Single Subject Food Books

I recently attended a very interesting symposium on single subject food books.  Andy Smith, a food historian, author, and educator, put the program together.

Currently there are about 200 single subject food books on the market and more are in the works.  I had no idea this number was so high.

Michael Leaman, Publisher of Reaktion Books was one of the panelists.  Reaktion Books specializes in one item food books through its Edible Series.  Dessert-related books in The Edible Series include:

  •        Cake
  •        Pie
  •        Pudding
  •        Chocolate
  •        Ice Cream

Wouldn’t the same people who are interested in the Cake book also be interested in the Pie book?  Why do books have to be so specific?  Are we in an era of such specialization that it’s carried over into our books?

Some of the panelists pointed out that single subject food books are actually not that narrow in scope.  Since only one type of food is being examined, all aspects of that food – history, business, and anthropology – can be covered.

image of Cake book You can see this in the book, Cake.  The Introduction to this book, sub-titled When is a Cake Not a Cake, defines “cake.”  As the author, Nicola Humble, illustrates, determining whether a dessert is a cake or another type of sweet can be surprisingly complicated.  And it can have real economic ramifications.  In the UK, in 1991, McVities, the manufacturer of Jaffa Cakes sued the UK Inland Revenue arguing that its confections were “cakes” and not “biscuits” (cookies), and therefore were not subject to VAT (Value Added Tax).  McVitie’s claim is that cakes dry out as they get stale while biscuits (cookies) soften and Jaffa Cakes dry out as they age.  Incidentally, Jaffa Cakes are small round cakes covered on one side by orange jelly and chocolate.

Other advantages of single subject food books: They’re often shorter so readers can learn quite a bit about one food subject without investing a lot of time.  From the publisher’s perspective, these books can be easier to market since it’s very clear (from the book’s title) what it will cover.

I’m waiting for a book on White Chocolate Cake!

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