Top 10 books for summer

July 22, 2014

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

We’ve put together our list of top 10 new book releases, just in time for the summer holidays.

Poison Spring: The secret history of pollution and the EPA

E.G. Vallianatos, McKay Jenkins

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Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a chilling polemic on the chemical industry’s powerful bind on public officials. Over half a century on, little has changed, except the urgency in the voice of our authors. Poison Spring is the renewed call to action from EPA insiders Vallinanatos and McKay whose exposé of the so called Environmental Protection Agency extolls a long history of jumping into bed with a chemical industry that sold itself as indispensable after the Second World war.

‘It is simply not possible to understand the way the EPA behaves without appreciating the enormous power of America’s industrial farmers and their allies in the chemical pesticide industry’, they write. This industry currently has a turnover of $40 billion dollars a year. From the ideological context of the Cold War, through multiple cases of fraud in the industrial bio-test laboratories, they tell the history of this orgy and explain how it is that funding and regulatory work manages to proceed, shrouded in secrecy and bureaucracy. Although compelling, this is no light read, be prepared for graphic descriptions of bio-test labs – ‘a cement cauldron of filthy water, disease and slaughter’ – and a lot of naming names.

Grass, Soil, Hope

Courtney White

Forgive us if you disagree, but this is a not a book that most will run out and buy based on title alone. It may take a leap of faith, or a dig in the ribs from an enthusiastic friend, to get you to sit down and focus your mind on the marvels of soil-carbon sequestration. But let us be your friend on this one, this book really is worth a read, and here’s why.

Image RemovedUS soils once had a carbon content of 20% carbon. Now, after years of growing monocultures, ploughing deep, leaving soils without winter cover crops and piling on the chemical extras, we’re looking at average soil carbon content of one percent or less, and yes that ‘lost’ carbon is now warming up our atmosphere in the form of CO2.

Enter soil-carbon sequestration, the process – in layman’s terms – by which this CO2 is transferred back into the soil through crop residues and other organic solids. This transfer, or ‘sequestering’ not only helps to offset carbon emissions but it also enhances soil quality, as higher carbon content means more productive soils, able to hold more water.

Currently, agriculture contributes to roughly a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions, so the idea that agriculture could instead be a model for reducing CO2 and combatting climate change is both novel and exciting. In the words of author, former archaeologist and Sierra Club activist, Courtney White, where there is soil there is carbon; there is hope. It remains to be said that this is not a book about the science of soil-carbon sequestration. Rather this is the story of White’s world travels in an endeavour to put a human face on this restorative and potentially revolutionary agricultural system and to share the stories of those farmers whose lives have been filled with hope.

Local: The new face of food and farming in America

Douglas Gayton

SFT friend and co-conspirator, Douglas Gayton, has published his new book pulling together an amazing breadth of knowledge from across his work with the Lexicon of Sustainability and Project Localise. Gayton’s philosophy begins with basic principles around language and lexicon. The changes we need to make to our food system depend on consumers making informed choices about the produce they buy, but consumers can’t make informed choices if they don’t understand the terminology.

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For those of us involved with the sustainable food movement, words such as mob-grazing, urban agriculture, foraged or pasture-raised may have become common-place, but for the general public these terms just compete for space in an already over-crowded market place of food marketing buzz words and ‘healthy’ terminology. Making use of his trademark ‘information artworks’ Gayton takes readers by the hand and guides them through this brave new world of food and farming terminology, artfully wrapping his teaching around beautiful imagery and compelling stories of the people pioneering new practice. The result is part coffee-table art-book, part guide to food systems change, part recipe book and for the first time in our experience, book-embedded film icons that an app on your smart-phone can scan to play supporting media content.

In the first pages of this book, Gayton asks ‘After reading this book, please give it away… This book desperately needs you. It needs you because the real audience for this book may never buy it.’ His suggestion that readers give the book away to those who need to learn may be inarguable, but I for one, am going to struggle to happily let go.

We the Eaters: If we change dinner, we can change the world

Ellen Gustafson

In a world where 870 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition, whilst a billion people are clinically obese, it begs the question, ‘where on earth are we going so wrong?’ We the Eaters looks at how modern day consumption patterns are not only severely damaging our health, but also the world around us. With some real ‘sit up and listen’ facts and figures, this book puts eating badly into a global perspective… and it’s not a pretty sight.

It all started when corn in the US began to be produced on an industrial scale. This led to the rise of a new era of cheap, processed and severely unhealthy food, which over time not only swept America, but began to take over the world. Cheap corn seemed to be the answer to everything; it provided a cheap food source for livestock and the surplus served as food aid for third world nations. However, corn fed livestock produced animals susceptible to disease whose meat was of low nutritional value, and the foreign aid subsequently put local farmers out of business – just a few examples of the negative impacts of industrially produced food.

The fantastic thing about this book is that it not only outlines issues with the current food system, but also provides us with tangible solutions of how we can change our eating habits to vote for a better food system. Most importantly this book highlights that food = health, a fact that we urgently need the public to understand.

The Third Plate: Field notes on the future of food

Dan Barber

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For chef Dan Barber, food is inextricably linked to farming – that may sound a strange thing to say, but for many people and chefs the links aren’t so obvious. Quoting Wendell Berry, Barber states that eating is ‘inescapably an agricultural act.’ He’s been a key proponent of ‘farm-to-table’ cooking and a champion of local seasonal produce in his two restaurants, Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Sustainability is a cornerstone of his thinking and he wants us to eat differently.

Barber wants us to eat outside the box, so to speak. Our westernised diets have been codified in particular ways – meat is a staple, we like some vegetables more than others, and most importantly, there’s a whole lot that we don’t eat that we could. Barber argues that we need to eat more widely. He wants us to eat ‘what the land provides,’ and takes us on an enlightening and exciting journey through the food and farms that offer a new philosophy for our diets and innovative potential solutions for the challenges of feeding a growing world population.

The Natural Cook: Eating the seasons from root to fruit

Tom Hunt

Since opening in 2011, Poco café bar in Bristol has gone from strength to strength. Their focus on seasonal, local produce and their passion for sustainability has not gone unnoticed. Awarded Best Ethical Restaurant at last year’s Observer Food Monthly Awards, they continue their journey with a new cookbook from Executive Chef, Tom Hunt.

Image RemovedThe Natural Cook encompasses the very same ethos that has made Poco a firm Bristol favourite, with a focus on fresh, seasonal recipes that won’t cost the earth. The book begins with some sound advice on how to eat well and waste nothing, from shopping wisely to storing food correctly. Beautifully presented throughout, The Natural Cook takes you through the seasons and puts vegetables centre stage, with each section dedicated to either a ‘hero’ fruit or veg. With an emphasis on quality produce, Tom demonstrates how to transform a few simple ingredients into a delicious feast. Although simple, the combinations are anything but boring, with classics such as rhubarb and custard tarts to the more adventurous seafood salad with strawberries.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has called The Natural Cook ‘one of the most enticing cookbooks’ that has come his way for some time and we can’t help but agree!

Faith in Food: Changing the world one meal at a time

Susie Weldon and Sue Campbell

In the past half a century we have adopted a dangerously destructive approach to farming, one which largely fails to give back to nature any return on what we have taken away, and one which subsequently finds itself contrary to the teachings of each and every one of the world’s major faiths.

Starting with this premise and speaking to atheists and believers alike, Faith in Food shares the strengths; the wisdoms and the learnings of six major religions’ approaches to agriculture, food procurement and dining. What follows is a lively and holistic account of our myriad of food system issues. The book draws from the proclaimed spiritual qualities of food and earth and uses them as a prism to think to about systems of provisioning that work in harmony with our web of life, and which are not at the mercy of the increasingly fluctuating price of oil.

Image RemovedPacked with inspiring stories, hard hitting facts and calls to action, this book is both a comprehensive guide to ethical eating and an anthropological expose of global approaches to food and agriculture. Far from digestible in one sitting, Faith in Food, should take a roll as the most beautiful of reference books there to be pulled down when you want a rounded look at GMOs, insight into dietary laws or simply a powerful and poetic reminder of why our food choices have moral and ethical impacts.

Food Activism: Agency, democracy and economy

Carole Counihan and Valeria Siniscalchi

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Food Activism is essential reading for anyone interested in the politics that surround our food. Across the globe, people are challenging the industrial food system through food activism, by modifying the way they produce, distribute or consume food. This collection brings together pieces from leading anthropologists, exploring food activism on a local, national and transnational level. The case studies are far reaching, and cover Sicilian anti mafia food cooperatives, reinvigorating local food culture in Japan, anti-GMO activism in Mexico and Columbia, and tackling rural food poverty in Oregon, to name but a few. Exploring issues such as food sovereignty, fair trade, food insecurity and our disconnected food system, these stories can’t fail to leave you feeling inspired.

Global Food Futures: Feeding the world in 2050

Brian Gardener

Our future means of producing food have a lot to contend with, from climate change to rising energy costs, and continuing pressure on land and other resources. But do we really need to increase production by 70% to feed our growing population? What are the impacts of using grain for fuel? How are dietary changes towards greater consumption of animal products in emerging economies going to influence food production? What role do financial markets play in price shocks? Where does the environment sit in relation to agricultural practices? This book seeks to answer these questions and more, by using extensive data to provide a balanced and insightful approach.

Although the book tackles some big issues, Global Food Futures is very readable and provides a comprehensive introduction to the wider concerns surrounding agriculture and our ability to feed ourselves in the future.

Amongst these uncertainties, there is one thing that we can be sure of, regardless of the way we choose to address these issues, the price of food will inevitably rise in the long term.

Winning the story wars: Why those who tell – and live – the best stories will rule the future

Jonah Sachs

From the co-founder of Free Range Studios and creator of The Meatrix, comes a book about the role of powerful stories in creating the change needed to secure our futures. Whilst, technically speaking not a food book, we have made an exception for this one, which so completely encompasses our philosophy of communications and the work we try to achieve through our own activities here at the SFT. Targeted at professional communicators, but written in an engaging narrative style, Sachs takes us on a journey back into the narrative traditions of myth and legend, to a time when oral story-telling was the only means we had to communicate our collective morals and ethics. In this era of democratic, verbal communications only the most powerful and compelling stories would rise to the top, and these stories, argues Sachs, have fundamental characteristics that are applicable across languages, time and cultures.

By identifying the role of marketers, employed by government to encourage us to spend in order to aid post-war recovery, Sachs explains how we allowed companies to fill the story-telling space, and as such create a set of consumption based common values that we were happy to buy into. Sachs argues that the democratisation of social media communications will take us towards an era of communication with similar structural implications as those from the era of oral story telling. In a world where people are constantly bombarded with stories, where every article is competing with a million videos of kittens falling of ledges, only the most powerful and compelling stories will rise to the top. They must have a clear, moral message, be applicable across language and cultural barriers, and successfully pit good against evil in the fight for the future of our societies. For those of us working to engage the public in a powerful vision of an alternative food system, this book is a must-read, not to be missed.

Feature image by Abhi Sharma

Tags: building resilient food systems, food books