Book of the Month

AgBookClub 2020 Selections

The year is quickly winding down and early sunsets and chilly weather have us in the mood for curling up on the couch with a warm drink and a good book. As you think about your holiday gift ideas, consider these upcoming 2020 book selections and encourage your friends and family to join #AgBookClub! We also have links to lots of our favorite reads over on the AgBookClub Book List.

The #AgBookClub Twitter chat takes place every Wednesday at 8pm Central time and is open to all! (First time joining a Twitter chat? Here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know.)


January

The first selection of the new year is a new book from a familiar author. Food Bullying: How to Avoid Buying B.S.* by Michele Payn is a great read on food choices and the subsequent bullying has become common online by those who feel their choices are superior. Learn about the most targeted food choices and what can be done to end the bullying.

Food Bullying: Are You Buying B.S. reveals the $5.75 trillion secret that food marketers and celebrity spokespeople don’t want you to know and provides tools to defend your food choices.

More than 40,000 products can be found in a grocery store, making it a playground for food bullying and leading consumers to believe that B.S. (bull speak) food is superior. Positioning one food as superior to another lies at the heart of food bullying and marketing profits. Misleading marketing has made food an unnecessarily emotional topic where each choice is seemingly a moral statement or social movement.

Food Bullying upends the way you think about food and gives you permission to make eating choices based on your own social, ethical, environmental, and health standards rather than brand, friend, or Facebook claims. Michele Payn, one of North America’s leading voices in connecting farm and food, takes a startling look at the misrepresentation of food and sheds light on bogus nutrition and environmental claims to help you recognize and stand up to the bullies. Food Bullying guides you through understanding food label claims and offers insight on “the hidden world of farming”. Armed with science and a lifetime on the farm, Michele provides a six-step action plan for you to overcome food bullying, simplify safe food choices, and even save time in the grocery store.


February

If you follow agriculture topics on social media or in politics, you’ve likely heard of USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement). While USMCA (at the time of this post) is still waiting to be passed in the U.S., now is a good time to revisit the importance of policy in agricultural trade. We hope that Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico* by Alyshia Galvez will give us a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of international trade agreements and the importance of fair negotiation for the benefit of all.

Mexican cuisine has emerged as a paradox of globalization. Food enthusiasts throughout the world celebrate the humble taco at the same time that Mexicans are eating fewer tortillas and more processed food. Today Mexico is experiencing an epidemic of diet-related chronic illness. The precipitous rise of obesity and diabetes—attributed to changes in the Mexican diet—has resulted in a public health emergency.
 
In her gripping new book, Alyshia Gálvez exposes how changes in policy following NAFTA have fundamentally altered one of the most basic elements of life in Mexico—sustenance. Mexicans are faced with a food system that favors food security over subsistence agriculture, development over sustainability, market participation over social welfare, and ideologies of self-care over public health. Trade agreements negotiated to improve lives have resulted in unintended consequences for people’s everyday lives.


March

For many, eating animals is an unspeakable act. Yet for centuries, society has depended upon animal protein for survival, with animal protein being the number one purchase for families in poorer countries who find themselves with extra income. Eating Animals*+ by Jonathan Safran Roer will help us examine the difference between omnivores and vegetarians/vegans and what motivates us to choose – or avoid – animal protein for nourishment.

Part memoir and part investigative report, Eating Animals is a groundbreaking moral examination of vegetarianism, farming, and the food we eat every day that inspired the documentary of the same name.

Bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his life oscillating between enthusiastic carnivore and occasional vegetarian. For years he was content to live with uncertainty about his own dietary choices-but once he started a family, the moral dimensions of food became increasingly important.

Faced with the prospect of being unable to explain why we eat some animals and not others, Foer set out to explore the origins of many eating traditions and the fictions involved with creating them. Traveling to the darkest corners of our dining habits, Foer raises the unspoken question behind every fish we eat, every chicken we fry, and every burger we grill.


April

The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World*+ by Amanda Little brings our conversation to the topics of sustainability and the environment. As planting season (hopefully) is underway and the U.S. celebrates Earth Day this month, both topics are frequently top of mind at this time of year. How will agriculture need to adapt in order to survive the increasing social pressure as climate change dominates the news feed?

In the fascinating story of the sustainable food revolution, an environmental journalist and professor asks the question: Is the future of food looking bleak—or better than ever?
 
Climate models show that global crop production will decline every decade for the rest of this century due to drought, heat, and flooding. Water supplies are in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the world’s population is expected to grow another 30 percent by midcentury. So how, really, will we feed nine billion people sustainably in the coming decades?

Amanda Little, a professor at Vanderbilt University and an award-winning journalist, spent three years traveling through a dozen countries and as many U.S. states in search of answers to this question. Her journey took her from an apple orchard in Wisconsin to a remote control organic farm in Shanghai, from Norwegian fish farms to famine-stricken regions of Ethiopia.
 
The race to reinvent the global food system is on, and the challenge is twofold: We must solve the existing problems of industrial agriculture while also preparing for the pressures ahead. Through her interviews and adventures with farmers, scientists, activists, and engineers, Little tells the fascinating story of human innovation and explores new and old approaches to food production while charting the growth of a movement that could redefine sustainable food on a grand scale. She meets small permaculture farmers and “Big Food” executives, botanists studying ancient superfoods and Kenyan farmers growing the country’s first GMO corn. She travels to places that might seem irrelevant to the future of food yet surprisingly play a critical role—a California sewage plant, a U.S. Army research lab, even the inside of a monsoon cloud above Mumbai. Little asks tough questions: Can GMOs actually be good for the environment—and for us? Are we facing the end of animal meat? What will it take to eliminate harmful chemicals from farming? How can a clean, climate-resilient food supply become accessible to all?

Throughout her journey, Little finds and shares a deeper understanding of the threats of climate change and encounters a sense of awe and optimism about the lessons of our past and the scope of human ingenuity.


May

As we get further into 2020, we hope that The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats*+ by Daniel Stone will bring a refreshing change of pace to AgBookClub discussions as we explore how our food choices have evolved over time in response to necessity and abundance.

The true adventures of David Fairchild, a late-nineteenth-century food explorer who traveled the globe and introduced diverse crops like avocados, mangoes, seedless grapes—and thousands more—to the American plate.

In the nineteenth century, American meals were about subsistence, not enjoyment. But as a new century approached, appetites broadened, and David Fairchild, a young botanist with an insatiable lust to explore and experience the world, set out in search of foods that would enrich the American farmer and enchant the American eater.

Kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, and hops from Bavaria. Peaches from China, avocados from Chile, and pomegranates from Malta. Fairchild’s finds weren’t just limited to food: From Egypt he sent back a variety of cotton that revolutionized an industry, and via Japan he introduced the cherry blossom tree, forever brightening America’s capital. Along the way, he was arrested, caught diseases, and bargained with island tribes. But his culinary ambition came during a formative era, and through him, America transformed into the most diverse food system ever created.


June

Another book from a familiar author is on the slate for June. Unnaturally Delicious: How Science and Technology are Serving Up Super Foods to Save the World* by Jayson Lusk also explores changes in our diets, but from the perspective of a changing food system and politics that surround our plate. How has innovation changed the way we eat now and in the future?

The food discussion in America can be quite pessimistic. With high obesity rates, diabetes, climate change, chemical use, water contamination, and farm animal abuse, it would seem that there wasn’t very much room for a positive perspective. The fear that there just isn’t enough food has expanded to new areas of concern about water availability, rising health care costs, and dying bees.

In Unnaturally Delicious, Lusk makes room for optimism by writing the story of the changing food system, suggesting that technology and agriculture can work together in a healthy and innovative way to help solve the world’s largest food issues and improve the farming system as we know it.

This is the story of the innovators and innovations shaping the future of food. You’ll meet an ex-farmer entrepreneur whose software is now being used all over the world to help farmers increase yields and reduce nutrient runoff and egg producers who’ve created new hen housing systems that improve animal welfare at an affordable price. There are scientists growing meat in the lab. Without the cow. College students are coaxing bacteria to signal food quality and fight obesity. Nutrient enhanced rice and sweet potatoes are aiming to solve malnutrition in the developing world. Geneticists are creating new wheat varieties that allow farmers sustainably grow more with less. And, we’ll learn how to get fresh, tasty, 3D printed food at the touch of a button, perhaps even delivered to us by a robotic chef.

Innovation is the American way. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington Carver, and John Harvey Kellogg were food and agricultural entrepreneurs. Their delicious innovations led to new healthy, tasty, convenient, and environmentally friendly food. The creations were unnaturally delicious. Unnatural because the foods and practices they fashioned were man-made solutions to natural and man-made problems.

Now the world is filled with new challenges changing the way we think about food. Who are the scientists, entrepreneurs, and progressive farmers who meet these challenges and search for solutions? Unnaturally Delicious has the answers.


July

Many AgBookClub participants (including both of your hosts) are from the Midwest and have strong Midwestern roots. The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South*+ by Michael W. Twitty will give us an interesting perspective on the cuisine in not only a different region, but from someone who has an entirely different background than the majority of those in agriculture who were Midwestern born-and-raised. We’re looking forward to learning more about African-American culture, from enslaved farm laborers to free farm owners.

A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.

Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.

From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia.

As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.


August

Society likes to flip back and forth between hating butter and loving it. In Butter: A Rich History* by Elaine Khosrova, we’ll be looking at butter from a historical aspect – the origin, the cultural aspects, and how to pick the best butter to enhance our favorite recipes.

After traveling across three continents to stalk the modern story of butter, award-winning food writer and former pastry chef Elaine Khosrova serves up a story as rich, textured, and culturally relevant as butter itself.

From its humble agrarian origins to its present-day artisanal glory, butter has a fascinating story to tell, and Khosrova is the perfect person to tell it. With tales about the ancient butter bogs of Ireland, the pleasure dairies of France, and the sacred butter sculptures of Tibet, Khosrova details butter’s role in history, politics, economics, nutrition, and even spirituality and art. Readers will also find the essential collection of core butter recipes, including beurre manié, croissants, pâte brisée, and the only buttercream frosting anyone will ever need, as well as practical how-tos for making various types of butter at home–or shopping for the best.


September

The Farm Bill. We’ve all heard of it and probably know enough about it to understand that it’s important, but what is the true impact of it on agriculture? The Fault Lines of Farm Policy* by Jonathan Coppess will explain just that as well as what the future of agricultural policy may hold.

At the intersection of the growing national conversation about our food system and the long-running debate about our government’s role in society is the complex farm bill. American farm policy, built on a political coalition of related interests with competing and conflicting demands, has proven incredibly resilient despite development and growth.

In The Fault Lines of Farm Policy Jonathan Coppess analyzes the legislative and political history of the farm bill, including the evolution of congressional politics for farm policy. Disputes among the South, the Great Plains, and the Midwest form the primordial fault line that has defined the debate throughout farm policy’s history. Because these regions formed the original farm coalition and have played the predominant roles throughout, this study concentrates on the three major commodities produced in these regions: cotton, wheat, and corn. Coppess examines policy development by the political and congressional interests representing these commodities, including basic drivers such as coalition building, external and internal pressures on the coalition and its fault lines, and the impact of commodity prices. This exploration of the political fault lines provides perspectives for future policy discussions and more effective policy outcomes. 


October

Size Matters: Why We Love to Hate Big Food* is authored Charlie Arnot, head of the Center for Food Integrity. In this selection, we will dive into the perceptions consumers have of today’s food system and how they’re shaping the food and agriculture industries for the future.

Despite food being safer, more affordable and more available than at any time in human history, consumers are increasingly skeptical and critical of today’s food system. In Size Matters, Charlie Arnot provides thought provoking insight into how the food system lost consumer trust, what can be done to restore it, and the remarkable changes taking place on farms and in food companies, supermarkets and restaurants every day as technology and consumer demand drive radical change. The very systems and technologies that are mistrusted by consumers are driving a revolution that empowers individual consumers to find the perfect recipe of taste and nutrition to meet their specific needs and desires. Size Matters pulls back the curtain to examine the irony, competing priorities and new realities that shape today’s food system.


November

With cold weather settling in and the holiday season approaching, we hope take a step back and pick up a narrative for cozy reading in the dark evenings this month. Hope Jahren, author of Lab Girl*+, is a scientist who has spent a lot of time with plants and soil, similar to many of us in agriculture. We look forward to learning more about how a child interested in science turned her dream into a career without sacrificing her personal life.

Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together. 



December

We’re excited to start thinking about the holiday baking season with December’s selection, Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking* by Linda Civitello. We expect this book will take us to a time where brands were just beginning to make a name for themselves in a world where groceries were traditionally purchased in bulk at the general store.

First patented in 1856, baking powder sparked a classic American struggle for business supremacy. For nearly a century, brands battled to win loyal consumers for the new leavening miracle, transforming American commerce and advertising even as they touched off a chemical revolution in the world’s kitchens. Linda Civitello chronicles the titanic struggle that reshaped America’s diet and rewrote its recipes. Presidents and robber barons, bare-knuckle litigation and bold-faced bribery, competing formulas and ruthless pricing–Civitello shows how hundreds of companies sought market control, focusing on the big four of Rumford, Calumet, Clabber Girl, and the once-popular brand Royal. She also tells the war’s untold stories, from Royal’s claims that its competitors sold poison, to the Ku Klux Klan’s campaign against Clabber Girl and its German Catholic owners. Exhaustively researched and rich with detail, Baking Powder Wars is the forgotten story of how a dawning industry raised Cain–and cakes, cookies, muffins, pancakes, donuts, and biscuits.


* Kindle version available

+ Audible audiobook available

 

Have something you’d like to add to AgBookClub’s future reading list? Suggest a book here!

Happy Reading!

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