(I also love the idea of reading these books in the order listed, but of course everyone is different, and in the end if you are interested in eating fresh produce there is probably something here for you.)
1. Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon : This handsome and fairly compact book is described by the authors as "One man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally." That is probably a good description. I thoroughly enjoyed this account of a young couple from Vancouver, Canada living in a fairly small urban apartment in this far- north city. This book was written just at the very start of the locavore movement, and the extremes that these two go to in order to provide themselves with food from within 100 miles of their apartment is both inspiring and mystifying. You may end this work thinking two thoughts: these people are crazy and also, I want to be just a little more like them.
2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: I know several transformed eaters who stumbled onto this book because they loved Kingsolver's other works (mostly novels). This is a great follow up to 'Plenty'. Kingsolver even references Smith and Mackinnon in her introduction in a way that indicates she is out to pursue local eating in a very different manner. In the end though, most people of 2006 America would probably have viewed her one year all local experiment as equally over the top.
I thought this a beautiful work that depicts the autobiographical journey Kingsolver made with her husband, botanist Steven Hopp, and their two daughters from their completely unsustainable life in Tucson AZ. to an almost completely self- sufficient life on a farm in western Virginia which they had previously used solely as a summer get away. Full of great gardening advice, research information, meal plans, recipes, (and a dash or two of soap box speeches ) This book will certainly inspire you to make community connections, grow some of your own food, and perhaps think about food differently than you have in the past.
3. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan: Both of the above books are full of all sorts of useful information and some astounding facts, but Michael Pollan as a botanist and journalist does a marvelous job of researching, digesting and then explaining the vast history of where food comes from and how in the case of the fast food meal, or chemical inputs for agriculture, we got to the place we are today. In this book, Pollan traces the ingredients making up four very different meals all the way back to their ultimate sources. The first section which follows a fast food meal from McDonald's has something like seven chapters on corn (which is the source of food for all fast food animals, fast food sweeteners, glazes, breading, frying oil, etc) and some how they are all fascinating!
4. Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers Markets by Debera Madison: This is fundamentally a cookbook, but Madison spends a great deal of time traveling around the country to different farmers markets and then describing what she is able to find in different regions during which seasons and providing recipes to use those ingredients. She also provides advice on finding and shoping at local markets. This is great for people new to farmers markets or new to cooking from scratch with fresh produce or maybe for those taking a trip to one of the areas she describes.
5. The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters: This cookbook by the owner of Chez Panisse in California is indispensable for those who want to invest the time to cook their own meals well. It reads like a book, is of course full of recipes, but I love the explanations of the science behind the cooking process. Why is it so important to have all your ingredients chilled before you make a tart crust, or all at room temperature before you make a cake? All those little steps that I may have thought a probably unimportant wast of time and so neglected to the detriment of my cooking. Mostly Waters does a good job of teaching basics of techniques as flavor combinations that you can modify to suit what ever is available or you are in the mood for.
6. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan: Since I just wrote about this book, I'll just say this is another great read, especially for that individual you know who struggles with food. All of these works teach the reader to love food and enjoy eating well. This latest work by Pollan will, I think, be an eye opening breath of fresh air for anyone who has invested time and energy into eating healthy by conventional western standards only to be disappointed by the results.
There are of course many more that could go here, but this all I'll write for now. Happy reading. And of course I welcome your reading suggestions as well.