Non-Fiction Friday: Critical Food Studies and Intersectionality


Here’s the next round of non-fiction reads and I have to confess there are lots of academic texts in this post. Funny thing is, for all that my city’s library is so badly stocked, I have access to a university library and cheap ILL. That means it’s often easier for me to get my hands on academic books than the latest fiction and so I like to indulge. Of course it takes me ages to actually read them cover to cover, but don’t worry, I’ll soon bore you with a review. But never fear, it will involve dinosaurs! (yes I never grew out of that phase)

After focusing on the body in my last post, I want to list some intriguing titles from critical food studies. I almost went into that direction with my thesis, but it’s a pretty new field over here and I would have had no guidance. Didn’t keep me from ogling food studies publications though. Critical food studies is an interdisciplinary field of study in the social sciences and humanities, examining food-related issues from cooking and eating to production and foodways. Important work also pays close attention to how gender, race and class amongst other axes of oppression are implicated in these issues. Thus, necessary systemic critique comes from feminist and anti-racist directions in critical food studies and subsets further connect with animal studies. My own interest comes in at these intersections of intersectional feminism and critical food studies. This is not an introductory reading list but just 3 works from different directions that have caught my interest:


Sugar. A Bittersweet History by Elizabeth Abbott is a social history of one of our most important food products today. I have a soft spot for these microhistories that take one product/aspect as a critical entry point to demonstrate that these can never be taken outside of the social context. Like chocolate, sugar is an important aspect of the world’s history of racism and slavery. This is a Penguin publication but I’ve heard people saying the writing is somewhat dry. I can’t really say that I agree, but maybe I have a high threshold or the history of racism is never dry to me. Perhaps readers should know that this is a history of the slave trade, examined through sugar. Consider yourselves warned I guess.

racial indigestion

Racial Indigestion by Kyla Wazana Tompkins, too, focuses on the food-related racial history of the 19th century. However, Tompkins takes a literary and media studies approach to this. As the title reveals, she focuses on consumption and calls for a turn to “critical eating studies.” Can you hear the echo of bell hooks’ “Eating the Other” in this!? Tompkins analyses case studies where Black Americans and especially Black women become posited as consumable in the eyes of white supremacy. I’ve only read excerpts of this text but I’m looking forward to having the time to finish this one. You’ll like this one if you enjoyed Building Houses Made of Chicken Legs.


Cultivating Food Justice is a collection about food production and distribution, focusing on how low-income and communities of color are disproportionately hit by current policies of the industry. Thus, the food system reproduces hierarchies of race and class and these effects can be see in access to food, health and environmental issues. By and large the face of the food movement had been presented as white  and this collection seeks to challenge this image and bring a social justice perspective to food studies. I especially like that this book gathers work from activists who work in the food justice movement and not just academics!

What are your favorite food-related non-fiction reads? Let me know in the comments!

Note: I wanted to make non-fiction post something regular and while googling about non-fiction in the book blogosphere, I stumbled on the wonderful Non-Fiction Friday series by DoingDewey. It seemed perfect and so here I am joining in on the non-fiction love.

42 thoughts on “Non-Fiction Friday: Critical Food Studies and Intersectionality

  1. Some of my favorite food-related nonfiction reads are Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and What to Eat by Marion Nestle.

      1. Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. She also had two excellent essay collections about humans and the natural world. My favorites of her novels are Animal Dreams and Prodigal Summer.

  2. I like biographies of food like Banana and Vanilla. Those are two I read last year. I run Foodies Read, a monthly link up of reviews of food related books. We’d love to have you link up if you want.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Heather! Banana and Vanilla sound great, will have to check them out. Thanks for letting me know, I’ll add to the link up 🙂

    1. Aww thank you! Glad I could interest you in food related nonfiction. I love food studies cause it’s really feminism and critical race studies and environmental studies, at least the area of it that I follow 🙂

  3. These all sound fantastic, sadly Racial Indigestion isn’t available in my library, but the other two are! I’m looking forward to reading them. I have Lisa Heldke’s Exotic Appetites: Ruminations of a Food Adventurer which is really interesting as well – if you haven’t read it I recommend it. Such a fascinating topic, especially as I love all kinds of foods. Also, have you seen this Bitch magazine article?

    1. Wow that is such a brilliant article, thanks for sharing! I can relate to so much of what the author has written!
      The Heldke book sounds great, hope my library has it! Ah yes I think academic texts are often more difficult to access, I have to ILL everything. Hope you enjoy these books!

      1. Nice to see you too Vishy 🙂 I mostly just post on Instagram these days – are you there? It’s very lazy of me I know. But I saw Bina’s instagram post about this post and I just had to come over!

        1. Yes Vishy you should join us on instagram!! 🙂 It’s fun and we get to stalk Amy even if she’s not blogging atm 😀

  4. Wonderful book list, Bina. ‘Sugar’ looks like a wonderful historical work and ‘Cultivating Food Justice’ sounds fascinating. When I read your post, I thought about this. When I was a kid, beverage drinking habits in India were interesting. North Indians used to drink tea (mostly), while South Indians used to drink coffee. Atleast that was the perception. In reality, though tea was the popular beverage among North Indians, among South Indians, upper caste people and economically well off people used to drink coffee, while others used to drink tea. When I was a kid, North Indian friends used to make fun of me for drinking coffee, as they said tea was the superior drink. (In our home, we used to drink coffee in the morning and tea in the evening, but coffee was the No.1 drink, emotionally.) I always wondered why this was the case – why some people thought that tea was a superior drink while others thought coffee was – I liked both of them. I wondered whether this was related to India’s complex history – I wonder whether the Persian / Middle Eastern / Central Asian merchants and invaders came to India, they brought coffee, and whether during later times when the British came to India, they brought tea and coffee’s popularity declined across India because of political changes. In recent years though, after the advent of coffee shops, things have changed drastically. It is more ‘cool’ to drink coffee these days at coffee shops and I find North Indians guzzling more coffee than South Indians. Your post made me think about all this. Thank you 🙂 Critical Food Studies is definitely a fascinating topic 🙂

    1. Forgot to add one more thing. I want to read Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ sometime. And also a book on coffee that I have got called ‘Uncommon Grounds : A History of Coffee and How it Changed the World’. The second one is from an American perspective, which is odd, considering the fact that coffee drinking culture originated in the coffee houses in the Middle East more than a thousand years back and coffee spread from the Middle East to Europe before going to America. But still, I would like to read that. I also want to read ‘Nice Cup of Tea and a Sitdown’ – not really a critical food studies book, but more a fun book on tea and biscuits 🙂

      1. Oh yay I want to read that Kingsolver book, too! 🙂 Uncommon n Grounds sounds so great I’ll have to add it to the tbr. Ha yes, so true about the origins of coffee cultures!
        Oh I remember Nice Cup, you gave that one to me and it was such a cozy read!!
        And that is important food studies, too 🙂

    2. Thanks so much for sharing the coffee/tea divide in India, Vishy!! So fascinating. I remember our conversations about for coffee 🙂 It’s so interesting how coffee is a class and economics thing and how this developed with migration, trade and colonialism. And now with coffee shops!

  5. Gotta admit that I feel a bit stupid at the moment–I love following you on instagram and am so drawn to your taste in books, so how is it that it took me this long to think of actually checking out your blog?!! Anyway, so glad I thought to hit the “on” switch in my brain, because all three of these books sound great. While sadly, my library system didn’t have the last one, I was able to put holds on the first two.

    1. Awww thanks so much for.your kind words and I’m happy you found your way here! 🙂 Also so embarrassed I never checked if you have a blog! Remedying that now!
      Yay you have a great library! I have to ILL everything! Hope you’ll enjoy the two reads!

  6. This is fascinating.

    Cultivating Food Justice looks especially interesting because I lived in the communities most negatively affected by food production/distribution policies most of my life. My family did not have easy access to healthy foods and I was a rather unhealthy child. It wasn’t until I left that community, went to college, and joined the lower-middle class that I have become a healthier and more health-conscious person. However, some of my family still lives in the same community and lack access to affordable healthy and wholesome foods.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Naz! It must’ve been so difficult not having easy access and the health ramifications can be awful. I’m sorry your family is still suffering from food inequality but I’m glad you are doing a bit better. I hope you’ll find worthwhile contributions in Cultivating Food Justice.

  7. The book on sugar looks really interesting. As does the one on social justice. Heck they all look really interesting! The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams is one I found thought-provoking.

    1. Heh they are all interesting! 🙂 Thanks for the recommendation, the Adams book sounds so intriguing, will have to look it up.

  8. I’m a Michael Pollan fan – I’ve read the lot (except Cooked, which is on my TBR pile). I probably should branch out.
    Although Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring does cover many food issues – the hard part reading that one recently, was seeing how little has changed despite our 50 yr old knowledge on this topic (of pesticides and their effects on our food, the soil, flora and fauna, water and air quality) *sigh*

    1. Thanks.for stopping by, Brona! I’ll have to give Pollack a try, haven’t read any of his works so far. And I still haven’t read Carson’s classic, but have heard so much about it. Yes it’s terrible isn’t it? All these toxins in the environment and our food! We’re currently fighting glyphosate, but the lobby will probably win 😦

  9. This is a very interesting post. As someone has already mentioned, you make topics and books sound fascinating…and then I have to add them to my tbr list! 🙂
    I’m particularly interested in “Cultivating food justice” and “Sugar”. Years ago, I read a books about three cuban women writers and the author (Bianca Pitzorno, one my favourite writer since childhood) briefly mentioned, in an historic introduction, a relation between sugar and slavery in Central America. I wanted to learn more on the topic and “Sugar” sounds like what I need.

    The only food-related non-fiction book I can think of (because I read it fairly recently) is unknown outside of Italy. It’s a scientific book that means to debunk myths about food, especially the myths that are used in marketing of products. Since I’ve got coeliac disease, and I’m very very bothered by people who considered it just an intolerance or a fancy diet instead of the autoimmune disorder it actually is, I really liked the part where the author talked about gluten and marketing.

    1. Heh yay, glad I can make these topics sound interesting! 🙂
      Oh I hope you’ve got used to working around coeliac disease and are feeling better! I have a friend who has the intolerance version, but people are idiots and act like it’s pretentitious behaviour instead of trying to be healthy and not feel ill and depressed or even spend lots of time in hospital with breathing problems. Also our food production systems are literally inducing food intolerances so these idiots should shut up because they’ll probably develop problems soon enough.
      That book sound so necessary, do you have the author? I can check if it has been translated into German 🙂 Also I’d like the book.about Monsanto, I’ll be reviewing it in a few weeks.

      1. Thanks 🙂 it’s been almost 9 years and I’ve got used to it. It did require some changes of habits but it’s great to have a normal health again. I totally understand your friend’s situation! I’m lucky that my family and closest friends have always been very supportive… well, coeliac disease is genetic, so my family have better be supportive, haha 😉
        I agree with you about the food production systems. My mother is a biologist working in food safety and she often complains that nobody uses “real” raw ingredients anymore.

        The author of the book I mentioned is Dario Bressanini. I had the impression that the book focuses a lot on the italian situation, that’s why I think he’s not been translated…but I may be wrong. I probably don’t agree with his view of GMO food, although I can’t be sure because I haven’t read his book on the subject, but I really like his approach, it’s scientific and really objective.

        You’d written of the book about Monsanto before and I’d added to my tbr list, I even found a library that has it. I can’t wait to read your review! 🙂

        1. Glad to hear you are dealing with it and you family is supportive! 🙂 I really couldn’t find a translation of that book, typical, sigh! But it’s.awesome that there books, so people know what they have out.for.
          Yay hope you’ll enjoy the Monsanto book 🙂

  10. Another one on sugar that’s in my TBR is Sugar Changed the World by Marina Budhos and Marc Aronson—have you read that one?

    And completely non-academic and purely for fun is Jane Brockett’s Ginger Beer and Cherry Cake which I LOVED!

    1. Yay thanks for the recommendations! Love the sound of Sugar by.Budhos/Aronson, that needs to go on my tbr! Also Ginger Beer looks great fun, I need to read that 🙂

  11. A great list! I like the sound of all them. I’m not going to add them to my own reading list, though, but will look forward to hearing your insights when you post your reviews!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Laurie! It will take me a while, but I’ll post reviews of them that’ll hopefully convince you to read these books 🙂

  12. Bina, you always make me curious. This post too. I haven’t read food-books at all, because you know, I can’t handle them. I can’t read them even if I am full. 🙂 But I will try to read something from this list. 🙂

    1. Haha no worries these are not food related books that will tempt you! :)But I have the same problem with foodish shows, always have to have snacks nearby!

  13. I love what you’ve done with this feature, collecting nonfiction books on a given topic! I really appreciate you linking up to my feature too. I wasn’t really aware of this subgenre of foodie nonfiction, but it sounds fascinating.

    1. I love your feature! Glad you enjoyed this post, I love critical food studies it is one way to explore so many issues 🙂

  14. Two of my favorite non-fiction food books are Isabel Allende’s Aphrodite and Jessica Harris’s High On the Hog. I recently read The Jemima Code by Toni Tipton-Martin and that sent me on a treasure hunt for more readings around food and folk and the intersectionality that you write about, here. I want to read Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vilesis and Rebecca Sharpless’s Cooking In Other Women’s Kitchens. Thank you for this post and some intriguing titles to add to my TBR! – I had to get out a pad and write down some of the titles other readers suggested, too!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Leslie! Haha yes I love when the comments thread turns into a.long tbr 🙂 much for your suggestions as well, I’m.adding.them.all to my list. The Jemima Code also.sounds great, especially when it sends readers searching for more intersectional food nonfiction 🙂

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