Top 5 Food Literature Reads of 2016

My Top 5 Food Literature Reads of 2016 — read on, or jump straight into the list HERE.

top-5-food-reads-of-2016

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!

Have you read any amazing books this year? I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading, food or otherwise, in the comments section below.

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.

An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler | My Top 5 Food Reads of 2016

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.

Bread & Wine, by Shauna Niequist | Will Cook For Friends

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.)

Purple Sauerkraut, Cooked by Michael Pollan | Will Cook For Friends

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.

Stir, by Jessica Fechtor | My Top 5 Food Reads of 2016

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.

Sous Chef, by Michael Gibney | Will Cook For Friends

Read my full review of Sous Chef HERE.

top-5-food-books-of-2016

Honorable mentions: 

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

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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.

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31 Responses to Top 5 Food Literature Reads of 2016

  1. Karlie December 20, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    That Michael Pollan book was amazing!

    • Willow Arlen December 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

      Wasn’t it fantastic?! So cool to meet another Pollan fan. I think I’ve read most of his books now, and that one stands out as one of my favorites. Even the subjects I didn’t think I would be into, he managed to make so interesting.

  2. Platter Talk December 20, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    HI Willow. Thanks for the heads up on the books. I’m always looking for new books on food, recipes and trends as gifts for Christmas. Found one!

    • Willow Arlen December 20, 2016 at 12:11 pm #

      You’re welcome, glad you found one that interested you!

  3. Meg | Meg is Well December 20, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    Thanks so much for writing about this! I’ve also made a pact to start reading more! Especially adding more variety outside of my usual genre and trying more books that are contemplation reads rather than escapist. I’ve joined a book subscription club (Book of the Month Club) but I would love to start some books about food. There is so much out there to choose from so it’s less overwhelming when there is a great list like this!

    • Willow Arlen December 20, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

      That’s awesome, Meg! I’ve heard of Book Of The Month Club and been interested in joining, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Do you like what you’ve gotten from them so far? I’ve been reading a ton of books lately besides food literature — if you’re interested, you can check out my goodreads account to see some of the ones I’ve really enjoyed besides these. (And if you’re on goodreads, feel free to send me a friend request! Always fun to see what others are reading.)

      • Meg | Meg is Well December 20, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

        I have. I’m pretty behind at the moment but I really like the set up, the community, and of course, the books. I’ll go check out your goodreads account. I use goodreads a bunch but don’t know if I actually have an account.

  4. Diana December 20, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    I love cookbooks, and I have a feeling that I will get lots of new ones for Christmas!

    • Willow Arlen December 20, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

      That’s awesome, Diana! Any favorites?

  5. Emily @ Recipes to Nourish December 20, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    These books look awesome! I haven’t heard of any of the until now, thanks for sharing about them! So sorry to hear about the loss of your dad too. My heart goes out to you. I lost my mom 2 years ago and it still stings. Huge hugs to you!

    • Willow Arlen December 20, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

      Aw, thank you, Emily. It has been tough. I’m sorry to hear about your mom… I’m sure time helps, but I know it must still be hard. On a lighter note, I definitely hope you’ll check out some of these titles — if you’re into food reading, you’ll love these!

  6. Aysegul Sanford December 20, 2016 at 9:45 pm #

    What a phenomenal list Willow. I too am a big fan of reading, but don’t read food related books as much. I love Michael Pollan too. I watched his show on Netflix, but have never read any of his books. I am going to check it out.
    Though no where near 60 books, I read some really good books this year too. Two of my favorites were 10% Happier by Dan Harris and Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Both of those books changed the way I live my life. Currently, I am reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Not only it is a page turner, but an eye opening read. I also want to read When Breath Comes Air, but I am not sure if I can handle the sadness. Have you heard of it? A few friends of mine call it the best book they have ever read.
    Thanks for sharing some of your favorite reads. I always find it so interesting to hear what people read.
    PS1: I am so sorry for your dad. My mother passed away a few years ago too. I hope and wish from the bottom of my heart that they are in a better place.
    PS2: You are right, 2016 has been a shitty year. My heart is still broken over the results of the election.
    PS3: I wish I can meet you in person some day. I am a huge fan of your photos, writing, and this beautiful blog. Happy New Year.

    • Willow Arlen December 21, 2016 at 9:35 am #

      Oh my gosh, thank you so much, Aysegul! That final PS has me grinning ear-to-ear.

      I haven’t heard of 10% Happier, or Essentialism, but I just looked them up and am adding both to my TBR list. I’ve heard amazing things about Brene Brown, too, and have been meaning to read Rising Strong for forever. Glad to hear (again) how good it is.

      I did read When Breath Becomes Air — I wouldn’t say it’s the best book I’ve ever read, but it was good. I think the problem was that it was really, really highly hyped to me (and of course, how can you not have high expectations for a book like that?) It was still a really good read, though, and I definitely shed a few tears.

      PS1: thank you so much. And I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. My relationship with my dad was complicated, in part because he had a very cynical/depressed viewpoint of the world. I definitely like to think that whatever weight he carried on his shoulders during life has been lifted.
      PS2: it really has been, though I’m happy to say I’ve successfully kept myself busy enough that I can temporarily forget all the crap that’s happened this year. I seriously debated actually listing some of the upsetting things in this post, so thank you for letting me know you share some of my feelings.
      PS3: Thank you, again, for saying this. It made me smile so big, and we should DEFINITELY meet in person sometime. Atlanta isn’t *too* far away.

  7. Jennifer Farley December 21, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

    I am very happy to say goodbye to 2016. Thank you for this list! I’ve been looking for some good reads.

    • Willow Arlen December 22, 2016 at 9:18 am #

      Me too! And you’re welcome, I hope you like some of these!

  8. Ruby & Cake December 21, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    I am after some food based literature to read over the christmas break so thank you thank you THANK YOU for this list! cannot wait to tuck into some of these x

    • Willow Arlen December 22, 2016 at 9:19 am #

      Yay, I hope you like some of these titles! I’d love to know what you think if you read any!

  9. Shelly @ Vegetarian 'Ventures December 22, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    No joke about it being a rough year. I really do appreciate this list though – I’ve only read Stir on this list and was just looking for some novels to dig into over the holidays!

    • Willow Arlen December 22, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

      Thanks, Shelly — definitely check out some of the others on this list!

  10. betty December 22, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

    Oh Willow, I’m so sorry about your dad. 2016 was a rough year. Sending hugs your way. I’m so proud of you for your 2016 resolution and reading 60 books? That’s amazing. You’re inspiring me to do something similar for 2017. I used to read a lot but that kind of fell to the side as life got busier and I started watching TV for relaxation (netflix SIGH). I absolutely love nonfiction so this list is a great place for me to start. Thank you!

    • Willow Arlen December 22, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

      Thank you so much, Betty. Ha! I surprised even myself with 60 books. At the beginning of the year I was like “I just want to read 10 pages every day.” But of course, many days ten pages turned into way more than that. It’s amazing what a little habit change can do, I just wish I could apply that same idea to other areas. (Like, “just ten minutes of yoga every day” or “just a half mile run every day”). The little things really add up!

      I hope you find a title or two you like on the list. I’d love to know what you think if you read any — it’s always so fun to discuss books with people!

  11. Christine | Vermilion Roots December 23, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    Stir was a highlight for me this year too. And I feel well-informed by Cooked. I must check out the others on your list. One of my NY’s resolutions is to read more books next year, or rather read quicker so that I can fit more books in. On my list this holiday is a big sci-fi book set in a futuristic Southeast Asia. :-)

    • Willow Arlen December 23, 2016 at 9:22 pm #

      I’m so glad you suggested Stir to me, Christine — I really enjoyed it. What’s the name of the sci-fi book? Sounds interesting. :)

      • Christine | Vermilion Roots December 26, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

        The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. :-)

        • Willow Arlen December 26, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

          Oooh, I just looked it up and it sounds really interesting — added it to my to-read list! I also noticed that my brother read it and has it rated as 4 stars (which is high praise from him). You’ll have to let me know what you think of it.

          • Christine | Vermilion Roots January 1, 2017 at 10:21 am #

            I’m 5 chapters in and I’m already starting to care about the characters. The Southeast Asian references are refreshing. I know a lot of the names of places and have been to some of them. Dying to talk about it with someone!

          • Willow Arlen January 1, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

            Ooh, that’s a good sign! I’ll check if my library has it.

  12. Marianne December 23, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

    Hi Willow!
    A couple of years ago, I read « Relish – My life in the kitchen » by Lucy Knisley. It’s a graphic novel about the author herself and how she grew up around food and food lovers, mainly her mom. It contains funny stories from her childhood up to her adult life and even some recipes. I loved it!
    Happy holidays to you!

    P.S. : I did your asian peanut salad last week for a work party and I got lots of compliments for it, so thanks! (And I’m still nibbling on those peanuts…!)

    • Willow Arlen December 23, 2016 at 9:24 pm #

      Oh, thank you, Marianne! Relish sounds fantastic, I’ll add it to my to-read list. And I’m so glad you liked the peanut salad! Those sweet and spicy peanuts really are great for snacking, aren’t they?

      Happy holidays to you as well!

  13. kate | tasty seasons December 27, 2016 at 10:43 pm #

    hi willow –

    i just discovered your blog and have been clicking around, ogling your photos and savoring your writing.

    re: food lit, i recommend ruth reichl’s ‘my kitchen year’. i finished it recently and really enjoyed it. i haven’t read any of these 5 books (!), so thanks for the additions to my reading list! :-)

    thanks!
    kate

    • Willow Arlen December 28, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

      Aw, thank you so much, Kate! I haven’t read “My Kitchen Year” yet, I’ll have to add that to my list. Here’s to some good reading in the new year!

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