Two of my favorites are by the same author, Ruth Ozeki, who explores agribusiness, environmentalism, family, community, gender, and the power of seed saving in her two novels My Year of Meats and All Over Creation. Both of these novels were ahead of their time, taking on subjects that later become the focus of best sellers such as Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma. My Year of Meats, which raises questions around ethically raising meat and bovine hormones in the food chain, was published in 1999, and All Over Creation which takes on agribusiness, biodiversity, and the importance of seed saving was published in 2004.
While Oziki's novels have a tendency toward more serious subjects, there are also shelves of crime fiction that often incorporate food-related puns (Crime Brûlée, Devil's Food Cake Murder, Beef Stolen-Off) and chick-lit titles whose protagonist usually owns a bakery/cupcake shop/catering company but still has time to look gorgeous and meet cute (but difficult and elusive) men.
Author Joanne Harris, who wrote the novels Chocolat, Five Quarters of the Orange, and Blackberry Wine is another well-known novelist who brings food into the forefront. There are also novels where the protagonist is a chef, novels about Chinese food, and novels where the heroine goes to Paris and eats a lot of delicious-sounding things.
For the most part, most of these books don't satisfy me. The food/chef/cupcake maker angle can seem forced and all too often, the author gets things wrong. (Wait a minute, you can't just whip up a batch of croissants in an hour!) My favorites are when food and cooking are woven thoughout the book, functioning as details that enhance the story such as this passage from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and these titles.
What food-focused fiction is on your bookshelf?
Related: Best Summer Food Books
(Image: Penguin Books)