Reading list: Food and drink
Our Dog Days of Summer food-and-drink reading list
Words— JP Karwacki
Summer’s the season best associated with getting out there, having fun, having some drinks, and all around lotus-eating. However, it's important to not let your mind fall asleep by reading a good book now and then. Just as the body needs a good workout, so too does the brain. Consider the following reads—centered around the subject of the persistently trendy topic of food—to entertain and teach yourself, if not give you fodder for conversations at parties.
by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
This text from the mid-19th-century French lawyer-turned-gourmand is an essential read for anyone wanting to dig at the heart of what good food is, let alone what good writing on food is. As this is an older book to leaf through, a reader can expect to find what may be deemed excessively verbose passages on something as simple as bread and butter or wine, but it’s nonetheless valuable for anyone who wants to dig into food philosophically. Inspired by the work of the ancient Greek thinker Epicurious, Brillat-Savarin may not have been the first to write about food, but his work is practically a father of the genre of food writing itself. Ever wonder where the phrase “you are what you eat” come from? Now you know.
By George Orwell
What better way to learn about the value of food than when you have to scrounge through life trying to get enough of it? Orwell’s memoir on the subject of being destitute in the cities of Paris and London in the 1920s is a masterclass in the hard times that follow the misfortunes we don’t expect, and the lengths we can find ourselves going to scratch our way out. When it comes to the subject of food specifically, Orwell spends much of the first half of this book in Paris, where he worked in some of the roughest kitchens one can eke a living out of as a plonguer. His observations regarding working in restaurants, and how running one’s self-ragged is a struggle that curiously mixes Sisyphean torture with stoic nobility, is endearing as it is addictive.
By M.F.K. Fisher
Chances are that that whoever’s reading this hasn’t known what it’s like to struggle in wartimes, but likely has had a moment at some point where the pantry and fridge were bare. The reason why you’d want to read this text from 1942—other than the fact that it’s beautifully-written by one of the most accomplished American authors of the 20th century—is that the author knew that even when the prospects for cooking and eating are starting to look grim, the last thing we should do is despair. With tongue-in-cheek witticisms running throughout, Fisher makes one thing clear: To aspire to live and eat well in the face of adversity can be, in itself, an act of both elegance and rebellion against what can be an otherwise boring life. If you want to be inspired to live even just a little, keep this one close.
By Alice B. Toklas
For the longest time, cookbooks would contain nothing more than pleasant anecdotes about when and where a recipe would be good for. This cookbook—in this author’s opinion—was one of the first to truly break that mould by supplying hilarious and enlightening stories to go along with the recipes it contains. Among those is one of the first credited appearances of pot brownies in the form of Hashish Fudge”, but there’s so much more to appreciate this book from cover to cover for. There’s Toklas’ railing against the French’s snacking tendencies, other food-based curios to cook up like Green Mashed Potatoes. Out of all of these books, if you’re looking to liven up dinner parties, potlucks, or a meal at home, this is the book to try cooking out of.
By Jen Agg
In this Torontonian restauranteur’s memoir and musings surrounding her beginnings and struggles in her line of work lies a wealth of insider information on the history and current state of the industry that surrounds eating out. From the perils of starting a new business to partnership squabbles, the value of food’s mediascape to the value of hospitable design, Agg has written a book that seamlessly moves back and forth between reminiscing on her experiences in bars and restaurants and her personal life; perhaps because they’re so intertwined? Above all, Agg gives a first-hand glimpse into the struggles that follow working as a woman in an industry otherwise unfairly dominated by men, and the ability to find self-love in the face of failure, criticism, and doubt. All that, and it’s as easy to digest as a bag of chips.
Banner image: Fernando Botero's Picnic (1989)