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Food for Thought: 15 Books for Epicureans

Spring’s best culinary reads take readers inside food politics, back in time with gastronomic history and into kitchens around the world. / BY Nathalie Atkinson / April 20th, 2023


As food writer M.F.K. Fisher once said: “First we eat, then we do everything else.” She had her priorities right. Our pick of the season’s best food books includes treasuries of flavours and cooking words, culinary narratives about sugar, climate change and diasporic cuisine, memoirs about cooking and eating, investigations into food politics and gastronomic history – including the humble hot dog. There’s something for every craving.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image.

 

1Tasting Historyby Max Miller with Ann Volkwein

When he was furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles-based Miller created videos about historic dishes and his popular YouTube series was born — and went viral. This book showcases the cultural lore of 60 dishes from the past, from ancient Rome to medieval England.


2Have You Eaten Yet?by Cheuk Kwan

Kwan’s award-winning 2006 documentary series used family-run Chinese restaurants around the world as a conceit to investigate the diaspora. The Hong Kong-born, Toronto-based writer and documentarian’s new book is a personal global narrative that chronicles the chefs, entrepreneurs, labourers and dreamers who resist complete cultural assimilation.


3Avocado Anxietyby Louse Gray

In short incisive chapters, the Scottish freelance writer who covers food, farming and climate change investigates the complex food-system supply chain and environmental impact of foods like green beans and fair trade bananas, and answers pressing questions about what’s in the grocery cart, like consuming plant protein as a substitute for animal meat and whether foraged food is really more nutritious.


4The Thick and the Leanby Chana Porter

Tipped as the thought-provoking culinary novel of the season, the Los Angeles playwrights speculative fiction explores timely issues around capitalism, body politics, and the stigmas women face for appetites of every kind.” The plot concerns the mysterious centuries-old autobiography of a kitchen maid as well as a religious sect that extols privation as a form of worship, urging followers to take appetite suppressants to remain skinny.


5Undercookedby Dan Ahdoot

In these essays, the Cobra Kai actor and stand-up comedian, who also hosts Raid the Fridge on Food Network, unpacks how food has been the constant at major moments in his life. For better or for worse, food provided the only meaningful connection he had to his late brother, for example, and Ahdoot embarks on more epic culinary adventures, which he reflects on in this book.


6Romaine Wasn’t Built in a Dayby Judith Tschann

At the crossroads of culinary and linguistic interests, this entertaining book for word nerds dives into the origins of food words, organized meal by meal. (Fun fact: Pumpernickel literally means “farting Nicholas.”) It’s an enjoyable romp through etymology from a California historian and retired University of Redlands professor that’s easy to digest.


7Crushedby Brian Freedman

The spirits and travel writer (and Forbes wine columnist) takes readers on a tour of global wine and spirit production that investigates how climate change is altering the way people drink. Rising temperatures, ice, hail, wildfires and floods that threaten harvests are just some of the factors altering the future of beverages in a dramatically shifting world. It’s not all bleak: new and emerging regions of production (like southern England) are benefiting from the warming trend.


8Before Mrs. Beetonby Neil Buttery

The vivid life of Manchester powerhouse Elizabeth Raffald, the mother of the wedding cake and the gravy cube who transformed British food, gets a thorough excavation by a Yorkshire food historian and chef. Raffald set up a cookery school, for example, and published her landmark book on household management in 1769 to much fame and fortune, but this is a tome that touches on trade, domestic service, copyright law and women’s rights as much as it does the British culinary landscape. (Apr. 28)


9Raw Dogby Jamie Loftus

“Poor people created them. Rich people found a way to charge $15 for them.” The American comedy writer’s debut combines culinary history, travelogue and social critique as she takes a road trip across America to investigate the origins of a quintessentially American invention: the hot dog. She uses the niche subject to explore American history, weaving memoir in with the politics of class, the meat packing industry and historical hot dog establishments for a very funny and often maddening read. (May 9)


10Ultra-Processed Peopleby Chris van Tulleken

Ultra-processed food (UPF) is engineered to drive excess consumption, and the average person ingests about eight kilograms of food additives per year. Drawing on the latest scientific research into UPFs and metabolism, appetite and health (including cardiovascular disease, obesity and dementia), as well as his own experiment of eating an 80 per cent UPF diet for one month, the infectious diseases doctor (an associate professor at University College London) promises a game-changing exposé that covers the science and economics of the UPF industry as well as our bodies and planet. (May 9)


11The World of Sugarby Ulbe Bosma

The Amsterdam-based senior researcher in social history offers what is being dubbed the definitive 2,500-year history of granulated sugar’s human costs. He explores its first production in India in the 6th century BCE, its origins as a luxury good in Asia and the commodity’s unsavory role in the slave trade, environmental degradation and obesity epidemic. (May 9)


12The Migrant Chefby Laura Tillman

This biography recounts the life of Lalo Garcia, the celebrated Mexico City chef who was born in rural Mexico, but spent his childhood in the U.S. as a migrant farmworker, and was later deported after being convicted and jailed for robbery. Five years of reporting by the Mexico-based, award-winning American journalist delves into a life story that challenges the hierarchies of white European cuisine as surely as Garcia’s acclaimed Mexico City restaurant Maximo Bistrot puts classical French technique in the service of traditional Mexican ingredients and style. (May 23)


13The Flavor Thesaurus: More Flavorsby Niki Segnit

The ultimate Toronto foodie emporium Good Egg first turned me onto the groundbreaking 2010 Flavor Thesaurus. Its informative and inspirational ingredient pairings nudged many home cooks like me out of a rut, and it became a global hit and kitchen reference staple. The British cookbook author’s plant-led sequel highlights 92 ingredients and hundreds more unexpected and complementary flavour combinations. (May 23)


14Small Firesby Rebecca May Johnson

This unique book of vehement but lyrical musings probes food and longing, for example, dissects the dynamics of domestic goddess Nigella Lawson and what it means to refuse to follow a recipe. The manifesto, first published last year in the writer and editor’s native U.K., mixes cultural criticism and memoir to reclaim cooking as an intellectual act, and I loved it. (Jun. 6)


15Where We Ateby Gabby Peyton

With archival menu images, backstories of iconic Canadian dishes like donairs, poutine and ginger beef and the histories of 150 beloved current and bygone Canadian restaurants, this book is the ultimate nostalgic cross-country road trip. Payton, a restaurant critic and journalist based in St. John’s, presents the material, chronologically from pre-Confederation to present day, as a history of restaurants that adds up to a history of immigration and cultural movements — the why as much as where. (Jun. 6)


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