8 Great Plant-Based Books, From Beach Reads to Foodie Manifestos
Gardening isn’t just about being outdoors with your hands in the dirt– it’s also about community, history, and identity. But because gardening is such an ephemeral medium for expression– changing and passing with the seasons– it’s a practice that can often be difficult to share. Books, however, offer an insight into the past, affinity in the present, and preservation for the future. In honor of Book Lover’s Day, we’ve put together a list of our favorite plant-based books, ranging from comprehensive how-to’s to collections of esoteric essays.
The Land Where Lemons Grow
Named last year’s Food Book of the Year by the Guild of Food Writers, The Land Where Lemons Grow offers an anthropological take on how citrus fruit became the doyen of the culinary world. Chapters are filled to the brim with recipes and folklore, making it an enjoyable for read for fans of The New Yorker or even those who don’t ordinarily read garden books alike. By its end, the book culminates into more than just a culinary retrospective: it offers its own unique insight into human nature.
Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate
Written by Wendy Johnson (the longtime gardener at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in California and a good friend of Alice Waters), Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate infuses philosophy and poetry into a hands-on, in-the-dirt gardening book. Johnson’s voice is peaceful and grounded, aptly capturing not just the experience of gardening, but a way of life. The book is full of useful tips and instructions for outdoor work– but it’s just as enjoyable when read indoors.
The Physiology of Taste
One of the most iconic food books ever written, The Physiology of Taste was written by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1825 and is a must read for anyone remotely interested in food. The text centers on the question “Why do we enjoy eating?” and explores its varied answers from a philosophical perspective. While an almost two-hundred year old French philosophy book might seem off-putting, Brillat-Savarin has a conversation tone that makes it accessible even to modern audiences, offering a frame to contemporary discussions of the farm-to-table and locavore movements.
The Gardener’s Garden
Though it might easily be mistaken as just a coffee table book meant only for decorative display, The Gardener’s Garden is an encyclopedia of gardens around the world, rife with interesting historical tidbits. Each page is filled with beautiful, breathtaking images, sure to inspire wanderlust in even the most uninvolved nature enthusiast. For novice and seasoned gardeners alike, The Gardener’s Garden is a must-read.
Onward and Upwards in the Garden
Published posthumously by her husband E.B. White (famed author of Charlotte’s Web), Katherine White’s Onward and Upwards in the Garden is a collection of essays (some of which are book reviews) that touch on a range of topics, from seed catalogues to garden history. Peppered throughout are useful tidbits of gardening knowledge (like the fact that goldenrod can be used to make crowns for children). White was a longtime editor at The New Yorker and her voice is always exquisitely entertaining, full of humor and wit, making Onwards an ideal pick for those who may appreciate gardens, but who may not be gardeners per se.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
Now a Netflix documentary series, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation was originally a book that explores how the four elements (earth, wind, fire, and air) influence cuisine and the American food system. In pursuit of this history, Pollan traveled across the United States, learning from different makers of food– including world-class chefs and rogue fermenters alike. Throughout, Pollan explores how food becomes Food, as it moves from ground to plate. While some of Pollan’s other work can feel a little more philosophical and formal, Cooked has an NPR/This American Life vibe that makes it accessible, and by turns equally entertaining and moving.
The Gardener’s Year
Though Karel Capek is known more as a science-fiction writer (he popularized the word “robot”), his book, The Gardener’s Year is a quietly-charming account of the seasonal workings of a garden, which touches on the basics of how a garden comes to be throughout the year. The text is interspersed with simple illustrations by Capek’s brother, Josef, which complement the book’s intimate, friendly tone. Though published in 1929, Capek’s work proves that gardening is a time-honored tradition, easily shared across generations.
The Art of Simple Food
Of course, one of the best parts about gardening is enjoying its delights– especially when the fruits of one’s labor are edible. Alice Waters is a pioneer of the local food movement and her classic cookbook The Art of Simple Food brings her careful, thoughtfully-cultivated ethos to a collection of delicious recipes. (Our personal favorite: the strawberry shortcake.) The recipes in The Art of Simple Food are straightforward, so don’t be intimated by the author’s world-class chef status!