When I started writing my post on food policy books I realized I had two books left to talk about, but I’d already gone on far longer than even I wanted to read. So I saved them so I could talk about them a little more in depth. Have you noticed I really like talking about food? Especially food policy? I also really like to eat. And I like to see why other people eat the way they do. These two books are by authors that normally write fiction, but obviously also spend a lot of time thinking about food. They spend so much time that they both took a chunk of time out of their writing careers to publish non-fiction books on their food journeys. I think that it’s because they write fiction, that these books are so enjoyable and interesting. Even if you decide, as I did, that you couldn’t possibly model your diets off of theirs, their journeys into how various parts of the food system work and how those parts affect the earth, will make you a more mindful and informed eater.
I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close mostly on an airplane. Considering how emotional I usually get on plane flights (I recall crying to Enya once), the story of a young boy whose father dies on September 11th was probably not a wise choice. Despite that, I loved Foer’s sensitivity and creative storytelling. While you won’t find the alternative formatting in his nonfiction book, the ethos is certainly there. In Eating Animals, Foer takes on factory farming. In his novel Everything is Illuminated, the main character, also named Jonathan Safran Foer and also a vegetarian, goes to Ukraine and is humorously offered all sorts of animal products. His family has never heard of a vegetarian before. Foer tells almost the same story in non-fiction form in Eating Animals. That’s when you know that the author has been working through these thoughts for some time.
Foer is pretty graphic when he talks about his visits to factory farms and commercial fisheries. If you don’t like to read about animal mistreatment or canals of feces you should probably skip this book. He’s a little more fervent in his views than the authors I mentioned in my previous post, but he still shines a light on a lot of practices that should be a problem for anyone who cares where their food comes from. This is a book that covers all the reasons people might have to be vegan, from the animal welfare angle to the environmental aspects. Even though it’s packed with so much information, Foer’s lyrical style makes it as gripping as any novel.
Barbara Kingsolver has written so many things that I should read, but haven’t. We chose her book The Poisonwood Bible for our book club, but it was one of the few that I skipped. I think I was just busy. Or maybe reading Game of Thrones. I don’t know. Flight Behavior is one of the top books on any cli-fi list and most of her novels have a strong sense of place. This is also very true in her non-fiction food experiment, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
Kingsolver and her family move to a farm in Virginia and commit to eating only things they can grow themselves or source locally. Each chapter covers a month. Some months, as you can imagine, have much better menus than others. Every time I eat asparagus I think of her celebration of the short growing season of the vegetable. It seems like it must taste so much more delicious, not only because of its freshness, but because of its scarcity when it’s only eaten in season.
Unlike Foer, Kingsolver has no problem eating meat. She describes in detail how her youngest daughter raises chickens and how the girl learns to be a savvy businesswoman between selling the eggs and the meat. Even though I read the book a few years ago, her descriptions are so succulent that I can feel my mouth watering as I recall her forays into cheesemaking. It was a struggle for her family to follow the guidelines and she knows this is not a realistic lifestyle. She uses her experiment to discuss the differences between factory farming and big agriculture, and the locavore movement. While her book doesn’t quite have the activist fervor of Foer, her gentle passion is just as motivating.
While approaching the food issue from very different angles and with their distinct styles, it’s evident that both authors use their expertise with fiction to bring life to their non-fiction. If you’re looking for something that’s lest “just the facts ma’am” and more emotionally fulfilling, either of these books will provide satisfaction.