On a recent trip to Paris, my brother Marc lent me First Bite by Bee Wilson, a book he had just finished reading and thought I would enjoy. Although I am a big reader of food blogs, I am not used to reading actual books about food, so this read was a leap of faith! I was quite right to give it a go, as since I have finished the book I have been recommending it to everyone I know!
First Bite: How We Learn to Eat is a non-fiction book about food: how we form our likes and dislikes, cultural eating, emotional eating, food memories, eating disorders and everything in between.
First Bite gave me food for thought on the massive topic of eating habits. I hadn’t dedicated so much brain power to a new subject in quite some time!
The author clearly did a lot of research, collecting information from scientists, nutritionists and psychologists as well as ordinary people with interesting food stories to tell. There was one woman who subsisted on plain pasta and white bread, a food critic who lost her sense of taste after an unfortunate accident, and scores of parents trying to get their children to eat (real) food.
I liked the fact that this was not a self-help book. There is a whole chapter (and conclusion) entitled THIS IS NOT ADVICE. I did, however, glean information that could serve in the future as well as my present, notably how to feed a child (fascinating) and how to love foods that are good for you.
Bee Wilson’s careful explanation of how we learn to love and hate certain foods – and how you can teach yourself to like a food you dislike, with enough patience and good intentions – made me feel like experimenting with the foods I am not a fan of. The only foods I really can’t stomach are fennel, liquorice, and aniseed. Funnily enough, my two brothers don’t like those flavours either. After reading the book, Marc did his own home experiment and is now ok with small amounts of those foods. I just might give it a try myself!
First Bite was a useful and eye-opening read. I learned about Greek immigrants who search for feta cheese upon arriving in America only to be disappointed that the taste does not bring back home. This reminded me of when my mother and I tried to find real cheddar cheese when arriving in Mauritius from England and failed miserably, finding only a weird rubbery-like canned substance the whole island swears by still today! I also enjoyed reading about the sudden increase in obesity rates in China explained in part by the Great Chinese Famine between 1959 and 1961, as well as the fairly recent change in Japanese eating habits that used to rely heavily on plain grains. It was truly fascinating reading about how different cultures relate to food.
I think that First Bite is useful for everyone: after all, we all have to eat, whatever our convictions about food! This book made me think a lot about my own personal food memories and preferences. It was a walk down memory lane, a collection of food stories and a scientific study all rolled into one!