Real Food Summer Reading: A Crash Course in Sustainable Eating

Sustainable Food: Talk the Talk

Are you interested in spending a little time this summer giving yourself a quick but thorough education on the sustainable food movement? Here are five crucial books by sustainable food advocates that lay out in clear terms the environmental, social, economic and public health problems our unsustainable modern industrialized food production system creates, and propose more sustainable solutions.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan:
One of today’s most popular authors on food, Michael Pollan’s ever-growing body of work on healthy, sustainable eating is widely considered must-read material for anyone interested in the real food and locavore movements. The success of his seminal book The Omivore’s Dilemma sparked a wave of new popular literature on the environmental, social, and moral issues posed by our 21st century way of eating. If you haven’t read a single book on the sustainable food movement yet, and don’t know where to begin, start here.

Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork, by Anna Lappe: Diet for a Hot Planet explores in detail the myriad connections between American-style industrial agriculture and global climate change, and presents real scientific evidence to thoroughly debunk the myth that industrial agriculture and genetically modified foods are necessary to feed an overcrowded world.

Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini:
The founder of the international advocacy organization Slow Food, Carlo Petrini, makes a compelling case that industrialized agricultural system not only threatens biodiversity, contributes to global warming, damages public health, and undermines traditional small town and rural economies, but also literally sucks the flavor out of our lives by denying us access to fresh, locally produced, carefully crafted food.

Animal Factory by David Kirby: If investigative journalist David Kirby’s expose about the negative effects of factory-style animal farms (also known as CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations) on the health and welfare of communities surrounding them doesn’t scare you about the safety of factory farmed meat and dairy, check your pulse. Animal Factory poses a powerful argument for returning to more sustainable livestock farming practices.

Organic Manifesto by Maria Rodale:
Given that Maria Rodale comes from a famous family of highly successful organic farmering advocates, you would only expect her to be biased in favor or organic food. But Organic Manifesto is much more than an opinion piece — this slim book is packed cover to cover with concrete scientific data to support Rodale’s well-reasoned arguments on the superior sustainability of organic agriculture, and the superior health benefits of organic food.
EXTRA CREDIT: The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan:
If you’ve already read Pollan’s more famous books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, then check out an older, less well-known book of Pollan’s, The Botany of Desire. In it, Pollan explores in great depth and detail humanity’s relationship with domesticated plants. While The Botany of Desire was not written as a treatise on sustainable eating, the seeds of Pollan’s later work on food policy are present within two fascinating food-related sections. In a section on apples, Pollan deftly examines industrialized agriculture’s negative effects on biodiversity and local food cultures, and in a section on the humble potato, he exposes the dangers of monoculture, and offers the reader an inside look at agriculture giant Monsanto’s haphazard, unpredictable, unexpectedly violent process for creating genetically engineered foods. 

Sustainable Eating: Walk the Walk

The books listed above all explain the myriad problems inherent in the industrialized world’s food system. But what can each of us, as individuals, do in our own lives to make more sustainable food choices? The following mix of memoirs and how-to-guides are written by food activists who have personally tried to put their passion for sustainable food into practice by changing their own lifestyles and eating habits. Both sustainable food newbies and seasoned sustainavores will find great ideas in these books on how we as individuals can improve the sustainability of our own daily diets.  

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: If you read only one book, ever, about the locavore movement, make it this one. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, famed novelist and nonfiction author Barbara Kingsolver records her family’s experimental year of trying to follow a strict locavore lifestyle. Determined to improve the sustainability of her diet, Kingsolver moves to a small farm and tries for one year to grow much of her own produce and meat, while purchasing other staples as locally and seasonably as possible. In the course of the project she discovers how to make her own cheese, figures out how to throw a dinner party using only seasonal food, learns perhaps more than she wanted to about the sexual habits of turkeys, and takes spiritual guidance from an Amish farmer. It’s hands down the most gripping book I’ve ever read about a garden.

Farm City by Novella Carpenter:
Ever wonder what it’s like to run a really urban farm? A really, really urban farm, as in, a farm in a ramshackle rented apartment and a vacant lot on a dead-end street in an Oakland slum notorious for petty drug dealers and prostitutes?  Find out in Farm City, a critically acclaimed memoir by journalist and bold urban farmer, Novella Carpenter.

City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America by Laura J. Lawson: Think urban community gardens couldn’t possibly grow enough produce to make a positive impact on the way a city eats? Think again. This book explores the surprisingly successful history of American community gardens, including the Victory Gardens of World War II, that at one point provided 40 percent of America’s produce supply. City Bountiful offers sound advice on how to apply the lessons from community gardens of the past to the present, and would make a great resource for anyone considering starting a local community garden.

The Urban Homestead
by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen:
If you’re a city dweller who wants to reduce your carbon footprint by growing and preserving some of your own food, but you’re not sure where to start, check out this fact-packed, no-nonsense how-to handbook for beginning urban food growers. It’s chock full of detailed instructions (including diagrams) on how to grow good food sustainably in an urban environment.

The Locavore Way
by Amy Cotler:
One of many ways to substantially reduce the environmental impact of the food you eat is to introduce more locally grown food into your diet. But in a world where big box grocery store shelves are stocked with fruits and vegetables from several different continents, and processed foods often contain a mystery mix of ingredients with various unlabled foreign origins, it can be difficult for the aspiring locavore to figure out where and how to buy the best locally sourced food. This easy-to-read guide offers some savvy tips for reconnecting with your local food economy. 

Is there a great book on sustainable food you’d like to recommend? Please leave a comment and share your own summer reading recommendations with the Care2 community!

Photo by Tom Murphy. Used under Creative Commons Share-Alike License.


Jim V
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen5 years ago

Thank you :)

Anton K.
Past Member 5 years ago

Thanks for the resource.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran5 years ago


Jo Asprec
Jo Asprec6 years ago

Thanks for this book list. Will check them out.

Janine Hofmann
Janine H6 years ago

Thank you very much for the information

Hopefully books will stay forever and do not vanish because of internet. And hopefully there are more people who like books, who like real paper in their hands with real ink. I love books. And as long as i can think back they have been the only friends i ever had. Books don't hurt (only when thrown) as people can hurt. And they can help to survive some things achild or an adult doe not want to go through... But books don't have a warmth of embrace :(

Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
(Native American proverb)

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

luca pisaroni
luca pisaroni7 years ago

thanks for the post

luca pisaroni
luca pisaroni7 years ago

thanks for the post

lorraine c.
lorraine c7 years ago

Lots of good reading recommendations. Thanks for posting.