Nonfiction food titles to feed the soul for the holidays

There is a wealth of food and food-related media for holiday giving. Cookbooks are excellent gifts, but there are many kinds of food writing to offer the food lovers in your life, from books to blogs to newsletters.

The Best American Food Writing 2021 (HMH Books), edited by Gabrielle Hamilton

This annual series is a roundup of the year in food writing, as seen through the eyes of the food professional or food writer who edits the selection. Hamilton is founder of the New York City restaurant Prune, and her take from it reflects the many perspectives of the hospitality industry that the pandemic has revealed.

Delicious: The Evolution of Flavor and How It Made Us Human (Princeton University Press) by Rob Dunn and Monica Sanchez

Dunn is a professor of applied ecology and Sanchez is a medical anthropologist; the two created a book that combs through evolutionary history with a focus on how flavor has guided the developments of animals and plants. The result is an engaging trip through time, science, and food.

Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide (Workman Publishing) by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras


Gastro Obscura is the food side of Atlas Obscura, which are both web outlets that gather curiosities from far and wide. This compendium is an armchair traveler full of global nuggets of food gold. Brief sections reveal shocking eats like pitchfork fondue in the Badlands of North Dakota, and the oldest eel-and-pie house in London.

Technically Food: Inside Silicon Valley’s Mission to Change What We Eat (Abrams Books) by Larissa Zimberoff

Freelance investigative reporter Zimberoff covers the world of high-tech food. If the topic makes you squirm, her examinations of her are informed by her own skepticism of her, and will serve you well. The book traces algae, mushrooms, plant-based burgers, cultured eggs, milks and meats, and upcycled foods, as well as the marketing muscles wrapped around these enterprises.

The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly (with recipes) (Macmillan) by Kate Lebo

This alphabet of essays traces the author’s wonder about twenty-six “difficult” fruits. Lebo is a poet who once earned her keep de ella by selling pie on her lawn, and has written zines and cookbooks about pie. In this book, she’s beautifully woven together layers of personal, botanical and culinary history, creating a book you’ll have to force yourself to savor, rather than devour.

Plenty of books don’t directly address food in their titles or topics, yet still contribute broadly to our understanding of food and the world, such as these:

The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live (WW Norton) by Danielle Dreilinger

This is a great dive into the feminism at the root of the field that eventually became a gendered high school curriculum. The book traces its development from one of the only college-level educations open to women, through scientific household management, and into an advertising mechanism for consumer goods; it also traces the movement’s racism, and the robust, parallel realm of Black home economics that emerged in spite of segregation.

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake (Penguin Random House) by Tiya Miles

Newsletters and blogs are another food writing realm. Ranging in price from absolutely free to $30-60/year, these email-delivered writings are great opportunities to continuously learn about food.

Food newsletters are a mixture of paid and free reading, published at least weekly, and frequently more often:

From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy – this food writer covers food culture, politics and media. She offers free essays on Mondays, and for paid subscribers, Friday podcasts with folks from the food world.

Stained Page News – a cookbook news newsletter that focuses on the industry of food publishing, dips into history on occasion.

Vittles – a gathering of food and culture writing that really took off in the pandemic. Vittles’ posts are virtually all for paid subscribers.

Smart Mouth – this newsletter features articles about common and unusual foods, and accompanies a food podcast of the same name. (A note: I’ve written for Smart Mouth once)

Wordloaf – this bread newsletter has roots in the early pandemic sourdough frenzy, and includes has loads of free elements in addition to value added recipes & class discounts for subscribers. (Disclosure: Wordloaf is going to be running an essay of mine.)

Food blogs are generally free, and as such, a low-key way to stay in touch with loved ones about food. Whenever you and your sister or favorite cousin get one of these in your inbox, maybe you can bake something together.

The David Blahg – cookbook author David Leite’s posting spot.

Smitten Kitchen – cookbook author Deb Perelman’s blog.

No More Mr. Nice Pie – Ellen Gray’s pie-centric fun & wisdom.


This stunning read is an analysis of an embroidered sack that’s the artifact of the sale of an enslaved child and her mother’s devotion. Words stitched on the sack say that it contained 3 handfuls of pecans, a braid of the mother’s hair, and her love de ella, always. The author, a Harvard professor and historian, carries us through all the considerations of enslaved households, from the bitter reality of Black mothers’ always-tenuous holds on their children, to the provisioning and hungers that enslaved persons would have faced.

Domestic Revolution: How the Introduction of Coal into Victorian Homes Changed Everything (WW Norton) by Ruth Goodman

A really interesting trek through coal in the United Kingdom that helps frame the significance of cooking technologies, past and present. Life has a way of tricking us into thinking our surroundings were somewhat equivalent to the domestic environments in our personal histories. However, Goodman, who has lived in the past on British television, bringing other eras to life, proves how misguided our assumptions are. Studying food history through fuel history is a very useful lens.

Crying in H Mart (Penguin Random House) by Michelle Zauner

This is a musician’s raw tale of swiftly losing her mother to cancer. The memoir is full of Korean food, and of Michelle’s attempts to feed her dying mother soothing foods. In Zauner’s grief, cooking with an encouraging Korean woman on YouTube helps her deal with her loss de ella, and connect with the food culture she assumed she’d have decades to understand.

Amy Halloran is the author of “The New Bread Basket,” and lives in Troy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.