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Notable Books | Four books with food themes reviewed by Susan Olasky

Closing the Food Gap

"Food activist" Mark Winne claims that the United States has "two food systems-one for the poor and one for everyone else." He argues convincingly that the poor don't have access to affordable, nutritious food. He blames the food industry and government programs that benefit farmers more than the poor.

Winne offers a good description of many private and local programs that work, including food stamps for farmer's markets and community gardens. Ending corporate welfare for farmers could help. But Winne's heart is with more federal welfare "solutions," even though he knows that giveaways to the able-bodied create more problems: "The more you provide, the more demand there is."

The Tenth Muse

If you delight in food, you'll probably enjoy this memoir focused on the people who transformed American cooking from its reliance on convenience to a new appreciation for fresh and ethnic fare. Although less well-known than Julia Child, Jones was the editor at Knopf who recognized the value of the manuscript that became Mastering the Art of French Cooking and launched Child to cooking fame.

Jones writes with real pleasure about food and describes in the process her childhood in New York and her life in Paris after graduating from college. Her publishing work has made it hard for Food Channel fans to imagine the vapid culinary world that she did so much to change.

Starting from Scratch

This curious book is neither memoir nor cookbook, although it offers memories and recipes. Kirk writes evocatively about episodes from her life and accompanies them with recipes for foods from those periods, using the recipes to illustrate her memories. A reader might want to know more about her life, but Kirk chooses to focus on food.

She started cooking for her family when she was 9, so food played a prominent role whether visiting her Ozarks grandmother, working in a restaurant kitchen in Germany, or teaching in China. She learned about food's power as she tried to understand her neighbors and as she saw how food connected her to home.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Standage's short history of the world told through six dominant beverages-beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola-shows how the use of each beverage led to social habits or reflected cultural values.

Since Standage has written a popular history he doesn't offer footnotes, which can be frustrating when he claims, without backup, that Egyptian pharoahs did not use slaves to build the pyramids but instead hired workers and paid them with beer. Nonetheless, the book has many interesting stories, including how grog (a combination of rum, lime juice, sugar, and water) saved the British navy from scurvy and gave it an advantage over the beer-drinking French navy.

Spotlight

Mort Zachter was 36 when he learned that his senile uncle Harry, now living with his parents in their small tenement in Brooklyn, was a multimillionaire. The news stunned Zachter because he had lived his whole life watching his two unmarried uncles work seven days a week at their day-old bread store in New York's Lower East Side, never taking a break-except Passover week each year-and living as though they were just getting by.

In Dough (University of Georgia, 2007), Zachter recounts memories of the bread store and life on the Lower East Side in the 1960s, together with earlier stories he'd heard from his parents. The bakery, founded by Zachter's grandparents, bought day-old bread from wholesalers and sold it retail. The uncles expected relatives, including Zachter's mother who gave up a teaching career to run the cash register, to work at the store and receive only bread or cake for payment.

Zachter never figures out the reason for his uncle's hoarding mentality, but determines not to make the same mistakes.

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