“How” books

In today’s mailbox were two bits of nonfiction from the shadowy waysides of the cookbook industry: food memoir and food exposé.  I call them “how” books, as opposed to “how-to” books.  That’s because of their subtitles, which tell you so much about the content that they almost save you the trouble of reading it.


Exhibit A is Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.  Back when Fast Food Nation came out, followed by the hit documentary “Supersize Me”, the Big Food exposé seemed brash and new.  Since then the public has become both better-informed and more resigned to the risks and horrors of industrial food.  Still, for anyone who has ever palmed a rock-hard, bright-red winter tomato and asked themselves “How did this happen?” the book may at last provide some answers.

feast nearby

Then there’s Robin Mather’s The Feast Nearby: how I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week).  As the author of a soon-to-be-published memoir-based book myself, I would never suggest that the genre has played out.  Yet I can’t shake the feeling that I have read this book–or one exactly like it–before.

Taken together, however, these two books say something else about our relationship with food, and that is this: when it comes to food, we readers are so fascinated that even bad news, and news we’ve heard before (i.e., news that’s not even news) can still hold our attention.

Somehow, I find that heartening.

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