Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

Serious Reads: Food Heroes, by Georgia Pellegrini

"If you've ever wondered how to make the transition from your current career to one entirely based around food production, this book can be your guide."

In a time when "local" and "sustainable" have become catch-all words for the foods we should be eating, it becomes easy to lose track of the individuals who put such excellent and fresh foods on our plates. Georgia Pellegrini, a former line cook at some serious restaurants, set out to find 16 artisan producers who are ensuring their craft is not forgotten. In Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition, she shares their stories and brings us glimpses into the world of making real food.

From a whisky producer in Colorado, to a "butter poet" in Cumbria, England, Pellegrini demonstrates the many forms and faces that artisan food can take. Here are just a few of the many figures she profiles.

The Chocolate Pioneer: Steven Wallace took a trip to Ghana as a teenager, then returned years later after an unsatisfying stint as a tax attorney. Instead of exporting cocoa beans from the country, he helps facilitate local production of chocolate to stimulate the Ghanaian economy and create a better product.

The Seed Librarian: Heirloom varieties are disappearing fast, and we need people like Bill Best to hold on to our finest crops. He lives off tomato and mayo sandwiches, and sells his seeds to others looking to fight the prevalence of genetically modified crops.

Sanctified Tamales: If you love pies and tamales, you should make a pilgrimage to Rhoda Adams' home. Her devotees travel from miles away to taste her homemade goods, which she sells with humility and a dose of life advice.

Pelligrini's writing style is endearing and down to earth. It's easy to imagine each of her interviewees warming to her. While at times she lingers needlessly over the ecstasy she experiences with every mouthful, you can understand her enthusiasm. She travels to the beautiful countryside of France, to the seaside of California, and brings us back still-lifes of her adventures. Pictures of each artisan producer add to the reader's experience; recipes at the end of the chapters allow us to bring the heirloom tomato or smoked meat into our own kitchens.

If you've ever wondered how to make the transition from your current career to one entirely based around food production, this book can be your inspiration. The stories of the individuals' transformations are inspiring. As meat smoker Allan Benton says, "It's not a way to get rich quick." But artisan production is a way to hold onto the past, with an eye on what our food can be for generations to come.

About the author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.

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