Book 9: Sustainable Santa Has a Book Suggestion for Every Conscientious Eater on Your Holiday List

American Spirit

American Spirit by James Rodewald

Santa is never averse to sitting back in his big, comfy chair with a noggin of something to warm his insides (it gets damn cold up here). And he supports any trend that adds cheer to the season. So he has been a big booster of the craft distilling movement that has sprung up in the wake of the craft brewing upsurge a couple of decades back. Alas, Santa has been disappointed at some of the naughty boys (most are boys) in the “artisanal” booze business. Far too many of them are not distillers at all. Instead they buy tanker truckloads of generic whiskey or neutral spirits from huge, industrial distilling corporations, pour the hooch into quaint bottles and slap on labels with olde-fashioned typefaces that mislead consumers into thinking that they are buying lovingly made, local tipple. In American Spirit James Rodewald, former spirits editor at the late lamented Gourmet magazine (a tough job, but somebody had to do it), separates the phonies from the real McCoys through firsthand visits to and vivid profiles of more than twenty still masters across the country who are fully transparent about how their products are created. No “craftwashing” here, to use Rodewald’s expression. They are a merry bunch, all great raconteurs, who, even though their trade is now legal, maintain the swashbuckling attitude of bygone bootleggers. Santa raises a glass to each and every one of them. Ideal for anyone on your list who loves honest liquors and well-made cocktails—and a must for any small-batch whiskey aficionados. Hold on! What’s this? One final book in Santa’s bag. Back tomorrow.

American Spirit: An Exploration of the Craft Distilling Revolution, By James Rodewald, $24.95

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Book 8: Sustainable Santa Has a Book Suggestion for Every Conscientious Eater on Your Holiday List


Delicious! By Ruth Reichl

During long winter nights, Santa loves to immerse himself in a deftly-plotted novel full of vivid characters. He also enjoys evocative writing about his favorite topic—food.

He all but wolfed down Delicious!, the bestselling debut novel by Ruth Reichl, the author of popular food-related memoirs and the former editor of Gourmet magazine. Santa views Ruth’s novel as a “foodie” (Santa hates the term) twist on a genre made popular by Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, but with sauce-stained aprons instead of designer clothes. It’s the story about the trials of a young woman who comes to New York to work at a quirky food magazine. No one writes about food as well as Ruth, and few authors tell as good a story.

Wee Barry Estabrook, who worked for Ruth for several years, wanted to make sure that Santa told readers that he has no hard feelings about being the real life model for Richard, the creative director character in Delicious!, who the narrator describes as “the most attractive man I’d ever met. His olive skin, emerald eyes, and chiseled cheekbones gave him the languid, unshaven arrogance of a model . . .”

For fiction lovers and food lovers and lovers of Ruth’s memoirs—especially those who might be looking forward to some relaxing beach time in the not-too-distant future.

There are still a couple of books in Santa’s sack. He’ll be back tomorrow.

Delicious! A Novel, By Ruth Reichl, $27.00.

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Book 7: Sustainable Santa Has a Book Suggestion for Every Conscientious Eater on Your Holiday List

Meat racket

The Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard

By the powers vested in me as the one and only Santa, I hereby declare 2014 to have been the year of sustainable meat books. Christopher Leonard led off with the publication of The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business.

Like Ted Genoways in The Chain, Book 3 on Sustanable Santa’s holiday list, Christopher looks at meat production through the lens on a single company, in this case Tyson, which grew from a one-man, one-truck operation in tiny Springdale, Ark., in the early 1930s, to a vertically integrated chicken, pork, and beef colossus, one of a handful of corporations that control most of the meat Americans eat today. Collectively, these corporations damage the environment and destroy the economic and social fabric of rural communities, all in the name of cheap food—which isn’t all that cheap anymore. The most abused victims group are the folks who raise corporate animals despite the ever-present prospect of bankruptcy. They are called “contract farmers.” Back in Santa’s younger days, people who toiled under the conditions Christopher describes were simply called serfs.

The Meat Racket is a great gift for meat lovers with a taste for business books or anyone curious about how livestock production in America became controlled by a heartless oligarchy.

There are still a few books left in Sustainable Santa’s sack. He’ll be back tomorrow.

The Meat Racket: The Secret takeover of Americas Food Business, by Christopher Leonard, $28.00

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Book 6: Sustainable Santa Has a Book Suggestion for Every Conscientious Eater on Your Holiday List

Beef Cover

Defending Beef  by Nicolette Hahn Niman

When Santa stamps back into the house after his annual rounds, he looks forward to sitting down at the dinner table with Mrs. Claus for a beautiful standing rib roast accompanied by her unbeatable Yorkshire pudding.

So Santa’s been feeling a little conflicted lately, trying to justify his love of good beef in the face of all the human health and environmental horrors that have been attributed to cattle production over the last several years.

Leave it to Nicolette Hahn Niman—lawyer, environmentalist, rancher, mother, and (Santa isn’t kidding) practicing vegetarian—to lay out a vigorous, intellectually robust argument in favor of beef. With one huge caveat: Meat has to be raised the right way. From an environmental point of view, Nicolette argues, there is a huge difference between grass-fed, pastured cattle and those that consume a diet based on corn (and a host of chemicals) in massive feedlots.

At the same time, Nicolette presents a convincing case that sugars and simple carbohydrates, not cows, might be the real culprits behind the national epidemic of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

For the committed carnivores on your list as well as the environmentalists and vegetarians who aren’t adverse to a little food for thought.

Sustainable Santa will be back tomorrow with yet another gift book suggestion.

Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production, by Nicolette Hahn Niman

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Book 5: Sustainable Santa Has a Book Suggestion for Every Conscientious Eater on Your Holiday List

American Catch


Book 5: American Catch by Paul Greenberg

Santa considers himself fortunate. With much of the Bering Sea and Alaska lying within his foodshed, Santa has ready access to plenty of pollock, Arctic char, wild salmon and other local seafood.

But as Paul Greenberg points out in American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood, Santa is the exception among Americans. Despite controlling more ocean than any other country, the United States imports in excess of 85 percent of its seafood. And at the same time as the country is bringing in all those fish from who-knows-where, it is exporting fully one-third of the fish that come from its waters. Alaska alone produces enough fish to feed the nation. How did this come about? Why don’t Americans give their seafood the respect it deserves? Why, oh why, does the definition of “locavore” stop at the high-tide mark? What’s the catch? The American catch.

Paul, who has to be one of the most amiable narrators taking on serious food issues today, uses this paradox as a stepping off point for a lively exploration of America’s complex relationship with the marine resources at its doorstep, from the oyster beds of the Northeast, to the salmon runs of Alaska. He encounters lots of problems and threats along the way, but ends on a hopeful note, which I might sum up as, “Yes, America, there is a way to have your seafood and eat it too.”

Give this book to anyone who loves to catch fish, dines on seafood, or enjoys the coastal waters of the United States.

Santa has more recommendations in his bag. He’ll be back with another book tomorrow.

American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood, by Paul Greenberg, $ 26.95

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Book 4: Sustainable Santa Has a Book Suggestion for Every Conscientious Eater on Your Holiday List


Labor and the Local


Book 4: Labor and the Locavore by Margaret Gray

Santa here, back for Wee Barry Estabrook, who has fallen asleep at his desk, so I’ll take the opportunity to slip in another food book recommendation.

As the CEO of a worldwide company that gives its product away for free to all good boys and girls, Santa is well aware of how bottom-line realities can put pressure on worker wages and benefits. Nonetheless, Santa makes sure his elves make at least minimum wage, have full medical coverage, receive overtime, and have generous vacation schedules. He expects all farmers to follow his example.

Alas, Labor and the Locavore, Maggie Gray’s investigation of the growers who supply pretty products to New York City’s farmers’ markets, shows that those Carhartt-clad neo-agrarians under the pop-up tents hide an ugly reality: Unseen migrant laborers often do the real work. The men and women who tend and pick urbanites’ upscale fruits and veggies live anything but upscale lives, without benefits, overtime, medical insurance—or even a guarantee that they will make minimum wage. Naughty, naughty.

Give this book to all farmers’ market shoppers on your list and ask them to share what they learn with their favorite vendors.

Santa has more recommendations in his bag. He’ll be back with another book tomorrow.

Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic, by Margaret Gray, $29.95.

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Book 3: Sustainable Santa Has Book Suggestions for Every Conscientious Eater on Your Holiday List




Book 3: The Chain by Ted Genoways

Santa, back again standing in for Wee Barry Estabrook who is supposed to be toiling away on a new book proposal but seems to be wasting a lot of time on social media instead.

As you know, Santa tends a small herd of domestic ruminants himself, so he has a soft spot for all livestock. After reading The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of our Food, Ted Genoways’ scathing investigative report on factory pig farming, Santa will be stuffing several large, filthy lumps of coal in his bag to be put into the stockings of the executives at Hormel Foods and other corporate pork producers.

From the dismal conditions faced by workers inside slaughterhouses to the rundown Midwestern “barrios” that house immigrant workers, Ted takes on Big Pig with investigative vigor and muckraking gusto not seen since Little Upton Sinclair lashed out at the same industry in The Jungle. Santa’s been around a long time. It saddens him to see how little has changed.

Give this eye-opener to all of the meat lovers on your list as well as those who shun animal products.

Santa has more recommendations in his bag. He’ll be back with another book tomorrow.

The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of our Food, by Ted Genoways, $26.99.

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Book 2: Sustainable Santa Has Book Suggestions for Every Conscientious Eater on Your Holiday List

Sam's Book Cover

Book 2: In Search of the Perfect Loaf by Samuel Fromartz

For those readers who missed the first installment of this Yuletide series, it’s Sustainable Santa writing here again, stepping into this spot for Wee Barry Estabrook, who is struggling to put togeether a new book proposal. The poor lad is working almost as hard as my elves, which is saying something  this time of year.

Santa freely admits to having a sweet tooth. He’s always delighted to find a few cookies left out on hearths. But after sliding down Sam Fromartz’s chimney, Santa heads directly to the kitchen, where inevitably Sam has stashed a few fresh loaves of his just-baked bread.

Sam is a journalist, and a very good one at that. But he is also one of the very best bread bakers in the land. His baguettes once beat out those of all the professionals in a bake-off in his home town, Washington, DC, and when Alice Waters hosted a benefit in the capitol, she insisted that Sam make the bread.

His book, In Search of a Perfect Loaf, Sam blends practical advice and age-old wisdom and leavens the combination with interesting characters and irresistible writing. What arises is an absolute must-have book for the bread baker on your list. But it is also a page-turning read for anyone with a curiosity about this miracle food.

In interest of full disclosure, Sam has edited Wee Barry’s work and supported his reporting through the Food and Environmental Reporting Network.

Santa has more recommendations in his bag. He’ll be back with another book tomorrow.

In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey, by Samuel Fromartz, Viking, $26.95.

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Sustainable Santa Has Book Suggestions for Every Conscientious Eater on Your Holiday List

Ho-ho-ho! Happy holidays to all, and to all a good read.

Hoe, hoe, hoe!

Hoe, hoe, hoe!

Book 1: The Third Plate by Dan Barber

It’s Santa, writing. Wee Barry Estabrook is preoccupied with putting together a new book proposal, so Santa has picked up his quill to help him out (and lighten Santa’s sleigh) by dashing off a few words about Santa’s favorite books of food journalism for 2014—all dandy gifts for the food lovers on your list.

The image consultants insist that Santa maintains the physique of a fat, jolly, old elf, so it should come as no surprise that he takes food ve-r-r-r-r-r-y seriously. And because Santa expects to be embarking on his annual sleigh ride for many more millennia, it should also come as no surprise that he has a vested interest in the long-term sustainability of our food system.

Which brings Santa to the first book on Santa’s list. (Always fair-minded, Santa will proceed in alphabetical order by author.)


Aptly subtitled Field Notes on the Future of Food, Young Dan Barber’s The Third Plate makes a perfect gift for the deeply thoughtful eaters on your list, the ones who gobbled up Michael Pollan’s Onmivore’s Dilemma when it came out. In fact, Santa will go so far as to say that The Third Plate is the most important book to come out about our food system since Pollan’s seminal work.

Dan, of course, is the James-Beard-Award-Winning chef-owner of the two Blue Hill restaurants in the New York City area. His cooking is earthy, imaginative, intellectual, sometimes playful, and always interesting, yet he never lets diners forget that his culinary tours de force begin in some nearby barnyard. The same could be said of his writing.

It seems a little unfair that such a talented chef writes as well as he cooks, but those of us who are unable to make it to a Blue Hill should be delighted we have the opportunity devour Dan’s masterful prose, and contemplate a food future beyond today’s platitudes of seasonal and local.

Santa has more recommendations in his bag. He’ll be back with another book tomorrow.


The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber, The Penguin Press, $29.95

Click here to See Santa’s Next Book Suggestion

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What Happens When a Slaughterhouse-Bound Hog Jumps from a Truck That’s Speeding Along an Interstate Highway? Surprise, Surprise.

The Crate Escape

The Crate Escape


Pigs will do the darnedest things. Just ask Peter Burmeister is co-owner of Burelli Farm, an operation in north-central Vermont known primarily for its organic meat chickens, though it also produces beef and a small amount of pork. To lay in a supply of the latter commodity, Burmeister was delivering a pair of hogs to the processing plant in his pickup truck along Interstate 89. Pigs are nothing if not wily, so perhaps he shouldn’t have been surprised when one of his charges—perhaps sensing what lay ahead—jimmied the latch on its crate, hopped out of the speeding truck, and, apparently none the worse for the wear after a 60-mile-per-hour tumble, bolted for freedom into the thick, wintery forest.

The condemned pig, up until then the life-long resident of a snug, straw-filled stable, remained at large for 19 days. Nighttime temperatures in the teens and a  Nor’easter that dropped more than a foot of heavy snow weren’t enough to convince the fugitive to come in from the cold.

Who knows what would have happened had 15-year-old Brittany White and her father not decided to get in one more deer hunt before Thanksgiving. They heard a commotion in the bush behind them and wheeled to confront, not the trophy buck of Brittany’s dreams, but a plump, pink, barnyard pig trotting toward them in the tracks they had trampled in the snow.

Knowing a snug, comfortable retreat when it saw one, the creature ambled into a cage the hunters lined with old sofa cushions scavenged from their camp. Brittany claimed naming rights, and, inspired by teenage sibling rivalry, christened the porker Bethany, after her sister.

A local television station covered the unusual results of the father-daughter hunt.

See the WCAX television footage here.

Recognizing the porcine TV personality as the hog that had bolted from the bed of his truck, Burmeister reclaimed the animal, who had been an incorrigible escape artist from the moment it set hooves on Burelli Farm as an eight-week-old piglet. Bethany, it turned out, was actually a male named Howdy. His surviving pen mate back at Burelli Farm was, of course, Doody.

See footage of the reunion here.

For his efforts, Howdy was granted temporary clemency and will be allowed to continue fattening with Doody for several more weeks before the inevitable trip back up I-89.

Despite his sojourn in the Green Mountains, the pig had lost no weight and returned home content and healthy. “If you raise pigs, that shouldn’t surprise you at all,” said Katherine Fanelli, co-owner of the farm. “Howdy was probably perfectly happy out there in the woods digging for roots and nuts.

After two years of researching pigs for my forthcoming book, Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat, I never cease to be amazed by these remarkable animals.

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