What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
“The One-Straw Revolution,” by Masanobu Fukuoka. My friend Steve Crumley gave me the book in the 1970s, and I read it cover to cover. Fukuoka was so important in his time: He influenced all the radical thinkers about food. He talked about his way of farming as “do-nothing farming,” and I loved that revolutionary idea that we can let nature take its course instead of bending it to our will — and also that we cannot isolate agriculture from the rest of our lives.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
There are so many, and I’ll never be able to name them all. But here are a few that have made a big impression on me: Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Eric Schlosser, Wendell Berry, Maira Kalman, Raj Patel, Patti Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kim Severson, Ruth Reichl, Natalie Baszile, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Ayad Akhtar, Robert Scheer, Hilton Als, Dan Barber, Mark Danner, Hamilton Fish, Samin Nosrat, Matthew Raiford, Adam Gopnik, Robert Hass, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Madhur Jaffrey, Jonathan Kozol, Corby Kummer, David Mas Masumoto, Gary Nabhan, Robert Reich, Orville Schell, David Tanis, Calvin Trillin. I’m sure I’ve got at least another 20 people that I could name.
What book, if any, most influenced your approach to food?
It’s really hard to pin it down to just one book. It might be a tossup between Richard Olney and Elizabeth David — but I think it’s probably Elizabeth David’s “French Country Cooking.” I got it in my early 20s, shortly after I came back from studying in France in 1965. When I returned home to Berkeley all I wanted to do was live like the French. Elizabeth David had also gone to France, and also fallen in love with the markets and the way that the French lived to eat. It’s a big cultural picture that Elizabeth David presents in her books; it’s not simply about food. Food is culture, and she revealed that. She also influenced me aesthetically — I loved the gracefulness and simplicity of her recipes and her cooking.
Who writes especially well about farming or restaurants, or both?
Wendell Berry writes beautifully about farming, for sure. And Ruth Reichl always writes so evocatively about restaurants and cooking. And while this isn’t strictly restaurants or farming, I love Michael Pollan’s edition of “Food Rules” that’s illustrated by Maira Kalman — two of my all-time favorites, collaborating together.