Books, apple and flowers. Image credit: congerdesign/Pixabay

The past few years have brought about growing interest in local agriculture and food issues. The pandemic especially has renewed peoples’ interest in gardening, growing, and self-sustainability. With many new publications in this area, my reading list has dramatically expanded.

Summer months are a good time to catch up on reads. Here are a few of my own discoveries, touching on many new and upcoming Canadian publications, as well as a few older standbys, and some international tomes. The following books cover everything from how to improve institutional food menus, to foraging for wild edibles, how to make food choices that actually help your community and the planet, and reflection on the state of our civilization.

Each title includes an edited jacket description about content. Happy local book shopping and summer reading.

Take Back the Tray: Revolutionizing Food in Hospitals, Schools, and Other Institutions by Joshna Maharaj

ECW Press, 2020

“With hard-won insights and deep commitment, Joshna Maharaj takes us on a mouthwatering tour of what our collective food future might be.” — Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System

“Maharaj reconnects food with health, wellness, education, and rehabilitation in a way that serves people, not just budgets, and proves change is possible with honest, sustained commitment on all levels, from government right down to the person sorting the trash. She’s determined to bring health, humanity, and hospitality back to institutional food while also building sustainability, supporting the local economy, and reinvigorating the work of frontline staff. The need is clear, the time is now, and this revolution is delicious.”

Animal, Vegetable, Junk: The History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal by Mark Bittman

Mariner Books, 2021

Eating well, as Mark Bittman has taught so many of us over the years, is as much about collective health as it is about elegant recipes. In his most radical and profound book to date, Bittman brings his trademark wit, precision, and user-friendliness to a sweeping history of sustenance. The result is a joyful and transformational read.” — Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything

“In Animal, Vegetable, Junk, Mark Bittman offers a panoramic view of how the frenzy for food has driven human history to some of its most catastrophic moments, from slavery and colonialism to famine and genocide — and to our current moment, wherein Big Food exacerbates climate change, plunders our planet, and sickens its people. Even still, Bittman refuses to concede that the battle is lost, pointing to activists, workers, and governments around the world who are choosing well-being over corporate greed and gluttony, and fighting to free society from Big Food’s grip.”

Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey by James Rebanks

Harper Collins, 2021

“James Rebanks’s story of his family’s farm is just about perfect. It belongs with the finest writing of its kind.” — Wendell Berry

“As a boy, James Rebanks’s grandfather taught him to work the land the old way. Their family farm in the Lake District hills was part of an ancient agricultural landscape: a patchwork of crops and meadows, of pastures grazed with livestock, and hedgerows teeming with wildlife. And yet, by the time James inherited the farm, it was barely recognizable. The men and women had vanished from the fields; the old stone barns had crumbled; the skies had emptied of birds and their wind-blown song… And yet this elegy from the northern fells is also a song of hope: of how, guided by the past, one farmer began to salvage a tiny corner of England that was now his, doing his best to restore the life that had vanished and to leave a legacy for the future.”

Tiny Victory Gardens: Growing food without a yard by Acadia Tucker and Emily Castle

Stone Pier Press, 2021

“The regenerative farmer and author, Acadia Tucker, is back with her third book — a guide to growing crops in a confined space. Inspired by the rise in popularity of gardening during the pandemic, Tiny Victory Gardens is full of suggestions, tips and recipes about the best types of produce to grow in containers. No outdoor space necessary.” — Modern Farmer

“Regenerative farmer Acadia Tucker proves it’s possible to grow food without land. Climate activist and farmer Acadia Tucker fell in love with container gardening after glimpsing its potential to produce food — lots of food. By applying select growing practices, and managing for square inches rather than square feet, she has come up with instructions for growing a small-scale farm on your patio, your stoop, or in your dining room. If what you want is a garden big enough to line a windowsill, she’s got you covered there.

“Tucker also describes how to maximize the environmental impact of growing food in pots. She offers tips on attracting pollinators, shows how to build microbe-rich living soil, and explains ways to ditch harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Her goal is to make it easier for anyone with access to a patch of sun to grow food, no backyard required.”

How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet by Sophie Egan

Workman Publishing Company, 2020

“Is organic really worth it? Are eggs ok to eat? If so, which ones are best for you, and for the chicken — Cage-Free, Free-Range, Pasture-Raised? What about farmed salmon, soy milk, sugar, gluten, fermented foods, coconut oil, almonds? Thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or somewhere in between?

“Using three criteria: Is it good for me? Is it good for others? Is it good for the planet? To eat consciously is not about diets, fads, or hard-and-fast rules. It’s about having straightforward, accurate information to make smart, thoughtful choices amid the chaos of conflicting news and marketing hype…a practical guide to making food choices that are good for you, others, and the planet.”

Foraging for Wild Edible Foods by Jim Kavanaugh

Waterford Press, 2018

“Foraging involves finding, identifying and harvesting wild edible plants. It is a healthy outdoor activity that puts one in touch with nature and provides a bounty of fresh, nutritious, free food. This handy pocket guide provides simplified reference to the approved practices for harvesting wild edible plants in a sustainable manner.

“Topics include a harvesting strategy, safety (including the universal edibility test), and the proper tools and methods to harvest berries/fruits, nuts, leaves/shoots/stems, roots/tubers and mushrooms. Laminated for durability, this lightweight, pocket-sized folding guide is a portable source of practical information and is ideal for field use by outdoor enthusiasts of all ages.”

The Meat Question: Animals, Humans, and the Deep History of Food by Josh Berson

MIT Press 2019

“After reading The Meat Question, I have a better understanding of why it is not effective to use single issue arguments like health, environment, climate change and animal cruelty to convince people to reduce or eliminate their animal consumption…Berson shows us how to think about eating animals in broader terms.” — Truthdig

“A provocative argument that eating meat is not what made humans human and that the future is not necessarily carnivorous.

“Considering the full sweep of meat’s history, Berson concludes provocatively that the future is not necessarily carnivorous. Berson, an anthropologist and historian, argues that we have the relationship between biology and capitalism backward. We may associate meat-eating with wealth, but in fact, meat-eating is a sign of poverty; cheap meat — hunger killing, easy to prepare, eaten on the go — enables a capitalism defined by inequality. To answer the meat question, says Berson, we need to think about meat-eating in a way that goes beyond Paleo diets and PETA protests to address the deeply entwined economic and political lives of humans and animals past, present, and future.”

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column “At the farm gate” discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Image credit: congerdesign/Pixabay

BW Lois Ross - Version 4 (1)

Lois Ross

Lois L. Ross has spent the past 30 years working in Communications for a variety of non-profit organizations in Canada, including the North-South Institute. Born into a farm family in southern Saskatchewan,...