Review: “Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater”- Matthew Amster-Burton
I was initially drawn to this book because I was interested in the idea that you don’t necessarily have to completely change your eating habits when you have kids. Matthew Amster-Burton was a restaurant critic and food writer when he decided that he was going to expose his daughter, Iris, to a variety of foods as young as possible. He also sets out to debunk some of the “food myths” published by other authors in books geared toward feeding children. At that, he does succeed. It actually seems foolish to me at this point that children should be fed entirely organic and that vast amounts of time should be dedicated to the preparation and freezing of homemade baby foods.
Plus, each chapter of this book contains recipes of some of the meals they prepare in the chapter. It’s a colorful variety, from veggies to pad thai to cake, and makes the book a resource as well as a story.
*Disclaimer: I AM NOT A PARENT. I am not at this point equipped to adequately judge the challenges of feeding a child. It felt necessary to say that before continuing on.*
At first, Matthew and his wife do serve Iris baby versions of adult foods, like creamed fresh spinach and chicken and mushrooms. Once Iris can handle chewing foods, they move on to various cuisine including Thai, Japanese and a lot of adventures with jalapenos. While still relatively young, Iris is open to trying practically everything that Dad sets in front of her.
AND THEN?! Her tastes change and she becomes the typical picky toddler. She goes through phases where she avoids certain foods because of color and texture.
I will admit that Iris’s palate does seem much more sophisticated than the typical young child. She doesn’t shy away from sushi, Mexican, or Indian food. However, she had her moments that were no different than the average child. There’s some comfort in that- Even children who are exposed to a great variety of food still come away with the usual child neuroses.
The only thing that I didn’t particularly care for was some of the author’s joking about his daughter being an only child. In a few instances, he seemed to laugh off demanding behavior from her (“To Iris, it’s not really play unless someone is playing with her”- p158), and chalked it up to her being an only child. As an only child? No. I was a pro even at Iris’s age at disappearing into my playroom for hours at a time, coming out only to show my Mom what I’d cooked in the Fisher Price kitchen or give her a picture to display on the fridge. I think there needs to be a bit more clarification that “demanding” doesn’t necessarily equal “only child.” It just equals “demanding.”
Another part that I was slightly fuzzy on was the amount to which they allowed Iris to be involved in meal prep. They allow her to assist in using a meat grinder, and even purchase an electric skillet to be her “stove.” There is detail about the meals they let her prepare on the floor, including pancakes, grilled cheese, and scrambled eggs (that ended up getting dumped on the rug instead of the pan). She does get burned during meal prep, but that will “teach her a healthy degree of caution.”
Not being a parent myself, I was slightly taken aback by this. I’m afraid to use certain words talking about another person’s child, but anecdotes about her insisting on a particular brand of bacon were actually more off-putting to me than amusing. I’m also not a “true” foodie, so some of the stories in the book could come off as pretentious if you don’t have the city lifestyle that the author’s family enjoys.
Verdict: I’m definitely glad that I read it, and the recipes will be useful for myself, still a fledgling cook. I feel bad admitting that I wasn’t in love with it, as much of the reviews that I’ve read are glowing and think it’s hilarious. I’m willing to chalk it up to the fact that I have a lot to learn about raising children, and am still totally planning to buy one of the current cookbooks on the market directed toward “foodies.” (“The Gastrokid Cookbook” is high on the list.)