Friday, April 13, 2018

Is Bee Wilson the New Buzz Word? Is the Takeaway "Spare the Rod and Sapere the Child?

Now, more than ever before, people are interested in the concept of nutrition. Questions of what one should eat obsess and not a day goes by that we don't surf the Net to find out what's what in matters of food. It's a positive sign, I'd say, for food appears to be an important cornerstone of our beings.

This blog plans to stir in a dash of books, now and then, to the usual menu of recipes and such. My other blog, Itiuvacha, devoted to books, indulged in a series of posts about food in fiction. 

A Slice of Danish Noir and Food Fiction - The Junior Taste Count were well liked and my primary interest remains books. Thus, even on a food blog, I would ultimately lapse into a look at books. There are many possibilities there and, as seen above, the tastiest munch has already been had at the other blog. 

However, there is also the concept of the recipe book that I plan to explore here and, as mentioned in the introduction, nutrition concerns continue to intrigue us.    

Once upon a time, in India, the first solid feeding of a child was a very serious matter. All sorts of rituals were involved. And then came Spock. After that there's been no looking back! And, so, we begin the blog's journey into books with baby steps, as it were:

Bee Wilson, British food journalist, writer and historian with five books to her credit, tackles how food preferences develop. In her own case

she traces this instinct to a ritual she had with her father when she was a teenager. Her parents had just split up, and whenever her dad would send Wilson on a train back to her mother’s house, he’d buy her a magazine and a box of chocolate-coated malted milk balls, something that, before her parents’ divorce, would have been deemed a special-occasion treat. She felt powerless to refuse the candy, even as she was struggling with a disconcerting weight gain. It took Wilson years to realize that her father’s gesture was as much about making him feel like “the generous provider” as it was to reward her with a happy sugar high. She writes: “To give a child the things she loves to eat bestows a heroic glow. It feels almost as wonderful as eating.” Beatrice Dorothy "Bee" Wilson (born 7 March 1974) is a British food writer, journalist and historian and the author of five books on food-related subjects.eatrice Dorothy "Bee" Wilson (born 7 March 1974) is a British food writer, journalist and historian and the author of five books on food-related subjects.
Beatrice Dorothy "Bee" Wilson (born 7 March 1974) is a British food writer, journalist and historian and the author of five books on food-related subjects.Beatrice Dorothy "Bee" Wilson (born 7 March 1974) is a British food writer, journalist and historian and the author of five books on food-related subjectsSUNDAY BOOK REVIEW

The take-away:
Our first mistake, she argues, is to wait until six months before weaning our babies (research shows that between four and seven months babies are extraordinarily receptive to flavour) and our second is to start them off with bland, honeyed flavours like carrot and sweet potato rather than more challenging vegetables such as spinach and broccoli or courgette, acquainting them with green and bitter taste sensations. But her most useful tip for the generously proportioned: use smaller plates.
3 lessons from Bee Wilson’s First Bite:
Kids make better food choices than you think – if you let them.
Your parents might make your children fat, in spite of having good intentions.
Learn to tell hunger from appetite to make sure you don’t take in unnecessary calories.

Reviews vary from those that accuse her of adding too much emotional flavour to her writing:
In addition to describing such dire disordered eating, Wilson devotes a lot of space to more basic everyday bad habits. She explains how they develop—largely as a result of the food environment in which we learn to eat—and how we can overcome them. Being open to new food experiences is a start. At times, Wilson's critique feels cloying, beating on overdone consumer health tropes, including the obesity epidemic and the pitfalls of a “Western” diet. She injects some levity into these weighty discussions, however, when she describes how she would often blitz through tubs of ice cream as a teenager.

to those which find it too devoid of the touchy-feely:
As I read First Bite, I sometimes felt that for all its good sense, its tone was just a little too measured. A touch of anger wouldn’t have gone amiss; sometimes, you want to feel a writer’s engine thrum. But this is a small thing and for most readers its author’s intense curiosity will be enough. What’s ultimately wonderful about it is the way it sends you back to the development of your own palate. I thought of my parents, rather strict in the matter of food, and my siblings, some pickier than others, and finally my famously fussy husband, at which point bewilderment rushed in all over again – for the only thing in all the world that I would not choose to eat is celery. How did this happen? Perhaps I am not a woman at all.

Another bias:

At times we hear a little too much about spaghetti puttanesca, kale salad and other food choices available only to a small minority of people with access to chic markets and cookbooks by Gwyneth Paltrow, but her insights are invaluable.

And here's what the author herself has to say:

The question for me would be: how relevant is this to us in India? 

While the book might or might not be a nourishing read, I'm grateful to the chance to read about it because I learned of an amazing concept from Finland that Bee Wilson discusses in First Bite.
In 2004, the kindergartens of Jyväskylä, a lakeside city in Finland, received funding to give all children aged one to seven instruction in “varied food habits”. These lessons were to have little to do with encouraging the children to eat their greens or even with attempting to steer them away from junk food. Instead, they were to explore ingredients with their senses: “the hard crackle of rye crisp bread, the soft fuzz of a peach, the puckering sourness of raw cranberries”. One morning, the children might go out foraging for berries; the next, they might play a sensory game involving the scent of lemons.
The results of this experiment were extremely positive: so much so, in fact, that the lessons were extended to all Finnish pre-schools. Attitudes to eating in children could, it seemed, be radically altered after all – and with them, levels of obesity. Children schooled in what is known as the Sapere movement (from the Latin for “to taste” and “to know”) were not only more willing to try new foods, but less likely to respond to the sweetness of fizzy drinks and other sugary treats, preferring, instead, more punchy flavours. Of course, the study surmised, there would always be some foods they dislike. But if a kid adores beetroot, cabbage, nutmeg and blue cheese, who gives a damn if they can’t stand mushrooms?
Bee Wilson’s account of the Finnish experience of Sapere, in essence, a more egalitarian take on the French concept of savoir vivre, and one in which some 7,000 professionals in the Scandinavian country are now trained, comes towards the end of First Bite, as she looks for pointers to a future in which children (and, by extension, adults) everywhere are saved from a life of addiction to bland and unhealthy processed foods.

Visit the Sapere website to find out more, though the link in the quote above provides a quicker idea.

A scientific paper from 2015 reports a research project to "To evaluate the effect of sensory-based food education activities on children's willingness to eat test samples of selected vegetables and berries." The scientists concluded that "Sensory-based food education activities may promote a willingness to eat vegetables and berries."

The project was carried out in two kindergartens in Finland. The paper also tells us that there is some such concept in France too. I would heartily recommend it to all stakeholders such as parents of the very young, school staff in charge of food, nutritionists of all sorts and it is an easy nibble for all of us, as well. It is good to get to know what scientists actually do - such reading, now and then, can be very nourishing.

However, it is not an easy task to think of setting lifelong eating habits. Though first foods can influence us, there are too many factors that impact how we eat at any given point in life to have any one-size-fits-all approach.

Too much of a desire to blindly obey Bee Wilson's recommendation "Your parents might make your children fat, in spite of having good intentions" has already robbed many children of the traditional ties of bonding with their genetic lineage. Spock probably set that ball rolling ages back and much damage has been done over the years.

Nauzer, from Wikimedia Commons

I have no particular advice to the mothers of the very young, save that prohibiting something or frowning upon it is a very sure way to ensure the child begins to be fascinated by it. Also, if the parents are open to all kinds of food, there is, perhaps, a greater chance that the children will also welcome variety.

Of course, as noted above, nothing can be said for sure but a tolerance, at least, of diversity in food will make better world citizens for a more harmonious tomorrow. In any case, every day, more new foods appear on our horizons than ever before. 

The next post plans to examine the humble tomato, simply because I have some exuberant tomato plants in my little garden and they are merrily productive. 

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