there are two excellent books over here that address these issues well:

Not on the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate

Eat Your Heart Out: Who Really Decides What Ends Up on Your Plate?

Both are by Felicity Lawrence, who has written many articles for The Guardian on the same topics.

US Amazon links for your convenience :)
posted by idiomatika at 1:01 PM on March 15, 2010

I don't know any books offhand, but, a subscription to the Mother Earth News would certainly fit the bill!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 1:17 PM on March 15, 2010

I'm halfway through Tea: The Drink That Changed the World. It's a good read, has lots of social history about who was involved in cultivating tea, the conditions of work of tea garden labourers, tea's influence on history (American independence and China's isolationism, for instance). I don't care for tea myself so it's not as if I'm an enthusiast.
posted by paduasoy at 1:28 PM on March 15, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.
posted by mareli at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2010

I read Pollan's In Defense of Food and it was pretty great! I didn't care about most of the topics going in but Pollan's writing is very engaging/persuasive/interesting.

The only problem with Pollan is that if your friend is into this scene, she may already have read the book. It seems like he's the go-to person (like Eric Schlosser) for this subject.
posted by dervish at 2:17 PM on March 15, 2010

If you want some good information on how to do it (grow your own food) I recommend
Growing food in Hard times by Steve Soloman
and it you are in the Pacific NW or somewhere with a similair climate
Growing Vegetables west of the Cascades by the same guy.
It got me started with gardening and me giving a damn about my food. Growing your own is a great way to connect with something basic and primal and a connection with how humanity has lived for a long time (lots longer than civilization). It is also a good primer on some of the issues farmers have to grapple with and the skill set involved. It aint as easy as just sprinkling some seed and harvesting stuff like on Farmville. Steve Soloman also hosts a site with all kind of farming papers and books that have passed into general domain. These are a tremendous resource as you get more serious about growing your own food. Or just learnign about farming.
posted by bartonlong at 3:00 PM on March 15, 2010

As dervish says, it's likely she's at least read Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. He's come out with two other books on the same topic since then In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. Not a book, but she would probably enjoy the documentary Food, Inc., which has both Eric Schlosser and Pollan in it, if she hasn't already seen it. It does have a companion book Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It.

I also read and enjoyed Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I haven't read it but Wendell Berry's Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food sounds good. Same with Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, And Fair.

On preview, bartonlong's got a good idea of a more how to/diy approach - you can't can more local than your own home. If your friend doesn't garden already, I really liked Gayla Trail's books You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening (much better than the silly name would suggest) and Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 3:10 PM on March 15, 2010

The great Wendell Berry has been writing about this exact thing for years. Bringing It To The Table is a compilation of his essays on the subject. I don't think you'll be able to do better.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:25 PM on March 15, 2010

Sorry, didn't see radiomayonnaise's link amidst all the others. So yeah, that.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:27 PM on March 15, 2010

nthing Wendell Berry- The Art of the Commonplace is a nice place to start with him.

Raising Less Corn, More Hell by George Pyle made a pretty big impression on me as well.
posted by GodricVT at 4:13 PM on March 15, 2010

Ah, what a timely question!
I just finished Farm City last night. Apparently it started out as a blog, following Novella Carpenter and her partner Bill through creating a farm in the Oakland ghetto. They grew vegetables, kept bees, and raised fowl, rabbits, and pigs for food. I enjoyed it.
posted by Mimzy at 4:14 PM on March 15, 2010

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
posted by Paleoindian at 4:21 PM on March 15, 2010

Came in to recommend Berry as well. He's very much about connection to the land and knowing it's history as a requisite for local communities to thrive and be sustainable.
posted by theRussian at 4:37 PM on March 15, 2010

I'm like your friend. Here are a few that I love that haven't been mentioned yet:

Food Politics by Marion Nestle (amazing, scary, world-changing)
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (ditto)
Food Not Lawns by Heather Coburn Flores (inspiring, fun, revolutionary)
posted by acridrabbit at 5:33 PM on March 15, 2010

The 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating is about a Vancouver couple who decide to only eat food grown within 100 miles, so it brings together a lot of the issues you mention, especially knowing where your food comes from.

On a Dollar a Day is the book to go with a couple's experiment to spend $1 a day on food, so it gets into the public health/food issue. I haven't read the book, but did read some of the blog and related articles.
posted by AnnaRat at 8:46 PM on March 15, 2010

Yeah, Pollan and Kingsolver are likely to already be in her repertoire. Farm City is also really good, and somewhat of a different spin on it, which is always nice. The new Wendell Berry (Bringing it to the Table) looks great; I also really, really, really (like a lot) enjoyed his collection of short stories That Distant Land, about the various folks in a small, mostly-agricultural community.

This Organic Life is a memoir written by a woman who was an organic gardener/farmer back in the ?1970s?.

I've not read Coming Home to Eat, but I've heard a lot of good things.

Though not as literary as Berry, for fiction I have also liked World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, as well as The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler. All are varying degrees of post-apocalyptic, but feature agriculture and its effect/influence on society.
posted by librarina at 8:59 PM on March 15, 2010

oh man! no one has yet recommended "the revolution will not be microwaved." hot damn, it is so good. sandor kratz is an inspiring dude and comes from a more activist-esque, diy angle than some of the other authors above.

if she is interested in urban gardening adventures, i really enjoyed "the bountiful container" - it is easily applied to apartment living, accessible to a beginner and an awesome reference.

and now i just may have to get me a mother earth news subscription!
posted by chickadee at 9:07 PM on March 15, 2010

Sharon Astyk is a recent find of mine; she has a blog and a few books out, including Depletion and Abundance and Independence Days.
posted by sapere aude at 9:38 PM on March 15, 2010

The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. Another book on the damage agriculture causes the planet, our bodies and our politics. Pretty controversial, as the author tackles the subject from her experience as a former vegan and now strongly promotes an omnivorous diet. Saw her at a reading at SF public library and she claimed she had been assaulted by radical vegans at a talk she was giving at an anarchist event. Haven't quite finished her book, but her talk was a bit depressing as she's of the opinion that there are NO individual actions we can take to solve the world's problems surrounding the environment and food (such as organic or not organic, grass-fed beef, CSAs, etc) as the problems are systemic, etc. Still a very interesting read. Sort of the counterpoint to Frances Moore Lappe's Diet For a Small Planet.
posted by flamk at 11:25 PM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: Awesome! Thanks for all the great answers, everyone!
posted by aka burlap at 2:46 PM on March 17, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, and I'm not marking best answers 'cuz they're all really helpful! Thanks again!
posted by aka burlap at 2:48 PM on March 17, 2010

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