Here we go again. The recent recall of some 450 million potentially tainted eggs looks to be another event that opens new eyes to the quandaries of our modern food system. There’s no real silver lining to an issue as potentially deadly as salmonella poisoning, but it never hurts to get people thinking and reading about how our food supply can become contaminated on such a massive scale.
After checking the eggs in your fridge against this recall list, sit down with a book from one of these authors who could (but probably wouldn’t) say they saw this coming. Their books take in politics, business, health, and science as well as food safety, but – as you’ll see – those things go together like whites and yolks. And, for a shorter read, there’s always the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation list for safe egg consumption.
1. “What to Eat” or “Safe Food,” by Marion Nestle: Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, clearly explains the intersection between policy, politics, and the plate, delivering practical advice on every corner of the grocery store. (The sort of sweetened yogurt most of us eat? It’s a dessert, she alerts us, not a health food.) She speaks her mind, always backing it with solid evidence.
On her blog, Nestle has been tracking the recent egg recalls, writing tartly, “Preventing Salmonella should not be difficult. The rules require producers to take precautions to prevent transmission, control pests and rodents, test for Salmonella, clean and disinfect poultry houses that test positive, divert eggs from positive-testing flocks, refrigerate the eggs right away, and keep records. These sound reasonable to me, but I care about not making people sick.”
2. "Fast Food Nation," by Eric Schlosser: The book that started it all. A Publishers Weekly review of the 2001 book said, “While cataloguing assorted evils with the tenacity and sharp eye of the best investigative journalist, he uncovers a cynical, dismissive attitude to food safety in the fast food industry and widespread circumvention of the government's efforts at regulation enacted after Upton Sinclair's similarly scathing novel exposed the meat-packing industry 100 years ago.” Schlosser’s book specifically addresses the fast food industry, but by its nature extends into other foods produced on a large scale.
3. "In Defense of Food," by Michael Pollan: No one beats Pollan at crystallizing and clarifying complicated issues around what we eat. In this book, he famously boils down an impressive body of research on the modern diet, animal and vegetable and chemical, down to seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” As a Monitor reviewer put it, “Ultimately Pollan attempts to free food from unnecessary, man-made complexity.”
4. "Animal Vegetable Miracle," by Barbara Kingsolver: Kingsolver’s account of her family’s year on a Virginia farm, eating food that was either locally raised or that they grew themselves. Kingsolver’s skill as a novelist makes this a particularly thoughtful and touching read, taking on big questions and taking us through one family’s answers. Check out how Kingsolver’s young daughter makes the decision whether to raise chickens for meat as well as eggs.
5. "Minnie Rose Lovgreen's Recipe for Raising Chickens," by Minnie Rose Lovgreen: You can try to suss out egg producers who operate safe and humane farms, or you could buy eggs at farmers markets from vendors you trust – or, you could use the recall as your final push to raise your own backyard chickens. This charming little hand-lettered book was originally written when urban chicks were rare, and isn’t aimed specifically at that market, but it’s still a fun and practical read for those planning (or only dreaming of) their own flocks. (For more modern advice, there’s always “Raising Chickens for Dummies."