Serious Reads

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

Serious Reads: Four Food Books We're Loving

My Usual Table, by Colman Andrews

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Colman Andrews' esteemed career includes co-founding and editing Saveur magazine, writing a longtime restaurant column for Gourmet, and co-founding the Daily Meal. His new memoir, My Usual Table: A Life in Restaurants, shares the important chapters of his life through their corresponding restaurants. Early childhood saw many meals at a local Beverly Hills diner; in later years, his tastes perhaps more refined, Andrews developed a relationship with Eleven Madison Park. With light nostalgia and incredibly well-remembered anecdotes (assisted by some scrupulous notes and great photographs), Andrews brings his own restaurant history to life for the reader without a trace of food snobbery.

Lunch: A History, by Megan Elias

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For some, lunch is a restful break in the middle of an otherwise demanding workday. For others, lunch is spent over the keyboard, taking bites between tasks. In Lunch: A History Megan Elias takes us through the evolution of lunch as it's currently experienced in many corners of the globe. Much of the book's framing pertains to how lunch is associated with greater worker productivity, the Industrial Revolution, and the power of capitalist values in the American workplace. From early concerns about whether your employer should pay for your lunch, to the more modern debacle surrounding whether employees should even take lunch breaks, the book tackles this surprisingly political meal with historical as well as cultural evidence.

The Meat Racket, by Christopher Leonard

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At this point, it will come as no surprise that most of the meat consumed in the U.S. is grown and processed by just a few huge companies. But as more Americans come to accept this status quo, Christopher Leonard sought to illuminate some of the shadier sides of the meat industry. In The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business, Leonard especially focuses on the rise to power of Tyson Foods. He profiles the major players in the early development of industrial meat production and provides detailed analysis of the economic and social factors that contributed to the growth of massive meat factories. While the book certainly takes a critical look at the industry, its tone is investigative rather than moralistic. A fascinating read for those interested in the vertical integration of the food industry.

Caffeinated, by Murray Carpenter

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How many SCADs do you consume per day? (That's Standard Caffeine Doses, for the uninitiated.) Murray Carpenter averages around five. The author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us is a heavy coffee user, one of many Americans who relies on the beverage to keep him moving throughout the day. He starts off his book by asserting that caffeine is a drug—a less lethal one than, say, cocaine or other stimulants, but a drug all the same. His investigation into how caffeine users get addicted to the stuff traces the cultural history of caffeine consumption across continents as well as the various industries now dependent on high-SCAD consumers. From the production and import of pure caffeine to the growth of companies like Green Mountain Coffee, Monster energy drinks, and Starbucks, Caffeinated is a full profile of one of our nation's favorite ingredients.

About the Author: Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter @leahjdouglas.

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