I have had Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid, by Melanie Rehak, sitting on my desk for months now. A friend of mine recommended it to me when I was in my food book phase. Then she recommended it again when I was laughing at one of Pumpkin's (many) picky eating episodes. Finally, she just brought it to me and lent it to me. And I read it, and enjoyed it.
It is the story of a woman who responds to the potentially overwhelming food-related concerns that have taken root amongst the upper middle class- Should I prioritize local or organic? Is it OK to eat meat if it is ethically raised? What does that even mean? Etc., etc.- by taking a hands on approach to learning more about where her food comes from. She goes and works in the kitchen of a "local food" restaurant, and also works for a day on several farms that supply that restaurant. Along the way, she deals with her angst as a food-loving grown up who has given birth to a picky eating toddler.
Spoiler alert: by the end of the book, her kid isn't such a picky eater. Of course- because no one ever writes about the picky eating kid who stays that way. Given Pumpkin's genetic inheritance, I suspect that will be the narrative in our house. Maybe I should write a book about it....
Also not surprisingly, by the end of the book, Rehak no longer feels overwhelmed by her food choices, and has settled into a preference for local food, organic if possible, where she feels she can trust the food producers' methods and intentions. Because, again, no one ever writes a book where they set out to figure out the confusing mess of choices that confront us when we go to find something to eat, and then comes away from all of the research still confused and unsure about the "right" thing to eat.
Hmm, I think I could write that book, too.
I suspect that it sounds like I didn't like the book, which isn't true at all. I really enjoyed reading the book. I liked following Rehak's transformation into a knowing local foodie. But the book suffers a bit from the same problem I had with the (far preachier) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life , by Barbara Kingsolver: the solution that she seems to be proposing isn't really generalizable. Rehak's "meet the farmers" approach works really well for people with the flexibility to go spend time finding and visiting local farms. I can't take her approach and fit it into my life. So, while I enjoyed watching her progress as she became more sure of her food choices, the book ultimately didn't help me with the food choices and problems I face.
But perhaps it is unfair of me to criticize the book for that- it never promised to tell me what I should eat, only to give me an example of one woman who solved the problem for herself. It is not her fault that my neighborhood in San Diego lacks a farmer's market, and that we haven't figured out how to make a car trip to a farmer's market a regular part of our weekend plans. My own food solution will have to take place in the supermarket aisles, and accommodate a picky eater who is unlikely to reform. Anyone know a good book for that?