Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Kitchen Reader: Hungry Monkey

By the time you read this, I will be at the end of my 10-day trip to Italy, probably returning from the Umbria region back to Rome in order to catch our flight back to the States via Montreal. If you're reading this, then I successfully posted the entry while on the road. I read the book well in advance and wrote the review before I left on vacation since I didn't expect I would have time or the inclination to do it while away.

This month's selection was "Hungry Monkey" by Matthew Amster-Burton, chosen by Meryl of My Bit of Earth.

This was a delightful read, particularly in comparison to the more serious tomes from the past two months. I finished it in a day and found it to be thoroughly amusing. My primary two thoughts were:

  1. Damn you Seattle for being so foodie-friendly as compared to Boston, and
  2. Raising kids is hard.
Not particularly deep thoughts, I realize, but they were the best I could muster on a long weekend lounging in the sun.

More seriously, the book is about a foodie couple (the father Matthew is a professional food writer) raising their daughter and trying to ensure (hoping?) that she'll be an adventurous eater. Not having kids myself, I can't say I have extensive knowledge in this area, but I do have a couple of first-hand experiences. The first is with my now 2 year old nephew, seeing him go from an indiscriminate human vacuum at age 1 to an oddly selective 2 year old who likes things like fried calamari, salmon skin, and noodles so spicy he needed to take sips of milk between each bite. The second and more lasting impression is with the husband's first nephew who came to stay with us for a week a couple of summers ago when he was 9.

The nephew flew clear across the country by himself, and the visit was a first for both him and for us. We'd been warned ahead of time that he was a picky eater, but he seemed more like a typical 9 year old boy - didn't like vegetables, and preferred chips and soda (pop?) to healthier options. He lives in a very small town in interior British Columbia, so we decided we would try to expand his food palate while he stayed with us. We also decided we wouldn't deviate from our normal meals, other than to avoid spicy foods (that would have probably been too much for him), and we asked him up front to try new things that we served him.

Initially that didn't turn out so well - one of the first things we did was take him up to Maine so that he could try a lobster roll. He took a bite with a lot of coaxing and much apprehension, and promptly decided that the shack burger was far better. He got over that quickly because we bribed him with a stop at an ice cream store, which had a make your own sundae bar. At home, he happily ate steak and roast potatoes with a minimal amount of ketchup (we were warned he was a ketchup fiend so we stocked up ahead of time), and did manage to get fresh corn on the cob and beans into him on a few occasions. We took him to a Vietnamese restaurant where he happily ate rice noodles and BBQ pork (and loved boba tea), and he did just fine at a Japanese fast food stall in the Porter Exchange mall (aka Little Tokyo) with the Japanese version of hamburgers and fried chicken with a side of plain rice, though I brought the bottle of ketchup in my purse in preparation for off any meltdowns. By the end of the week, though, we'd gotten a variety of new foods into him so we were satisfied with the outcome.

We're aware that we got off easy - the nephew is a very good-natured, easy going kid who was old enough to reason with. Young kids as in the book (the daughter Iris is 4 at her oldest) aren't in the same category. I will be curious to see how she and other kids of foodies fare as they get older, since this is really the first generation to have hard core foodies as parents. In large numbers, at the least. I know if we were ever to have children, the husband would insist on our child bringing baguettes with brie and ham for lunch. I wonder how they will fare in the face of the food marketers with their incessant lure of packaged foods. A whole chapter on this issue is in Anthony Bourdain's new book Medium Raw, where he and his wife discuss ways to make McDonald's scary and evil for a little three-year old. I did notice that the nephew seemed to have a balanced view on junk food around us - we didn't make the junk food readily available to him at home but if he wanted some, we would give it to him. We noticed he ate what he wanted and then stopped when he had enough. This supported my personal theory that if a food is forbidden (as junk food was in my house growing up), it leads to bingeing behavior, but if it's available without any judgemental connotations attached, then the child will grow up with a healthy attitude towards all foods.

Overall, I commend what the author and his wife are trying to do and hope that his efforts and those of others like him will collectively improve the eating habits of a new generation, leading to an increase in the overall quality of food available to everyone. Hippie wishful thinking? I hope not.


Anonymous said...

I like your two primary thoughts! It is interesting to think about how kids of foodie parents like these will end up. Will they rebel or will they become foodies themselves? I don't have kids either, but this was still an entertaining book to read.

lisa Cadow said...

So funny that you tucked a bottle of ketchup in your purse when you visited Little Tokyo with your nephew. You are a very sweet aunt. And I shared your sentiments about Seattle. Maybe member of the Kitchen Reader group should travel there to do some food reviews! Hope you had a great trip to Italia.

Jennifer said...

I didn't finish this-sickness won in the end. I did think it was funny.

Love your review!!!!

Meryl said...

Enjoyed the stories about your nephew. It's always interesting to me, from a learning perspective, to watch how other people's kiddos eat. We have a couple small relatives that are really adventurous eaters and a couple who are picky--I can never decide if that's more nature or nurture.

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