First bite – How we learn to eat – Book review

Whether you used to have dinner at the dining table with the whole family as a kid, whether you’re used to getting food as a reward or whether you grew up in times of hunger, all of these have a significant influence on your relationship with food for the rest of your life. It also impacts how we learn to eat, as Bee Wilson describes in her book ‘First Bite’ where she zoom in on how we humans learn to eat and all the ways that can and is being influenced.

Normally, we don’t write about diets and nutrition on this website. We try to avoid to some point since it is so personal. However, this book isn’t just about nutrition and diets, instead, it is relevant for anyone working with food or any human for that matter.

It goes way further than recommending ‘5 steps to eat healthy’ (which the author says won’t be successful anyway), but gives you a framework to look at how and what we eat. It’s an inspiring, very well-written book. It’s not an educational book, instead, it’s a combination of personal stories and experiences, combined with in-depth quality research. If you enjoyed The Dorito Effect, you may well enjoy this book as well.

We can change our eating habits

If you only like and eat 10 different foods, no matter your age, you will run into challenges. Eating out will be hard, what if the restaurant adds something to your dish you don’t like? Getting in enough nutrients is challenging as well, all those vitamins and minerals sit spread out throught a wide range of foods!

It may seem to be your destiny, but, Bee Wilson shares various examples of how people can learn to like and eat more and new foods. Not through fancy diets, life-overhauling interventions, but through simply, smaller steps and habits.  It may not be the easiest thing to do, but our brains are flexible enough to learn new ways to eat.

It is one of the most important messages of the whole book. We can learn to eat, not just when we are very young, but also when we’re older. We can learn to like new things (e.g. Brussel sprouts), we can learn to need new portion sizes and we can relearn how best to enjoy food. It’s a very powerful and positive message.

Learn to like what you need

Eating should be fun and pleasurable. The way to do that and eat a well balanced healthy diet is to make sure that you like and enjoy the foods you should be eating. Sounds simple, but it can sometimes be so hard as Bee shows.

However, once you’ve transferred into this mindset, it makes your life a lot easier. You don’t see a kale salad as a punishment or a strict diet, instead, you might actually be craving that kale salad.

How to get there? Bee’s main advice on this is to try and eat new foods (there’s a whole lot more to it which she describes in detail, in may be harder in some cases than others, but in a lot of cases it can be done if the circumstances are right and helpful). Of course, no one will like everything in the end, but chances are that simply by continuously trying and tasting, you will grow more fond of new flavours you might not have liked before.

We learn to like beer & coffee, don’t we?

One of the most apparent examples you can probably see around you is the liking of drinks like beer and coffee. A lot people don’t like their first beer or a coffee. However, you can definitely learn to appreciate the slightly more bitter, complex flavours of these drinks, simply by trying them and getting accustomed to them.

Children need to learn

Even though we can learn at almost every age, doesn’t mean we actually do it. This is especially apparent in the chapter on children. A lot of parents in western countries especially, tend to give their kids the food they like. In a lot of cases though this is mostly fast food and snacks, not necessarily the food kids need. However, how are kids going to appreciate that kale or broccoli if they’ve never even give it a real try?

Kids especially need to learn and be exposed to the foods they like. There are a ton of reasons why this might or might not happen. One of those that Bee Wilson mentions may be the most surprising: the parents. If the parents don’t like kale, chances are quite bit their kids won’t like it either. If parents don’t like vegetables, there’s a big chance this transfers over to the kids.

When eating goes wrong

 Bee herself has struggled with eating disorders, which she openly discusses and tells about in the book. It also translates into a whole section about eating disorders. It is a refreshing viewpoint where she definitely recognizes the complexity of these issues. She shows how we’re still struggling to cure people with these eating disorders and how it’s a lot more than just eating, but at the same time does all evolve around eating.

Change in the real world

One of the most inspiring and interesting stories Bee shares involves Japanese cuisine. Before reading this book I has assumed the Japanese cuisine was hunderds of years old with sushi, bento boxes, plenty of fish, etc. However, Bee points out that this really is only a few decades old, since the 2 world wars.

Before, Japanese were by far not as passionate about food, had quite severe nutritional deficiencies. Now, Japanese cuisine is conserdered one of the healthiest, despite its newness. It show the power of humans in being able to transform our eating. This transformation doesn’t have to mean a decrease of quality, but can definitely, even in these times, involve higher and better quality foods!

The author: Bee Wilson

Bee Wilson is a food writer and First Bite is her fifth book. She’s from the UK, but manages to ‘conceal’ this very well in the book. She manages to get stories for this book from a lot of different regions, not just the western world, which was especially inspiring. Eating is so different everywhere (is eating your vegetables as a kid such a big struggle in India as it is in the US and UK?)!

Besides the 5 books she’s written so far, she has published for a wide variety of publications, mostly on food, but going into some side streets once in a while as well.

Other work by Bee Wilson

One of her other books that I enjoyed very much was ‘Swindled: from poison sweets to counterfeit coffee’. If you are tempted to want to go back to your grandmother’s time for really good food, you might want to read this one. It’s also very well written and gives a surprising insight into food (fraud) several decades ago. You couldn’t trust coffee to be coffee and the colours with which candy was coloured could be downright poisonous. A lot of examples and enjoyable to read.

Sources

Bee Wilson’s personal website, link

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