I’ve written two theses on industrial agriculture, food politics, obesity, and American eating habits yet I still do not feel like I can truly call myself an expert. There are still so many books to read on the topic, so many books still to be written. But if there is a topic I constantly find myself suggesting nonfiction books for, it would be food politics (or, the more sinister sounding “Industrial Agriculture”).
Most people have heard of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan so I left it off my list of suggested reading below, and I tried to provide a mix of styles of nonfiction — narrative, academic, etc — so there is hopefully something for everyone. Of course, limiting myself to eight books means I’m only showing you the tip of the iceburg so I encourage anyone interesting in food to peruse my “food” category for additional titles. Or maybe you have one to recommend me?
- Salt Sugar Fat (Michael Moss) — Moss utilizes examples from some of the most recognizable and profitable food companies and brands of the last half century — Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun — to explain how the average American ended up here. His book inspired many conversations with friends and acquaintances and is one of the few I have been able to apply to my eating habits.
- Fast Food Nation (Eric Scholsser) — If I had to select one book that revolutionized how I “vote” for food, it would be Scholsser’s exposes on the fast food industry. Until Moss’ book, this was the book I would put forth as the best one to begin with.
- America’s Food (Harvey Blatt) — This book is exactly what I was looking for when I launched the Honors Project back in 2012 and is probably the most academic title on this list. It is, however, one of the few books to compare the problems of the US food system with those around the (developed) world or assess consumption on a nation-wide scale.
- Animal Factory (David Kirby) — I appreciate how Kirby does not demonize the farmer or the consumer. Instead, he concentrates on how the system as a whole is broken shying away from animal rights and focusing on the environmental and health problems derived from factory farming of meat.
- The Big Fat Surprise (Nina Telcholz) — I’m cheating a bit because I have not actually read this title. It is on my to-read list and was heavily referenced in Moss’ book. From my understanding, the book looks at the, according to Telcholz, sketchy science behind the declaration that people avoid fatty foods such as butter. And who doesn’t want an excuse to use real butter in their recipes?
- Bottled and Sold (Peter H. Gleick) — What I liked best about Gleick’s book, which examines bottled water, was how accessible it is. There’s no complicated jargon that makes it difficult to understand the situation.
- Food Politics (Marion Nestle) — The amount of information contained in this book can be slightly overwhelming, but Nestle is the one author who succinctly dismantles the idea that the responsibility for obesity begins and ends with an individual. I also love her chapter on the food pyramid (now a plate) and how the food industry manipulated it to confuse the consumer.
- Tomatoland (Barry Estabrook) — By focusing on a single item, Estabrook is able to cover all the hidden aspects of industrial agriculture — its dependence upon illegal immigration, the deplorable working conditions, the bland taste of America’s produce. One of the most shocking facts I gleamed from this book is that consumers cannot achieve variety by purchasing grape or cheery tomatoes instead of slicing tomatoes because each so-called variation in the American grocery story is from the same type of tomato and only differ in appearance.