Welcome back to our continuing series on the 100 "best-ish" nonfiction titles around, undertaken in response to Time magazine's 100 Best Nonfiction Titles (no qualifying "ish" for them, damnit, they really did list the best!). Taking their categories in turn, rightfully today we should look at Food and Health books.
But first a word about those categories. The Time list is broken down into various nonfiction subject and type categories, and I can't say I agree with most of them. I say, either list the 100 top books and skip the categorization, or pick things a little less randomly. Food and Health aren't the worst categories, but later on we'll be tackling "Nonfiction Novels" and "Social History" (as opposed to History). In the meantime there, are no Travel, True Crime, or Nature Writing categories. What's up with that? Weird, Time editors, weird.
But I digress. Food and Health, okay, here we go. Here's Time's titles:
How to Cook a Wolf, by M.F.K. Fisher
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, by Dr. Benjamin Spock
The Joy of Sex, by Dr. Alex Comfort
The Kinsey Reports, by Alfred Kinsey
Our Bodies, Ourselves, by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Now, I'm going to quibble with a lot of these on the basis that they are not so much books you read as books you refer to: particularly the Art of French Cooking (which I own and which is incredible, but which is not really a book you read or even particularly use. It's largely a book you have around because you love Julia Child, and because someday you intend to use it, really), the Dr. Spock book, and Our Bodies etc. And really? The Kinsey Reports? Time magazine thinks we're actually going to pick up The Kinsey Reports? I can't even get myself to watch the movie Kinsey, although I do sort of want to see it. Ironically, I'm just never in the mood.
Anyway. Here's what I would suggest for three food titles (keeping in mind I already listed the Bourdain in memoirs):
The Tummy Trilogy, by Calvin Trillin. If you've never read Trillin, you're in for a treat. He writes about food and travel (and his wife, Alice) with such a lovely and light descriptive touch. Yummy.
Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do, by Gabriel Thompson. By rights, this title should go in an Investigative/Journalism/Current Affairs section, but the Time list didn't include that category either. (Weak, Time editors, weak.) I'm including it in Food because there should be at least one title about our currently fucked-up system of food production and consumption, and this is the one that sticks in my head. (Of course anything by Wendell Berry would be good too.) This is the title that turned me off supermarket chicken breasts for good, simply because Thompson's description of the horrific working conditions inside chicken plants made me so sad (not only for the chickens, but mostly for the workers handling the chickens).
I think the M.F.K. Fisher is a good choice, but why that title? Why not the better known The Art of Eating?
So: what food titles would you suggest? Don't hold back; it's not a category I know really well, so I'm sure I'm missing tons of titles.
And now this post is too long--tune in for Health sometime later this week. Geez, this list stuff takes work. I'll bet those Time editors were worn out by the time they cooked up their list.