When my husband and I lived in our first apartment, there used to be a fabulous local bookstore just down the street from us that we would frequently haunt on the weekends whenever we needed something to do. They sold a huge variety of used and new books, movies, and music, they always had some indie tunes playing over the loudspeakers, and they always seemed to be running some kind of killer sale or other (meaning that we dropped a LOT of money there over the years!). During our frequent trips there, I developed the habit of going to two different specific shelves over and over again every time we went in, just to see if there were any new titles.
One of those sections was the “running” section, where I found much-beloved titles such as Born to Run and Eat & Run, which motivated me to continue pushing myself as I trained for various longer-distance races (like the marathon we ran in 2012 or the two half-marathons I did in subsequent years).
The other section was the “food memoir” section. Not the cookbook section, mind you (though I frequently perused that as well), but this seemingly new-fangled mash-up combining memoir, food, and sometimes a bit of research and journalism thrown in on the side. As the years went by, I noticed that section started to get bigger and bigger until now, I have no trouble finding new titles to meet all my foodie memoir needs (though I did have quite the time finding them even just five years ago!). I loved these books because they combined my love of food and eating and cooking with my love of words, and I also appreciated that they, more often than not, motivated me to cook more (and cook better!) than before.
Basically, from the first food memoir I read (Animal Vegetable Miracle), I was totally hooked on the genre, and I’ve been seeking out books in it ever since. Below are 14 of my favorites.
***Note: If you click on the pictures or the titles of books below, they are Amazon affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage of any sales (at no extra cost to you). Affiliate links help support To Love and To Learn (and, let’s be honest, help me to have more money for buying books!).
***Second Note: I’ve mentioned on the blog before about The Year of Less, a book by one of my favorite bloggers. Well, today it’s on sale in the Kindle store for just $1.99! It details the blogger’s year-long journey to drastically simplify her life by going on a shopping ban, and I found it HIGHLY readable.
14 Favorite Books for the Foodie
Title: Animal Vegetable Miracle
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
If you’re looking for a food memoir that’s all fun and no agenda, definitely pass on this one, but I will say this—of all the books I list in this post, this one is by far my favorite. In this book, Kingsolver details her family’s year-long experiment of eating only what they’ve grown personally or what they can source locally, and her experience is totally inspiring (not to mention entertaining). Seriously, I partly blame this book for the fact that I’ve long-harbored a dream of finding a big ol’ chunk of land out in country where I can grow my own massive garden and orchard.
Titles: Delancey, A Homemade Life
Author: Molly Wizenberg
I really enjoyed the collection of vignettes in A Homemade Life, which center around the author’s loss of her father combined with the time period when she met her husband (with each small story being based around a favorite recipe, which all sound divine), but if I had to pick a favorite of the two, it would be Delancey, which reads much more like a chronological story. Though I have no desire to open a restaurant myself, I found their experience of doing so completely absorbing and was able to finish the book in about 48 hours.
Title: Dinner: A Love Story
Author: Jenny Rosenstrach
This book is written by the author of the blog with the same name, and in it, she details how and why she continued to make eating together every night for dinner a priority from the time she first got married and her and her husband both worked busy schedules through to the time when they had young kids of their own and mealtimes could be stressful as a result. The author has kept track of every dinner eaten for something like 13 years, and so this was a fun look at one family’s growth and changes at their dinner table over a period spanning about a decade.
Titles: In Defense of Food, Cooked
Author: Michael Pollan
Once again, if you don’t want to rock your food boat and think about the way you eat differently, definitely pass on In Defense of Food, but Cooked is just an interesting look at the four main ways to transform food (through fire, water, air, and earth), which Pollan learns to do in his own kitchen by apprenticing himself out to various cooking masters. I seem to have a thing with people writing about learning to cook in new ways, so Cooked was right up my alley. In Defense of Food, on the other hand, is basically one of the books that started the clean eating movement—the idea that nutrition should be less about breaking apart a food for its nutrients and vitamins and more about eating unprocessed, wholesome, “real” food. Both books are well-researched and full of information, so don’t necessarily expect a “light” read from either, though I found them both enjoyable in their own ways.
Titles: My Kitchen Year, Garlic and Sapphires
Author: Ruth Reichl
Since I discovered Reichl’s work, she has easily soared to the top as one of my very favorite food writers, which is evidenced by the fact that I’ve read the majority of her food memoir books, my top two of which I’ve listed here (though Tender at the Bone, her experiences with cooking and eating in her childhood, is a close runner-up). My Kitchen Year talks about Reichl’s “return” to her home kitchen after she unexpectedly hears the news that the food magazine she was the editor-in-chief of (Gourmet) was unexpectedly closing down, effectively putting her out of a job. In this book, she talks about how cooking got her into a better head space in the year following the magazine’s closing, and the combination of the photos and the recipes with her stories just flow together to create one beautiful volume that I just felt like looking at again and again. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl talks about her years as a restaurant critic and how she eventually started dressing up in various disguises so that she couldn’t be recognized and fawned over (and could therefore see what the experience was like at certain restaurants for “everyday” customers). Totally hilarious (and also full of delicious recipes), Garlic and Sapphires was just a lot of fun.
Author: Shauna Niequist
Admittedly, I liked Niequist’s Present Over Perfect better than this one, but as that one isn’t a food memoir and as this book was still very enjoyable, I’m putting this one on the list instead. Basically, Niequiest is a popular blogger-turned-author who writes all about her experiences with gathering people together over food in this book. She talks about the bonding power of dinner parties, the healing magic of casseroles brought in hard times, and the reflective moments doing prep-work at the kitchen counter. It’s a simple reminder that food can be a means of bringing people closer and creating lasting memories with those you love, and I always appreciate authors who can seamlessly weave their faith into their writing, as well.
Author: Kathleen Flinn
My first encounter with Flinn was through The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, which I was so delighted by that I promptly turned to the computer after finishing the last page and immediately put a hold on The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, which is her earlier-written memoir of her time in a top-ranked Parisian cooking school. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School is all about how Flinn decided to use her culinary education to help locals in her community (self-proclaimed “non-cooks”) learn how to find confidence in the kitchen so they could feed their families healthy, home-cooked meals. Not only does it include some interesting backstories of all the people she’s helping (and their progress), but it is stuffed full of valuable cooking tips (that even changed how I do my cooking, though I’ve been at it for much longer than any of the people she was working with).
Title: Serve it Forth
Author: M. F. K. Fisher
Being such a Ruth Reichl fan (as mentioned above), it was only a matter of time before I discovered M. F. K. Fisher, as Reichl repeatedly mentions her name in several of her books. In fact, because I was so convinced Fisher would be worth the read, I ended up reading this slim volume–Serve it Forth–as part of an anthology I bought of ALL of Fisher’s published books called The Art of Eating. Interestingly enough, Serve it Forth was one of those rare books that I LIKE while reading but am not necessarily WOWED by, but that somehow managed to stay with me for a really long time after. In fact, there are a few specific scenes in the book that I can still picture pretty vividly, just because Fisher’s descriptions are so all-encompassing.
Author: Tamar Adler
I originally bought this book for myself because I wanted to learn how to waste less food and save money on groceries, but what I got out of it was much, much more. Part poetic prose on the art of making a meal from scratch from whatever happens to be around, part how-to manual, this book both gave me the know-how for learning to cook without recipes AND the inspiration to WANT to do so. (And right now this book is a total steal—just $6.51 on Amazon! I paid like $15 for my copy!)
Title: My Life in France
Author: Julia Child
How could I have a list of foodie memoirs and not include Julia the Great on it? This book talks all about the place where Julia Child got her start in the cooking world–France–and exactly how the whole thing went down (spoiler: not easily or smoothly). Basically, the culinary world was even more male-dominated then than it is now, and she really had to overcome a lot of barriers to get what she wanted as a result. Also, I didn’t know her husband was really into photography, so it was a lot of fun to see his photographs throughout, which add a lot to the book. Though there were a few parts that were a little slower, this was overall a very enjoyable read.
I’d love for you to share any other “foodie memoirs” that you’ve found that are missing from this list! I’m obviously a fan of the genre and am always looking for new titles, so please, share your recommendations below!