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Book Club: Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton

Posted by jenskitchen on June 28, 2009

Noelle at simmer down! (a food lover’s blog) hosted the June book, Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton. Make sure to check out her post and all the great discussion. And, if you love to read and eat and sometimes combine the two, why not join Chew on This! (A Food Lover’s Book Club).

I was excited to read this book for the June Book Club after reading Shauna James Ahern’s glowing review. I should probably preface this review by telling you that I’m not much a professional book reviewer, so don’t expect an in-depth analysis of the book and in-depth critique, etc… Nope, I just love to read and I love to eat food and I love anything that allows to explore both of these loves. So, my goal with this book club is to read some interesting books and then post my thoughts.

However, for those of you who haven’t read it – a quick summary. Amster-Burton has a great food blog and is a former food critic and a rock critic. His writing is quick and hip – you don’t even need to have kids to enjoy reading this book which documents the eating habits of his now four year old daughter, Iris.

I should probably also tell you that I have a two year old. You may not know this, but two-year olds are picky eaters. Amster-Burton knows this and has some great stories to tell about how his eat-everything one year old became his picky-eating two year old. I had actually forgotten about this for a while. My older son is fourteen. He’s not picky. He’ll eat everything and then some (want to see my grocery bill?) And, until this year, my two-year old was not picky. In fact, he insisted on eating everything that we were eating. Until this year of course. Now, he only wants vegetables and noodles and rice. I guess it could be worse.

I had plans about how my little one would be introduced to food. I had researched the best introduction times and orders for certain foods. I had made a calendar of how those foods would be introduced. I had his menus planned six months in advance. Turns out babies can’t read calendars – and mine didn’t seem to be too impressed with my schedule. There would be no solid food introduced until he was six months old. Um, until of course at five months old he sat at the table screaming during dinner one night. Even without words, he was able to communicate that he wanted our food. We caved. Don’t get me wrong, my little one had teeth start coming in at four months old. Even without teeth, babies have great gums for mushing up food. I was deathly afraid he would choke on the tiny piece of mushed up chicken his father finally gave him. He didn’t. And, he continued to ask for food. In fact, he wanted whatever we were eating. Until this year.

And, this is one of the points in Amster-Burton’s book. It doesn’t really matter what your plans are for your child’s eating habits. They’re going to eat the things you don’t want them to eat at age one. Then, they’re going to get picky and not eat the things you want them to eat starting somewhere around age two. I have to admit, I took great comfort in reading Hungry Monkey. Make sure to read this book and check out the other blogs participating in this Book Club.

By the way, I asked my little one what his favorite meal was… he said, “popcorn”.

Discussion Questions

1.  Both the author and myself had some pre-conceived notions about picky eaters.  Did the book change any views you may have had, or (for those of you who are parents) reinforce what you already knew to be true from experience?

Absolutely. It was actually great fun to get to read this while going through the picky eating phase. My little one often stands beside me as I cook. He’ll taste all the ingredients with me as they go into the meal. Then, when it’s time to eat, he’ll look at the food all cooked and say, “No, thank you.” I guess I should take comfort in the fact that in a way, he’s already eaten the meal – just not the way I intended. And, well, he’s polite.

2. The author confesses that he was, in fact, a very picky eater as a child, but turned out to be an avid food-lover.  Most of you reading this are probably adventurous eaters; is this something that you came to on your own, or did your parents nudge you in that direction? Do you think being a “food lover” is innate or learned?

I am definitely an adventurous eater. Now. For me, it was definitely learned. And, I started learning out of necessity. When I started cutting out whole categories of food, first with Atkins and then by going gluten-free, I learned to focus on what I could eat rather than what I couldn’t. That meant trying things I had never tried before. And, for me, revisiting some of those foods I didn’t think I liked. I made a new rule. To try each food at least 3 different ways. Turns out, that if cooked properly, there are many foods I like that I didn’t use to like. In a way, I taught myself to be adventurous and truly appreciate food.

3. The author describes being forced to try sushi as a kid and almost throwing up, but trying it again in college and loving it. He credits this to the fact that the second time he tried it, he expected to like it.  Do you agree?  Can you think of a food that you probably liked because you expected to like it, or anything you didn’t like in spite of thinking you would?

Honestly, there were a lot of foods I didn’t expect to like. And, once I challenged myself to try new foods, I found that I did like them. (I actually didn’t have high expectations for Brussels sprouts, but they’ve become one of my favorite veggies.) For me the experience was a little different.

4. Not every family can spend the time and money the author does to introduce his daughter to so many foods.  What can working parents or parents with less means do to bring cooking and diverse foods into their children’s lives?  Or do you feel this is even important?

I do feel this is important. My kids and I take a minimum of one night to cook together in the kitchen. We get to spend time together. We talk about food, ingredients, tastes, etc… and we have great opportunities to connect on other issues as well. Since I do work quite a bit, it is very important to me that I spend quality time with my kids. But, I haven’t translated that to get food on the table as quickly as possible so we have more time. I just brought the kids into the kitchen with me.

5. Food obviously plays a huge role in the Amster-Burton household.  What role does food have in your household?  Do you feel that kids need to know “where food comes from” and participate in food preparation, or is it enough just to make sure they’re eating reasonably healthy foods?

Food is pretty important in our house. I do think that it’s important for the kids to know about their food and participate. Nutrition and healthy eating is so important to me. Unfortunately, I never learned to cook growing up. My mom went into the kitchen and then some time later, we were called to the dinner table. Food was there. I never really thought about how it got there. So, when I was out on my own, I had no idea what to do in the kitchen. As I’m teaching myself now, I’m including the kids in the process. We discuss food preparation and techniques.

Thanks for hosting, Noelle! This was a great book.


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