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Food for Thought

Last Monday I went to an event called “Eating Local in Brooklyn,” hosted by the uber-foodie organization, Slow Food NYC. I didn’t realize, walking in to the event, that I would walk out wanting to read local in Brooklyn instead.

Sitting down to nibble the pickled, Brooklyn-grown eggplants and sip beer brewed in the borough, I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me. It started off with the normal chit-chat:

“I live in the neighborhood,” she said (me, too).
“I’m a freelance writer,” she said (cool, me too).
“I started a women’s food-focused book club in Brooklyn,” she said.

“WOAH, can I join,” I blurted out, totally serious and completely surprised by my own enthusiasm.

I’d joined book clubs before, but left after a few meetings, dissatisfied with the book selection, the group dynamic, or both. Often, the book choices felt random and scattered, leaving me craving some continuity. But this – this! – idea, seemed like a no-brainer. In the last few years, as the food movement has grown, dozens of food-related books – political,
personal, anthropological, etc. – have sprouted up (I can rattle off more than 10 of them, even without the aid of Google). It’s almost overwhelming. How could I ever read them all? Well, for one, I joined the book club.

The club focuses mostly on non-fiction food books (e.g. Fast Food Nation, Food Politics, and Omnivore’s Dilemma), with the occasional – and more rare – work of fiction (they are considering reading Like Water for Chocolate next). The women-only club meets at a different member’s Brooklyn apartment each month, usually theming the accompanying potluck around the book. For example, the last selection – Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant – was brought to life by the members bringing their favorite “dish to eat alone,” to share with the group.

Bringing women together around food and books – what could be better? As a new member of the group, I don’t yet feel entitled to invite new members. However, here are a few tips to inspire your own foodie book club, and a few titles to get you started (I focused even further on Jewishly-related food books).

Secrets to a starting a successful bookclub:

– LEADERS No matter how interesting the book is, conversations do not always start or focus themselves. Rotate the task of “leading” the discussion, or at least starting the group off with a question or two to make sure conversation flows.
– FOOD Always have food at the club – you can serve a larger meal or potluck before or after the meeting, but stick to easy-to-eat snacks for the discussion.
– ORGANIZE Never leave a book club meeting without designating the next book and meeting time/place. It’s too tedious to do this organizing work over email.
– BOOK LIST Before your first meeting, ask each member to research and recommend 3-5 titles the group should consider reading. Each time a new member joins, ask them to contribute.
– BLOG Start a book club blog – it’s free and easy, and a great way to keep all important info (dates, books, etc.) in one place.

Jewish-food themed book suggestions:
– Miriam’s Kitchen, Elizabeth Ehrlich
– Anything by Ruth Reichl (e.g. Comfort me with Apples)
– The Year of the Goat, Margaret Hathaway
– Down to Earth Judaism: Food, Sex, Money, and the Rest of Life, Rabbi
Arthur Waskow
– Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue: A Novel of Pastry, Guilt, and Music, Mark Kurlansky

For many more great food book ideas (not necessarily Jewishly themed, but great nonetheless), check out The Jew & The Carrot blog’s “Books we Love” section.

–Leah Koenig