Who Needs Beach Reads? — My Summer Reading List

As readers of my About page know, one big reason I started this blog was my consciousness-raising discovery of Janet Poppendieck’s new book, Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.  I’ve mentioned that book here so often, you can all be forgiven for assuming that Ms. Poppendieck and I are secretly related, or that I have some lucrative royalty deal with her publisher, but in truth, it’s just an awesome book for anyone trying to wade through the byzantine mess that is our current national school lunch program and interested in ideas for fixing it.

Since then, I’ve expanded my school food/food politics reading library and thought it might be nice to swap book ideas with Lunch Tray readers.  So, forget those juicy beach novels everyone else has lined up for the summer. Here’s what’s on my shelf right now:

The End of Overeating, by David Kessler.  Our former FDA Commissioner has written a book about how the food industry manipulates the fat, sugar and salt in products to stimulate our appetites and encourage overeating, much as the tobacco industry manipulates the contents of its cigarettes to encourage addiction.  As readers of my post, “My Love Affair with Stacy – and What it’s Doing to the Kids” know, I once mocked Dr. Kessler for this premise, but then my out-of-control passion for Stacy’s Simply Naked pita chips (damn you, Stacy!) quickly brought me around.   I’m in the middle of this one right now and very intrigued by it.

School Lunch Politics by Susan Levine.  This book came out around the same time as Free for All, making 2010 a banner year for those interested in school lunch.   I’m only just starting this one, but I can already see that it’s more social-history-driven than Free for All, including some fascinating insights on how such seemingly far-flung issues as race, desegregation and gender have played into the development of the current school lunch program.

Food Fight, by Kelly Brownell.  Dr. Brownell is the Director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders.  This book attempts to get a handle on the obesity crisis in America and offers public policy initiatives for reversing the trend.  I haven’t yet read it, but since the folks at the Center for Consumer Freedom seem to especially loathe Dr. Brownell, I already know I’m going to love it.  :-)

Food Politics, by Marion Nestle.  Nestle (pronounced like the verb “to nestle” and no relation to the nefarious chocolate and baby formula company), is a professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health and a professor of Sociology at NYU.  This book cracks open how the food industry influences health and nutrition in America.  I haven’t yet read it, but when I’m trying to simplify complex issues for this blog, I often consult Nestle’s straightforward commentary on food policy over at The Atlantic.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.  This one’s been out for a long time and I’m sure many of you have already read it.  If not, run, don’t walk, to your nearest book store.  Pollan amazes me again and again, not just with his often beautiful prose (the kind of writing where you stop and reread a passage just for the pleasure of it) but with his ingenious way of looking at things, such as exploring how a corn plant manipulates humans, rather than the other way around.  Other Pollan books to explore: In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto, and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.  Also, as readers Penny and Em recently informed me, there’s a kid’s version of The Omnivore’s Dilemma as well, which I’m already planning to suggest for my mother-daughter book club in the fall.

Food Matters, by Mark Bittman. The cookbook author and regular New York Times contributor has written a book about how the food we eat is doing damage to the environment, what changes to make, and why. Bittman’s recipes are also included.

So, have you read any of the above?  If so, thumbs up or thumbs down?  And what other kid-and-food, school lunch, and food policy books do you want to add to the list?  Share your thoughts and recommendations in a comment below.


  1. Viki says

    Great list!
    Anything by Michael Pollan!! I love love love how he writes.
    So far this year I’ve read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “Food Rules” & I’m in the middle of “In Defense of Food”. All are excellent.

    I started my adventure with “Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children” by Ann Cooper & Lisa M. Holmes . Then I read The Gospel of Food: Everything you Think You Know About Food Is Wrong” by Garry Glassner.
    I picked up Fast Food Nation and Chew on This by Eric Schlosser after seeing the movie Food Inc. (these books are being donated to a friend’s classroom he teaches health to 9th graders and is glad to add them to his class library)

    I’ve got several more on my reading list for this Summer:
    Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck
    What to Eat by Marion Nestle
    Food Politics by Marion Nestle
    Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carrol
    The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
    and Nourishing Traditions to see what all the noise is about. As you can see my plate is pretty full.
    Oh and I totally agree with you about Stacey!! She can be so evil. If I let her in my house I have no control what so ever, there is just something about the mix of carb, salt and oil that is perfect…and the crunch! She could be my downfall, when I am around her I have no willpower, my mouth starts to water. If I send my husband to Costco on his own, he comes home with a Giant bag and all is lost.

    • bettina elias siegel says

      Love your list, too – didn’t even know that Ann Cooper had a book! I feel another visit to Amazon is in my near future. And so glad you share my Stacy obsession. Not everyone gets it! – Bettina

  2. Caroline says

    So glad to add to my reading list. I am a Pollan fan. Add Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; she reminds you that there are seasons.

  3. NotCinderell says

    I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma; In Defense of Food; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Food Politics. All are great. Food Politics is a dense read, though, so don’t beat yourself up if you read it out of order to get to the good parts first.

    Also, I am looking through Fat Land by Greg Critser again, and I recently read The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon.

  4. Jordan says

    Don’t expect more than “tax hike” answers from Brownell. As a scientist, I have a problem with psychologists acting like they understand metabolism. He’s a psychologist, so he doesn’t understand. He’s also about 75 pounds overweight, so there you go.

    I’ve got all of Pollan’s books. Why, I don’t know. I’ve tried to read them all. They are hard reads, even though I tend to agree with his message – at least from what I can gather in interviews and the like. His books are just way to wordy for me. Surprising since he’s a journalist.


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