Gift Guide: Our Favorite Food-Centric Books of the Year

Serious Reads

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

This year, I read a whole bunch of books for Serious Reads. Here are my top ten picks for the bookish food lovers in your life this year.

Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jarayaman


As co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United), longtime labor activist Saru Jarayaman has written extensively on the plight of food workers in the restaurant industry. Behind the Kitchen Door shares stories from dozens of restaurant workers. Their tales of how low wages, unpaid sick days, and no benefits affect their lives are touching and eye-opening. Here's our original review.

Homeward Bound, by Emily Matchar


Ever wonder why DIY has taken a center-stage role for many food lovers? Curious about your neighbor who makes her own jam and gives gifts of sourdough starter for the holidays? In Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity, Emily Matchar looks at how domestic hobbies have become a creative outlet for many women in the Pinterest era. She connects this trend to broader questions about female liberation, feminism, and women's rights. Here's our original review.

Cornbread Nation, edited by Brett Anderson


Best-of compilations are a great way to gain exposure to a variety of writers in a given field. That's why I was so happy to read Cornbread Nation: The Best of Southern Food Writing. As a born and bred Northerner, I have sorely little exposure to Southern food in general, not to mention the regional food writers who specialize in that cuisine. This collection, edited by Brett Anderson, covers a range of topics and certainly opened my eyes to many elements of southern foodways. Here's our original review.

Foodopoly, by Wenonah Hauter


It's becoming common knowledge that much of the U.S.'s agricultural production is run by corporations, or "Big Ag." In Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, Wenonah Hauter looks at how exactly corporate power took over agrarian America, and how we can resist the resulting environmental and social degradation in our own lives. I particularly enjoyed her use of infographics. Here's our original review.

It's Not You, It's Brie, by Kirstin Jackson


If you love cheese, or even have a glancing interest in the stuff, this book is a great treat. It's Not You, It's Brie is a playful look at how a wide variety of cheeses are produced. Kirstin Jackson accumulated stories, recipes, and tips from cheesemongers and producers across the country for this short but jam-packed (curd-packed?) cheese narrative. Its beautiful cartoon illustrations add an extra adorable factor. Here's our original review.

Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies, by Seth Holmes


Seth Holmes conducted five years of participant observation fieldwork living and working with Mexican migrant laborers. He crossed the border with them, found work in the fields, and shared his experience in Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. This wrenching book will keep you on the edge of your seat, and provides real insight into the poor living conditions and back-breaking work endured by many migrant laborers. Here's our original review.

Best Food Writing 2013, edited by Holly Hughes


I love the Best Food Writing series, as it's always full of excellent essays. From travel narratives in foreign places to recreating a family heirloom recipe, this year's edition has many stand-outs. My personal favorites included "When There Was Nothing Left to Do, I Fed Her Ice Cream," by Sarah DiGregorio, a short essay about aiding her dying mother in the hospital bed. Plus, this year's compilation includes a piece by our own J. Kenji Lopez-Alt! Here's our original review.

Creamy and Crunchy, by Jon Krampner


Every family's got a peanut butter fanatic. Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food is for them. Full of fun party facts about this delicious sandwich filler (or late night snack eaten off a spoon, if you're me), the book is historical and important without taking itself too seriously. Sort of like peanut butter! Here's our full review.

Relish, by Lucy Knisley


This is the only food memoir I'm aware of that is told through illustration. Lucy Knisley's graphic memoir Relish shares stories from her time growing up with two culinary parents, and highlights the recipes and ingredients that fed her young adulthood. She's a truly talented illustrator and her cartoon cookies are in my top 5 adorable things. Here's our original review.

Kosher, by Timothy D. Lytton


Did you know that there are several different kosher-certification agencies? 5 major certifiers dominate the market, with dozens more to be found regionally. In Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food, Timothy D. Lytton explores how the kosher industry has maintained private regulation in the face of an increasingly centralized food system. This is a great book for policy wonks, even those who mix meat and milk. Here's our original review.

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.