by Paul Campos
I would like to think all the books on my suggested reading list are "must reads", but Campos' well-researched assessment of how the "War on Fat" has no scientific basis (fat does not kill); may be contributing to increased levels of inactivity (which does kill); and causing increases in weight for the population overall (yo-yo dieting), it is enlightening to even those of us who are naturally suspicious of any public health iniative.
Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats
by Steve Ettlinger
Each chapter looks at individual ingredients, in the same order as on a Twinkie package, so Ettlinger finds himself traveling to eastern Pennsylvania farms to study wheat, as well as to high-security plants that manufacture highly toxic chlorine. Twinkie ingredients "are produced by or dependent on nearly every basic industry we know." It is an unusual and approachable take on our enormous food industrial complex that is so complicated and security-laden that even those making the product have no idea from where many of the ingredients come.
by Marvin Harris
Drawing from his research on a wide range of ancient and modern societies, the author offers theories of the effects of regulations governing comestibles in various cultures, and that "good to eat" translates as "good to sell" in profit-conscious countries like the U.S. Whereas "good to eat" translates as "good for class stability" in class-driven countries of both bygone and modern eras. This is not a book for the queasy of stomach but it reinforces that how we arrive at thinking something is good to eat is not as conscious or as 'sensible' as we would like to think.
by Daphne Miller
Dr. Daphne Miller has some great concepts and this book is most assuredly worth a read. She makes the concepts of human beings as ecospheres approachable and understandable. Surprisingly, she fails to apply the concept to that old (and phenomenally unscientific) saw: food=obesity=disease. For the purposes of the readership of this website, this book comes with the warning that while Miller makes wonderful and scientifically-backed forays into how farming and soil equate so well to human beings, health and balance, she nonetheless glibly follows the pack and refers to obesity as a disease state.
by J. Eric Oliver
While the author suffers a bit from what I'd call single-source-itis, in fact a condition he rightly assigns to many other specialists in the field of obesity, he nonetheless provides previously overlooked and statistically relevant factors impacting the growing heaviness of Americans. Importantly, he uncovers some of the unsubstantiated guidelines for being clinically overweight and obese that originate from questionable CDC and NIH positioning documents in the 1980s and 1990s. He also theorizes that the disproportionate scorn and vitriol heaped on overweight white women has its origins in sexual competition. This book will force you to come face to face with preconceptions and misconceptions we have all wholeheartedly adopted in a society that presumes weight is a moral issue.
by Michael Pollan
Of Pollan's work, this one is likely my personal favorite. It's Pollan at his best: allowing us to sit rather uncomfortably with the compromises we all must make to eat well and yet sustainably. A word of warning to those who prefer to avoid the usual food choice=obesity standard misconception rife in our society today, for the most part Pollan is an adherent of obesity-as-disease construct.
by Richard Wrangham
A well-argued and considered treatise on why cooking, and not carnivory, is likely responsible for brain development in earlier human species. Biological anthropologist Wrangham estimates that 1.8 million years ago, our ancestors began cooking and it resulted in physiological changes: our jaws, teeth and gastrointestinal system shrank and our brains expanded. We have become so fit for purpose that humans are the only living species that are not built to thrive on 100% raw food diets today. Wrangham's observations on division of labor to allow for dependable calorie intake in hunter/gatherer societies suggest that the sharing of food in human species had specific survival value.
by Marlene Zuk
There are few folks out there with restrictive eating disorders who have not been wooed by numerous food-group restrictive diets. Their attraction speaks to fears of illness and disability. Zuk's book is a thorough look at the misuse of evolutionary biology to argue for Paleolithic diets. We are as much a part of evolution today as 800,000 years ago and we experience layers of evolutionary change that occur even within our lifetimes (as with the symbiotic bacteria within our guts) such that we are exceedingly flexible and responsive omnivores.