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Sunday, 28 February 2016

Book Review "First Bite" and general musing on fussy eater

Throughout the year I make various homemade soups from the stuff we grow on the allotment. The vegetables I use are ones that I like to eat and the soup smells delicious when it is cooking and a sip off the spoon confirms that it tastes good too. It is baffling to me, therefore, why I cannot bring myself to eat a bowlful of this soup. Having only eaten Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup as a child, to my mind this is the ONLY soup. I cannot even blame my parents for this odd conclusion because my parents eat a whole range of different soup flavours, brands and even homemade versions. It is completely stupid and yet I cannot apparently get over it. Recently, having made a batch of beautiful borscht, I made a pact with my daughter that we would both be sensible and adult about it and sit down together to eat a bowl of it each. We did quite well but before she had finished my daughter asked, "Can I stop eating this now?" to which I said, "I have already given up, Love."

In a similar vane, when I flick through my monthly edition of The Good Food Magazine I see a whole bunch of dishes that I just don't fancy eating at all. Years ago I would have looked at food like that I just thought of it as "adult food" and be confidently assured that one day I would grow up and like food like this. I would suddenly delight in a couscous salad, would welcome quinoa or polenta on the side of my plate or would fancy filleting a fish. Now over the age of 40, it has dawned on me that I am now very definitely an adult and yet I still flick past these pages, looking for something more appealing. It is certainly true that the food I eat now is far removed from the food I ate as a child and to my mind more "grown up" but I am still not someone who would struggle to make a decision in a restaurant on the basis of liking everything on offer.

With two children of my own now, one an enthusiastic eater who apparently loves everything except Indian spices and the other "fussy", I can't help but wish to "cure" my fussy eater to help unburden her from these socially awkward moments when she will feel worried or embarrassed about not liking food she has to eat. That is not to say she has an enormous problem, probably having a wider range of tastes than I did at her age, but it is normal for mothers to wish only for the best for their children.

Somewhere along the line I came to the desire to "fix" my own stupid soup issue, to learn to like "adult food" and to help improve the food repertoire of my daughter. And this year I decided to make these my New Year's Resolutions. It was therefore fortuitous that on 5th January I came across an article online by Bee Wilson about how to relearn the art of eating. Not only was the article hugely thought provoking but it mentioned her book "First Bite" and I instantly decided this was the book I needed.

There is no doubt about it, First Bite is a brilliant book and one that would help pretty much anyone anywhere who ever has to eat food... oh, that's everyone then! In it she talks about how and why we end up liking the food that we do. It is such a complicated subject with influences from our families, society and our own bodies. She takes the reader through the way we learn to eat as children, the battles that can start in childhood and how we end up with the relationship with food that we have as adults.

I would say that this book is helpful if you are about to embark on weaning a baby from milk onto solid food, if you are a parent responsible for feeding your children, if you work with children and are there when they are eating, if you have a child who is a fussy eater, if you are an adult who is unhappy with your weight, if you have a recognised eating disorder or know someone who does, if you are embarrassed by the limited range of what you eat, if you wish to eat more healthily but struggle to stick with it or if for any other reason you wish to change what you eat but are finding it difficult.

Although I embarked on reading this book principally for myself it straight away made me think about the way I feed the family and particularly the way I deal with my "fussy" daughter. Before I was even half way in I started to change this relationship and immediately saw results. There is so much psychology associated with this topic that it is helpful to have a book explaining what things definitely don't work and why other things do work. They seem blindingly obvious once they are pointed out but are still difficult to stick to, battling as we do with old doctrines about eating everything on your plate, only being allowed dessert if you have eaten vegetables and being expected to eat foods we don't like.

It was pleasing too to have some of my natural ideas re-enforced by this book. The importance of structured meals and family mealtimes at a table cannot be over-rated. Treating children as miniature adults rather than "children" is also crucial. It does seem strange to me now that we should ever just assume that we will somehow grow out of our childhood eating habits and just naturally take up eating healthy food. Why not instead just trust that child will eat healthily if fed well. I have long believed that you cannot make anyone do anything but you can lead by example. When I realised that my pre-school child was shy I decided it was my job to be less shy myself and, my goodness, what a change that made to my life as well as demonstrating to my children what confidence looks like. If I expect my children to eat a wide range of food then I too must eat it and be seen to do it naturally and with enjoyment. Equally it is OK to show that there are just some foods that I don't like but that is not a reason not to offer it to them or expect them to dislike it too.

The journey that Bee has taken through her life has been a tough one, having been a binge eating in her teens and overweight from an early age, and with an anorexic sister thrown in for good measure. She has managed to move on from her unhappy relationship with food and to have made her peace with it now. Personally, I have never really had an unhappy relationship with food. I don't battle with my weight, I don't beat myself up about what I eat or forbid myself food pleasures and I have never put myself on a diet. That is not to say that I have some miracle metabolism or that I wouldn't mind being a little more comfortably within the box of "ideal" on the weight charts. Somehow I just want to eat food that is OK for me to eat and this is where Bee wants us to all be - actually feeling desire for food that is good for us. As I have already said, I don't eat what I would consider to be "adult" food - salads and weird grains - but instead just eat straight forward food but not much in the way of junk so maybe I should forgive myself for flicking past some recipes in the magazine and accept that there are some foods I don't have to like. My favourite food is pie, we eat cake every day and chips several times a week. But the food is homemade so I know what went into it and I can take a couple of ounces of sugar out of the recipe without anyone noticing and use only a tablespoon of oil for frying potatoes. I now actually find myself unhappy when I go into supermarkets as it just seems to be an assault of over-processed junk food at every turn and it is a battle to work my way through it to the ingredients that will allow me to make the food I want to eat. For some this might be a battle of will to resist temptation but to me is a battle to avoid being grossed out and appalled. I'm much happier shopping online from my list of "favourites".  Not actually wanting to eat junk and feeling an uncomfortable ache in the stomach when you see it is probably a good thing.

At Christmas I told my sister-in-law about my desire to eat more soup and adult food and she said that I already eat really well and that I shouldn't beat myself up over it. Having read this book there is definitely an element from it that would agree. It is important to be in a happy place with food and largely I am. Nonetheless, as with most things in life, there is room for qweeking and improvement and I would like to continue with my resolution. The desire within oneself for change is the only way that change will ever happen so I would say if you have a desire for change then read this book to help grow that desire and to give you pointers as to how you can achieve it. She herself says that just telling someone what they need to do will never change it and she does not preach or even advise - merely provides a whole load of examples that in themselves provide that role-model experience that is probably missing from our lives.

It is rare to get to the end of a non-fiction book and feel that sense of loss that is so common when finishing a novel. However, that is how I feel now as I want to learn more. Also, when I finish a book I hate to just put it on a shelf as a book on a shelf is a sad thing. Instead I like to pass it on but now I have the dilemma of knowing who to pass this on to as anyone would benefit from reading it.

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