These are not just cookbooks.
Food is such a major part of our lives. For some, it is rooted in tradition and forges a connection to heritage—that’s why some dishes are comforting and remind of home. For others, it’s a way to bring people together and experience different cultures. For some, it may be just a way to give sustenance to the body. No matter how you feel about food, you will agree that what we eat depends so much on who we are, where we live, where we come from, and how much we make.
There are so many different opinions on what we should eat and how we should live, but nothing is linear, absolute, perfect, or all-encompassing. It’s all relative. So to understand a fraction of it, we’re turning toward books that contextualize the science, the emotions, and the business of food.
From memoirs and food memories to investigations and science, this is a wholesome list of books to read if you want to redefine, reexamine, or reanalyze your own relationship with food.
Top Picks for You
'The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket'
Author Benjamin Lorr spent five years researching The Secret Life of Groceries, delving into different aspects of American supermarkets. It took hundreds of interviews with suppliers, employees at stores, marketers, brokers, farmers, entrepreneurs, truckers to understand what it means to run a supermarket and who is behind the scenes doing all the grunt work. This book is a revelation—you won’t just find out how the magic happens, but also get insights into social problems (exploitation of workers and suffering of animals) associated with this everyday abundance we take for granted. Organic foods, big chain stores, certification, safety standards, trucking, and shelving are all covered in this highly informative and important book.
'Resetting the Table: Straight Talk About the Food We Grow and Eat'
For a deeper understanding of where food comes from, read Robert Paarlberg’s Resetting the Table. He is a researcher on food and agricultural policy and author of several books on food. In this 2021 title, he argues against organic farming and with the help of science and facts, explains how technology has helped modern farming. In this book about the American food system, he criticizes supermarkets, retailers, and food companies in their role in leading people to make unhealthy choices and discusses animal cruelty. The solutions lie in technology, plant-based meats, and better regulations.
'Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want'
Ruby Tandoh is the runner-up of The Great British Bake-Off. In her 2018 book, she aims to make the readers find joy in their plates. Eat Up is all about the pleasure of eating, celebrating with food, and making memories, as she examines how people eat differently and have their unique relationships with food. Without judgments, she also explores the complexities of food, disorders, diets, poverty, and privilege in this positive and refreshing book.
'The Flavours of Nationalism: Recipes for Love, Hate and Friendship'
Nandita Haksar is an Indian human rights lawyer and civil rights activist. Her book, The Flavours of Nationalism, is an exploration of religion, caste, culture, politics, and food. As she takes readers on a personal journey on her own experiences with food in the country and around the world, she analyzes how caste and religion, class and patriarchy, and prejudices are guiding food habits of a divided nation. Beef ban, Hindu nationalistic push for vegetarian food, and vigilante violence over cow slaughter are examined in this book.
'The Meat Paradox: Eating, Empathy and the Future of Meat'
Rob Percival is the head of food policy at British food and farming charity Soil Association. His 2022 book The Meat Paradox is an exploration of humans’ contradictory relationship with animals. We empathize with animals, yet we eat them. As he sets out to answer “Should we eat meat?”, he also critically analyzes veganism that has picked up in America and Europe. This is an exploration of ethical eating, psychology of meat consumption, and the conflict of loving meat and loving animals.
'How the Other Half Eats: The Untold Story of Food and Inequality in America'
Sociologist Priya Fielding-Singh takes you to the dining room of four families in America all from different backgrounds in How the Other Half Eats. In this book, you will learn about how low-income groups shop for groceries, feed their families, and live in fear of running out of food. The food experiences that well to-do families have are vastly different from those on the other side of the spectrum. In her stories with these families along with research and personal experiences, she discusses pickiness, satiety, food insecurity, and other challenges that show how Americans eat.
'Crying in H Mart'
Singer and guitarist Michelle Zauner’s memoir Crying in H Mart is a raw and brutal reflection of her grief. As a Korean-American, she had a complicated relationship with her Korean mother and struggled with her mother’s high expectations and her own identity. But they also created beautiful memories together, surrounded by their love for food, especially when they traveled to Seoul and tried local delicacies with their family. She is reminded of all of this when she moves back home after her mother is diagnosed with cancer—now she cooks for her and tries to heal their relationship.
It’s a touching tribute to Michelle’s mom, her grandmother, and her aunt, as well as her Korean roots. The women who taught her to love Korean food are gone, but the author takes trips to Asian supermarket H Mart and maintains her connection with them.
'Black Food: Stories, Art & Essays'
essays from the African diaspora from around the world. More than 100 contributors have given a piece of their culture, tradition, community, and experience to this book—Black Food is a visually-appealing, palate-pleasing tribute to Black culture. There is a vast variety of recipes to represent foods from the Americas, Africa, and the Caribbean, like Ghanaian crepe cake, vegetarian gumbo, and fresh peach cobbler. But more than that, it’s about the emotions and memories that are associated with food that make this book sing.
'In Bibi's Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean'
Somalia chef Hawa Hassan and food writer Julia Turshen enter kitchens of grandmothers (bibis) in eight African countries (Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Comoros, South Africa, and Madagascar) that touch the Indian Ocean. They introduce you to the bibis, narrate their stories, and document traditional recipes handed down through generations. There are 75 recipes included in In Bibi’s Kitchen, but the stories, their emotional connection to food, and the comfort of a familiar recipe form the backbone of this book. The writers explain, “It’s also a collection of stories about war, loss, migration, refuge, and sanctuary. It’s a book about families, and their connection to home.”
'Dinner for One: How Cooking in Paris Saved Me'
Born in Jamaica and raised in the Bronx, podcast host Sutanya Dacres moved to Paris after marrying her French boyfriend. But when her marriage ended, she had to learn to navigate the foreign city on her own. From learning how to cook for herself, making friends and dating to understanding how to care for herself and recovering from heartbreak, Dinner for One is a memoir and honest account of an expat living in Paris—a real-life, grown-up version of Emily in Paris.