Top 6 Must-Read Books About Food

Knowledge, like food, is something we can’t get enough of. Perhaps you already buy fresh seasonal food and know where you’re food comes from, but it’s always good to assess the reasoning behind our choices.

Are food manufacturers really as ethical as they claim to be? How does my meat contribute to climate change? What can I do in the kitchen to better support – and cook with – good food? Well, look no further, because these books have the answers.

  1. The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan

‘What’s for dinner?’ asks Pollan. On one hand, you’ve got cheap steak from corn-fed cattle processed the ‘American Way’. On the other, roast chicken from a relatively small and benign family-run farm, where harmful chemicals don’t even enter the imagination. This, as Pollan explores, is the omnivore’s dilemma. Generally believed to be Pollan’s magnum opus, The Omnivore’s Dilemma received a James Beard award in 2007.

Best quote: “But that’s the challenge — to change the system more than it changes you.”

2. Food Politics – Marion Nestle

This 500-page volume has become something of a manual to almost anyone interested in the food industry. Academic as it is informative, it’s not, dare I say, the most fun to read. Still, Nestle’s background (she’s worked with the FDA and the Department of Health) provides a unique insight into the inner workings, entrails and all, of an industry run on greed, deception, and negligence.

Best quote: “Unbelievable as it may seem, one-third of all vegetables consumed in the United States come from just three sources: french fries, potato chips, and iceberg lettuce.”

3. Nose to Tail Eating – Fergus Henderson

Henderson’s pioneering approach to using, and honouring, every part of a slaughtered beast (literally going the whole hog) has inspired thousands of chefs all over the world. Not discluding Anthony Bourdain, who regards this cookbook as ‘a cult masterpiece.’ Nose to Tail Eating immortalises Henderson’s wisdom in sustainable dining, whether that’s at home or in the restaurant.

Best quote: “If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing.

4. Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer

Eating Animals is perhaps the most compelling book on food industry criticism, as it’s known to switch many a meat lover to vegetarian, or even vegan. Foer explores the secret and inhumane methods in everyday factory farming – a parallel he draws with his grandmother’s experience of the Holocaust. Interestingly, Foer refuses to pine to Michal Pollan’s idea of the ‘table fellowship’.

Best quote: “Ninety-nine percent of all land animals eaten or used to produce milk and eggs in the United States are factory farmed. So although there are important exceptions, to speak about eating animals today is to speak about factory farming.”

5. Fast Food Nation – Eric Schlosser

While the book is almost fifteen years old, it’s no less pertinent. Better sill, the main focus is not just on America’s damaging affinity with convenient food, but the world’s too. With the help of abundant facts and statistics, Schlosser’s writing lifts the lid on the poorly paid farm labourers, life-threatening working conditions, and animal neglect; all to bring you a meal that much cheaper. ‘Thanks to this man, you’ll never eat a burger again,’ wrote the Evening Standard.

Best quote: “What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the previous forty thousand.”

6. Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets – Joanna Blythman

Ever thought about how tomatoes are so ripe, even when out of season? How about voluptuous loaves of bread that only cost £1? Or that strange tang experienced after eating a salad? As investigative journalist Joanna Blythman suggests, a lot of the seemingly healthy and natural foods we pick up in the supermarket are merely illusions of the real thing. This is essential reading for the home cook who assumes prepping dishes from scratch is a foolproof way to a healthy meal.

Best quote: I believe that hell will freeze over before the state takes action to protect us from the damage caused by processed food. Why? This industry is just so damn profitable.”


Hugh Thomas

Hugh Thomas

Hugh Thomas writes for The Guardian and Time Out about food and dining.


  1. I find that there are a lot of books and films that focus on the food industry in America. I was wondering if anyone knows of books that have greater focus on the UK and Europe? I would be particularly interested in meat and dairy production. I have a sense that we have a higher level of regulation and a less industrial system I want to get a grasp to what extent this is true.


    • Becky,
      Felicity Lawrence writes about our food system from a British/European perspective. Not on the Label and Eat Your Heart Out are two titles. For shorter bites, read her articles in the Guardian. All informative.

  2. I like to regard myself as relatively well informed about the food industry and yet I am still horrified and shocked that most people don’t have a basic awareness of where their food comes from and worse still, don’t care. Why don’t people care?! I’d like to see factory farming methods and food waste and production taught in schools. With books like these essential reading…..

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