Serious Reads: Five Books We're Loving

Serious Reads

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

Grand Forks, by Marilyn Hagerty


Marilyn Hagerty has been writing the EatBeat column for the Grand Forks Herald of Grand Forks, North Dakota (pop. 55,000) for 27 years. The column recently gained attention when Hagerty's rave review of the local Olive Garden went viral. But this review was hardly representative of the collection of informative, useful, and respectful reviews Hagerty has penned over the years. In a time when many newspaper and online restaurant reviews seek to exalt extravagance or deride less-than-ideal service, Hagerty's take on the Grand Forks dining scene is consistently and refreshingly straightforward. She is never mean, only constructive, and gives the same attention and care to the local sandwich shop as she does a fine French restaurant. I loved Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews for its authors homey, relaxed approach to an often overwrought craft.

The Food Police, by Jayson Lusk


For those of you who have a bone to pick with foodies, The Food Police's vitriol will satisfy even your darkest snark desires. Jayson Lusk challenges (to put it lightly) the "emerging elite" whose "fascist food snobbery" has resulted in the banning of trans fats, pricey farmers markets across the country, and even a war on plastic bags. When will it end?! Lusk starts with a viable premise—that foodie culture does, in some instances, more harm than good by raising the cost of food and equating farm-to-table with instant and lasting health—but often goes off the rails into barely-PC rants against everyone from GMO protestors to Alice Waters. Read it with a strong stomach.

One Woman Farm, by Jenna Woginrich


This small, beautifully illustrated book is one of the best farm memoirs I've read. Woginrich's dedication to rural life is inspiring. Her week-to-week recollection of a year on her "one woman farm" shows all the joy she gains from her hard manual labor. But she also maintains a healthy realism and reminds the reader that farm life isn't for everyone. One Woman Farm: My Life Shared with Sheep, Pigs, Chickens, Goats, and a Fine Fiddle takes us from October to October, a full calendar of baby animals, frozen land, crop harvests, and solo holidays. The occasional handwritten recipe and inspirational quote make the book feel almost like a personalized guide to homesteading.

From Scratch, by Allen Salkin


I am probably not the only Serious Eater who has invested hundreds of hours in watching the Food Network over the years. But except for the occasional headline-catching drama, I knew little of the Network's operations. In From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, Allen Salkin meticulously documents the network's rise to prominence over the last decade. It includes interviews with dozens of important movers and shakers, and goes beyond the celebrity chefs to delve into the behind-the-scenes of running a functional TV network. I particularly enjoyed Salkin's analysis of how and why certain shows and chefs are featured on the channel. Check this book out for serious dirt on Emeril, Mario, Rachael, and all the network's executives.

Cooking Up a Business, by Rachel Hofstetter


This cheery and optimistic guide to starting a small food business may be just the inspiration some of you need to get your dream business off the ground. Cooking Up a Business highlights successful food entrepreneurs and shares their tips for taking the plunge into owning your own enterprise. From Cameron Hughes, of Cameron Hughes Wine, to the teams behind Love Grown Foods and Popchips, all corners of the food industry are represented. Some of these entrepreneurs had a foot in the food world in a prior career; others were brand new to the game, or even right out of school, when they launched their businesses. Cooking Up a Business is a great overview of the diversity of food startups launching across the country.

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.