Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Five Nonfiction Books for the Frugal Foodie

Sweet readers, this week’s a little out of whack with the ant situation. So, instead of today’s regular post, I thought I’d offer up a few of my favorite nonfiction food books. They’re fairly standard reads amongst chowhounds, and don’t concentrate specifically on healthy, low-budget cooking, but all have wonderful qualities nonetheless. I wouldn’t hesitate suggesting them to anyone. (Er, which is why they're here.)

If you’ve ever perused these guys, or have any ideas for good reads, please go crazy in the comments section. After all, reading is FUN(damental).

In no particular order…

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
I never considered myself a particularly daring eater, or imagined cuisine as a huge part of any vacation. But Bourdain helped change that. Cook’s Tour is about food and culture – namely, how discovering one is key to understanding the other. He describes Vietnamese food in such a way that I can’t believe I’ve never been. There’s a reverence not present in Kitchen Confidential, too, which balances Tony’s occasional bouts with ennui and annoyance.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
On its own, In Defense of Food is a really neat guide for everyday eating. As a companion to the more analytical Omnivore’s Dilemma, it’s invaluable. It counters OD’s occasionally relentless skepticism with optimistic solutions, as well as simple, vital messages. (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) Read it first if you can.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
I plowed through this book years ago, and it’s a tribute to its effectiveness that I’ve rarely stepped into a fast food restaurant since. Having worked at both McDonald’s and Wendy’s, I knew about the food prep and employee relations, but the mass production methods used to keep prices down … great scott. (P.S. If you are parent to a socially concerned teen, this will absolutely rock his/her world.)

Heat by Bill Buford
Buford took a year off to learn how to cook under Mario Batali, Marco Pierre White, and various butchers and pasta-makers all over Europe. The result is Heat, which perfectly captures the fascination, frustration, and triumph facing novice denizens of the kitchen. Dude can really write, too, which helps.

I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown
If you can imagine Good Eats in print, I’m Just Here for the Food is for you. Half cookbook, half science manual, you won’t find better explanations of the physical and chemical processes involved in getting a meal to the table. It’s Wired for foodies, or Cook’s Illustrated for nerds.

Also of note

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Reichl’s kind of like an eccentric aunt who dresses up, goes to fancy restaurants, and ruminates on their merits for page after page. Funny, warm insider's look at big-city food criticism.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Though it can get a bit dry, OD’s a must-read for those interested in how our food industry can possibly function. Factory farms are scary, scary things.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Hilarious, hyperbolic behind-the-scenes glimpse into the everyday running of a restaurant, by the man himself.


Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
I’m about halfway through so far. It’s okay. Julie can definitely write, but the book seems more about her crappy apartment than the food. Still, I can relate to the crappy apartment parts. And I WILL be seeing the movie. Meryl Streep as Julia Child, yo.

Would like to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver

Food Matters by Mark Bittman

How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons

What about you guys? What are you reading? What are your opinions on the books mentioned? Do tell.

(Photos courtesty of Chrismasto, NY Bookworm, and Spill.)

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