1. Behind the Kitchen Door
Saru Jayaraman is an incredible force. As co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), she has fought for the rights of food service workers for over ten years. In her first book, she tells the harrowing stories of dozens of restaurant workers fighting to make ends meet. With a minimum wage of $2.13 an hour and no paid sick days, restaurant employees face incredible obstacles. Jayamaran shares their experiences with grace and respect, while showing the reader how to join the fight for service industry justice. I highly recommend Behind the Kitchen Door for its unblinking take on inequality in one of the largest industries in the U.S.
2. The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink
Kevin Young's anthology of food and drink-related poems is perfect for the literary food lover. The book contains poems from William Carlos Williams, Sylvia Plath, and Langston Hughes among dozens of others. My favorite piece is "cutting greens" by Lucille Clifton: "...i taste in my natural appetite / the bond of live things everywhere." This sentiment rings true to the tone of the book overall—a celebration of eating, cooking, family, and sensuality.
3. Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems
This thick book by Philip Ackerman-Leist, a professor at Green Mountain College, is something of a guide for building a local food movement. He provides an overview of issues in the food system, from chemical run-off to commodity trading, as well as a substantial section on moving forward with regional and systemic change. Ackerman-Leist has a nuanced understanding of the whole U.S. food network. This is a great book for readers interested in learning how communities around the country are improving their food quality, and those looking for inspiration for their own local foodsheds.
4. A Year in the Village of Eternity: The Lifestyle of Longevity in Campodimele, Italy
Campodimele is a small village in Italy with a population of 671. So why are we reading about it? Because the average lifespan of Campodimele residents is 95 years old, about ten years longer than the average Italian. Tracey Lawson set out to discover why. She writes elegantly about each month's cuisine in Campodimele, and embraces the agricultural lifestyle that many residents still enjoy, producing the bulk of their own foods and preparing simple, traditional cuisine. Dozens of authentic recipes accompany the narrative, making this "hyper-Mediterranean" diet accessible to the home cook.
5. Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America
As Executive Director of Food and Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter has spent years working on issues of environmental sustainability. In Foodopoly, she takes a hard look at how corporations have taken over agricultural production in the U.S. From Monsanto to Tyson, she explains corporate dominance and the problems it has created for small family farms. She believes strongly in the power of organizing and rallying young people around the cause of sustainability. This book presents difficult information, but with a hopeful ending and plenty of well-designed infographics.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.