My Top 5 Food Literature Reads of 2016 — read on, or jump straight into the list HERE.
In a lot of ways, 2016 has been a rough year. My dad passed away… I voted for the first time and felt crushed by the results for the first time… David Bowie died… man, I almost forgot what a downer this year has been.
On the bright side, though, it’s been an incredible year for books!
At the beginning of 2016, I made a new years resolution to turn reading into a daily habit. Now, as the year comes to an end, I can look back on more than sixty books read (most of them pretty spectacular). Now, if only I could be so successful with my other resolutions, ha!
As you can probably guess, one of my favorite genres is food literature. Books that aren’t exactly cookbooks (though they do often have recipes), but are memoirs, stories, or documentaries that revolve around food. The medium of food is universal, bringing us together and helping us make sense of the world, and these books speak right to my soul. And, er, my stomach.
Of the many food-lit books I read this year, I’ve narrowed it down to my personal top five. There were a lot of good ones, so it wasn’t easy! These are the ones I can see myself re-reading again and again and recommending to most everyone I know. And hopefully, you’ll find one or two that speak to you!
My Top 5 Food Literature Reads of 2016
(In No Particular Order)
1. An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy And Grace, by Tamar Adler — I read this book early in the year, and immediately knew it would find its way into my favorites. Adler’s writing is strongly inspired by the classic food writer M.F.K. Fisher, but in my opinion, slightly updated and so much more beautiful. I could wrap myself in these prose like a blanket and never want to come out. More than just being a pleasure to read, this book is full of practical advice for, as the title says, cooking with economy and grace. Adler offers solid tips, tricks, and advice for home cooking that once were common sense, but seem to have been completely forgotten by most modern day cooks. If you want to be inspired to get in the kitchen and feed yourself well — and with a minimal amount of fuss — this book is for you.
Read my full review of An Everlasting Meal HERE.
2. Bread & Wine: A Love Letter To Life Around The Table, by Shauna Niequist — Reading Shauna Niequist is a lot like sitting down to lunch with your best friend. She greets you with a smile, asks how you’ve been, and then lets you into her world. Her writing is easy and conversational, and unflinchingly honest. I immediately felt a connection to her. She’s written several other books (which are on my list) but this is the first of hers I’ve read. In it, she shares snippets of her life — from the light and happy things, like the monthly dinner parties she puts together with friends, to the deep and personal things, like the struggle and subsequent joy for having her second child. It’s not quite a memoir, as it doesn’t follow a linear path from one point in her life to another, but instead offers a series of glimpses into her world that feel incredibly genuine and humble. Many of the chapters are capped off with a recipe, and while I haven’t made any of them yet, I bookmarked several to return to. They’re all easy, straightforward, delicious kinds of meals that make me like Niequist even more.
Read my full review of Bread and Wine HERE.
3. Cooked: A Natural History Of Transformation, by Michael Pollan — Bias alert, I am a huge fan of Micahel Pollan. If you’ve read other books of his and not been a fan, this one probably won’t change your mind… but for me, it doesn’t get much better than this. In Cooked, Pollan sets out to master the four elemental techniques of cooking. Fire (represented by barbecue), Water (soups and stews), Air (leavened bread) and Earth (fermentation). No matter what level of skill you have in the kitchen, or what level of interest in these particular subjects, it’s hard not to find something to love in each section. More than just a “how to cook” book, Pollan manages to cover every topic I can think of, from historical and cultural, to scientific and philosophical. His enthusiasm is contagious, and reading this book inspired me to try things I had previously been too chicken to try, like fermenting my own sauerkraut.
In the introduction, Pollan points out that cooking in this day and age isn’t something anyone has to do – not with so many cheap and easy prepared options – but he makes a compelling argument for why we should, if we can, choose to cook for ourselves. He basically says what I wish I could say, only so much more eloquent and insightfully than I ever could.
(My other favorite Pollan book is The Omnivores Dilemma — I highly recommend that one as well, but since I didn’t read that book this year I’m leaving it off the official list.)
Read my full review of Cooked HERE.
4. Stir: My Broken Brain And The Meals That Brought Me Home, by Jessica Fechtor — my favorite food memoir of the year. “Stir” opens with Fechtor, a healthy, vibrant 20-something, suffering a sudden and near fatal brain aneurysm. The book follows her journey from illness back to health — or from brokenness to wholeness — and in between chapters chronicling her brush with death, we are treated to little glimpses of Fechtor’s life pre-trauma, and the simple, everyday things she longs to return to. One of those things, for Fechtor, is cooking, and she weaves her love of food into this book effortlessly. The way she describes fresh raspberries staining her fingers red amid the bright white of her hospital room stands out as one of the most vivid paragraphs I’ve read all year. As an added bonus, this book is also scattered with recipes — really, really good recipes. (I especially recommend the plum tart at the end of the book, which I’ve made multiple times now.) This is Fechtor’s debut book, and I can only hope it isn’t her last.
Read my full review of Stir HERE.
5. Sous Chef: 24 hours On The Line, by Michael Gibney — As the title suggests, this book takes you through 24 hours in the life of a sous chef, from stocking the inventory and prepping ingredients, to the heat and exhilaration of working the dinner rush. Gibney has drawn from his own experiences in the industry to build a fictional (but very realistic) set of characters and circumstances. Writing from the first-person, he shows us the world of the professional kitchen, wielding the pen with as much deftness and precision as a chef’s knife. Reading this book, it was like I could feel the heat of the cooktop, like I was right there in the action. I could feel the pride and care in how the ingredients were handled, the sense of sanctity in the quiet before service, the exhilaration and chaos of the dinner rush, and the ache of exhaustion at the end of it all.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to work in a professional kitchen — or if you’re headed in that direction as your career — or if you even have a mild interest in cooking and a bit of curiosity — then I definitely recommend this book. While there are other books that rank right up there in my favorites, this book stands out as being too unique to leave off the list.
Read my full review of Sous Chef HERE.
The Apprentice: My Life In The Kitchen, by Jacques Pepin | Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky | The Best Food Writing of 2015, edited by Holly Hughes | Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham
If you’ve read any amazing books recently — food-centric or otherwise! — let me know in the comments below. You can check out my other food literature reads from this year, as well as other books I loved, at goodreads.com.
Note: this page contains affiliate links. This means if you follow a link to amazon.com and make a purchase, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you. I am not sponsored by any company or brand that I’ve linked to, these are just books I’ve personally enjoyed and would recommend.