A Summer Reading List for Food Lovers

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It's a sticky August afternoon, and the family members are facing their third day of vacation in a tiny beach town. The thrill of splashing in the surf and crafting sand castles has faded, replaced by streaks of sunburn around the edges of swimsuits and sandal straps. ("I told you to put lotion everywhere!")

They've already perused all the souvenir shops twice, bought too much ice cream and saltwater taffy, and bickered over who clogged the camera lens with sand. ("I told you to be more careful!") All the grownups really want to do now is lounge around with a good book. Something worth savoring. Non-fiction, but nothing too heavy. Let's see...

"What do mean, you didn't you pack any books?" they ask each other angrily. "I told you..."

Before you find yourself the main character in a plot line driven by family feuds, get thee to a bookstore! Here's a list of 10 food-related titles to fill your idle hours this summer:

1. Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, by Paul Greenberg. The author says he focused on salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna because they represent "four archetypes of fish flesh, which humanity is trying to master in one way or another" and he believes finding more sustainable ways to meet this demand is "the most important ecological question facing the oceans today." I haven't read this one yet myself, but other reviewers are raving.

2. Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agriculture, by Lisa M. Hamilton. A journalistic profile of three American farm families—in Texas, New Mexico and North Dakota—that illuminates the importance of real people in our highly industrialized agriculture system. Hamilton deftly weaves agricultural history, environmental issues and economic data into a moving narrative.

3. Born Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite, by Frank Bruni. This memoir about life as a New York Times' restaurant critic with an eating disorder offers an irresistible blend of humor and honesty. I read it last fall, and it's slimmed down to a paperback this summer, perfect for toting to the beach.

4. Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School, by Katherine Darling. Perfect for those who crave reality-TV shows like "Top Chef," this coming-of-culinary-age story combines the drama of a competitive kitchen environment with the details of French cooking techniques, several recipes, and a fabulous first sentence: "The night before chef school began, I dreamt I ate Jacques Pepin."

5. An Edible History of Humanity, by Tom Standage. As Lisa wrote in a previous post about this book, Standage's survey "offers an insightful look at food’s impact on civilization" over the past 11,000 years, touching on geopolitics, war, social and technological development.

6. Hay Fever: How Chasing a Dream on a Vermont Farm Changed My Life, by Angela Miller. A funny but "frank memoir about the reality of goat farming as a grueling second career for a couple of city slickers," if I may quote my own summary.

7. A Short History of the American Stomach, by Frederick Kaufman. This title of this brief book is more literal than I realized at first glance—it's not just about what we put in our stomachs, but our attitudes toward the organ itself. For example, have you ever considered the concept of "the brain in the gut?" How about "gastroporn"? The Puritans' bulimic tendencies? Ben Franklin's obsession with "balanced digestive circulations"? Thought-provoking and often hilarious, though clearly not for the squeamish.

8. The Living Shore: Rediscovering a Lost World, by Rowan Jacobsen. A brief, engaging read about the importance of oysters to both the palates and coastal ecosystems of North America. I summarized it a few months ago, and now it strikes me as even more relevant in light of the recent oil spill.

9. Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st-Century Forager, by Langdon Cook. Foraging is cheap, sustainable and increasingly trendy these days, but Cook got into it to impress a girl, as he confesses in the introduction. The book is structured around the four seasons, and follows Cook on various adventures to harvest razor clams, squid, stinging nettles, fiddleheads, lingcod, shad, dandelions and so on. The practical tips and recipes may interest only readers who share the author's Pacific Northwest turf, but the basic story should appeal to anyone who wants to be more in touch with their food.

10. Red, White & Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass, by Natalie MacLean. This is an excellent primer for anyone who's just getting into wine, as I was when I first read it a few years ago, or a fun refresher for others. MacLean romps through a range of wine topics—Old World versus New World; the history of champagne; biodynamic viticulture; how wines are scored, distributed and sold; how to store, serve and pair wines—with a smart but unpretentious voice.

For even more, check out last year's recommended "Beach Reading for Food Nerds." We hope you enjoy your vacation, wherever it takes you!

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