“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book,” wrote Jane Smiley.
I’m inclined to agree with her. Books take us on journeys to new ways of thinking. They elevate our understanding of the world around us. And they share this wisdom even further when we pass these pages along to friends.
With Memorial Weekend here, I invited a farmer, fisherman, journalist and chaplain to share the names of some of their favorite books about food and agriculture. Here’s what they recommended…
Chris Sayer’s Pick: The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber
Based about an hour north of Los Angeles, Chris Sayer is a fifth-generation farmer who grows lemons, avocados, specialty citrus and figs. About the book he says:
“Dan’s book had been on my reading list for a while because I knew it would connect thematically with the cover crop rotations that we employ at Petty Ranch.
I was delighted to find that the author embraces the complexity of melding older traditions with newer science, shows considerable candor about some of his efforts that came up short and avoids the simple prescriptions and ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions that often pass for discussions on sustainability.”
Read more about Chris Sayer, Petty Ranch and farming in Southern California.
Brett Tolley’s Pick: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg
This community organizer from the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance comes from a four-generation commercial fishing family out of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He says about his book choice:
“Often times when it comes to our food system discussions, seafood and the health of our ocean are not on the table. And yet the same industrial models that have displaced family farmers, eroded our land ecosystems and undermined local economies are being mimicked on the ocean.
Paul Greenberg’s book Four Fish provides a glimpse into the complexities of our globalized seafood system and also sheds light on the good work happening to reclaim the ocean commons.”
Read more about Brett Tolley, sustainable seafood and Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.
Simran Sethi’s Pick: Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories by war reporter Anna Badhken.
Simran Sethi is the author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love (HarperCollins, 2015) – a book which our editor Rose Hayden-Smith highly recommends – as well as a sustainability associate at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
She says about her book choice:
“The book was published in 2010, but resonates just as strongly today as it chronicles resilience in times of war through the universal connector, food.
Peace Meals is set against the backdrop of conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and throughout the Middle East. It highlights our collective humanity amid destruction through the humble acts of eating together. The book has stayed with me; as I read about wars in Syria and elsewhere, I think back to Badkhen, and the tenacious acts of love that manifest through bread, dolma, kebabs and more.”
Peace Meals, Badhken writes,
“is a tribute to all my host families who live, and perish, on the edges of the world.
It is my invitation to connect with the ordinary people trapped in mass violence of the last decade in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and in East Africa; to break bread with them; and to peer past the looking glass of warfare led or backed by the United States into the lives of the people who, despite the violence and privation that kill their loved ones and decimate their towns, somehow, persevere.”
Read more about Simran Sethi, genetic diversity and saving the foods we love.
Sarah Nolan’s Pick: Scripture, Culture and Agriculture by Ellen Davis
Sarah Nolan is a founding member of The Abundant Table, a unique faith-based farming and education enterprise, which is based in Ventura County, California. This farmer-theologian says about her choice:
“This book offers a refreshing reflection on both Christian and Jewish sacred texts through an agrarian perspective. It invites readers to see how integral agriculture was to the political and religious life of these ancient peoples and what insight that might offer us today.”
She also recommends: Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
“This classic book is essential reading for our organization, because it brings together reflections on agriculture, community, spirituality and culture through an engaging story of a young boy’s journey to understand himself and the world around him.
For The Abundant Table, fiction reading is just as important as non-fiction to inspire our work.”
Read more about Sarah Nolan and The Abundant Table.
Editor’s note: You might also enjoy From Cows to Concrete, a new book about Los Angeles County’s history as the nation’s most bountiful farming area for four decades.