ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

Food for Thought: Holiday Book Picks

Uncertain Peril
Clare Hope Cummings
"It comes down to this: whoever controls the future of seeds controls the future of life on earth.” Claire Hope Cummings isn’t afraid to snap her readers to attention with statements like that, but between wallops her writing is thoughtful, nuanced and carefully argued. She presents two books in one: first, a twisted history of how agricultural seeds have gone from public to private, particularly through genetic engineering; second, a hopeful vision for the future inspired by what Cummings sees as the central character of seeds—generosity. Uncertain Peril is a thorough primer on seed-related issues, but its excellent research and unusual narratives makes it a good read even for a seasoned farmer activist. - Lisa M. Hamilton

Closing the Food Gap
Mark Winne
You've heard the gripe: sustainable foods aren't accessible. But that doesn't mean they can't be. Mark Winne worked on getting good, healthy, local food into poor communities for decades and offers a sobering primer in this book. He doesn't just offer in-the-trenches stories of setting up farmers markets and food banks but of dealing with the political, economic and cultural impediments of feeding low-income communities. One solution inHartford: simply altering a bus route so poor residents could get to a decent grocery store. Another in Philadelphia: building out independent inner city grocery stores. In other words, solutions exist. They just aren't off-the-shelf. 

The Mad Farmer Poems
Wendell Berry
The lines in Wendell Berry’s latest book braid together the author’s many voices—wry satirist, defiant agrarian, gentle naturalist. Together these short poems aim to address, somehow, a world he finds both perilous and filled with beauty. “That is the glimmering vein/of our sanity,” he writes, “dividing us/from the start: land under us/to steady us when we stood,/free men in the great communion/of the free. The vision keeps/lighting in my mind, a window/on the horizon in the dark.” - LMH

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper
Fuchsia Dunlop
I came upon this book, subtitled “a sweet-sour memoir of eating in China,” after cooking with Fuchsia Dunlop’s excellent cookbooks on Sichuan and Hunan. A Brit foodie with a serious Jones for Chinese cuisine, specifically street food, she finagled her way into cooking school in Sichuan. From there to the far flung kitchens she visited, she honed her craft and immersed herself in a culture. Two caveats about this engaging book: first, you must love Chinese food, real versions of which are rare in the U.S. Secondly, you need a strong stomach for things we wouldn’t eat but which she eagerly pops in her mouth. If those are met, I see no better way to learn about the phenomenon that is China rising than through her food. - SF

Pet Food Politics
Marion Nestle
You're pet food isn't only pet food. It's intimately connected with the human food chain, as Marion Nestle shows in this short, incisive read. She weaves together the various strands of the melamine pet food disaster in 2007 and shows how the weak links in the (pet) food chain put our food at risk. If you're a pet owner who wants a primer on the incident, this is your book. If you're concerned about pet food that isn't just fed to pets -- well, this book is for you too. - SF

American Farmer
Paul Mobley and Katrina Fried 
This hulking, oversize book is a bear to get off the coffee table and into your lap, but it's worth it. The more than 150 portraits of farmers and farm families from throughout the United States are gorgeous, saturated with color and character. Organic-minded foodies might be disappointed to find it focuses on more conventional farmers, but that's the book's strength: it offers a sympathetic yet honest portrait of the whole spectrum of American farmers, not just the ones who make it to the pages of the dining section. - LMH


Fish Without A Doubt
Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore
No food is more intimidating to cook than fish, which is why people tend to save it for restaurants. That's a shame because it's actually one of the most versatile and fastest-cooking proteins around. Still, if sea creatures intimidate you, Moonen is your man. He balances challenging recipes with work-a-day meals in this lovely book, with a big emphasis on tips: that is, how to buy, store and work with fish. (The big winner in my book: paillards, or thin slices, of wild salmon seared on a cast iron grill in a minute or two. My five-year-old gobbles them up.) Another bonus is that every fish in this book is sustainable, and with so many options there's really no reason to eat anything else. In short, this book is an indespensible kitchen companion. - SF

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Ina Garten
Everyone has their go-to cookbooks. Well worn and batter-splattered, with recipes you eventually know-by-heart. Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Cookbook is one of mine. That’s why I was genuinely excited about her new Back to Basics. Garten’s all about flavor. Her take on simple still means elegant enough for company, but stress-free for me. Not so confident in the kitchen? This cookbook is one you can lean on, offering tips from how to garnish to an FAQ in the back answering questions on raw eggs and kosher salt. - Clare Leschin-Hoar

Renewing America's Food Traditions
Edited by Gary Paul Nabhan
Gary Paul Nabhan has been on a mission of connecting food to place, and in this gorgeous book zeros in on vanishing heritage foods. Organized around region, he offers foods from a once rich and diverse culinary landscape. The stories about these folk and Indian foods make for good reading, and while the recipes sound exotic, they were once as common as corn chips are today. A few that caught my fancy: "Broken crab and Choppee okra stew," "Crow bison cattail stew," "Cape Cod cranberry scones," and "Choctaw persimmon pudding" -- the latter, an immediate possibility since the fruit is now in season. - SF

Fresh & Honest
Peter Davis
In this book, local-foods champion Peter Davis celebrates the growers who’ve been supplying his Cambridge, MA-based restaurant for years. While some of the recipes are ambitious for a home cook, plenty are satisfying and winter-hardy like the maple stout-marinated beef brisket or the gingerbread cake with fresh cream.  - CLH

Christmas Cookies
Lisa Zwirn
Sam already knows I’m baking-impaired and cookie swaps give me anxiety. That’s why I’m enjoying Lisa Zwirn’s new cookbook Christmas Cookies. Fifty choices aren’t overwhelming and range from lemon squares (my favorite) to chocolate peppermint cookies. - CLH