Get monthly email updates when I add new resources to our Family Action Toolkits
Food Sustainability: Cooks, Chefs & Activists
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- Most of these books will be destigmatizing designed to teach kids about issues outside their lived experience
- We use biographies to introduce periods and events in history, and then move on to discussing social issues. Example: Alice Waters > the slow food movement > wealth inequality > food deserts. Not like there is a biography for Alice Waters. Wouldn’t that be nice tho?
- Good biographies make the story about the reader. Biographies in kidlit aren’t for learning passive history – they’re building blocks for kids to use when forming their own identities. This is how they learn where we come from, and this is how we think about who we want to become.
- Kidlit authors are notorious for shoddy research, relying solely on whitewashed sources and even other children’s books.
- I don’t have resources to verify the truth of each story – so we’re just recommending these based on how well they pull kids in and get them excited to learn more. If I do come across conflicting information, I’ll note it.
Unpolished book lists in progress:
Biographies: Cooks & Chefs of Color
All of these, to some degree, touch on using food as an entry way to acceptance and empowerment in the white-centered US.
Dumpling Dreams: Joyce Chen – (Clickard) – see BFL post in March 2018. REALLY cute illustrations. Q loved her haircut (as a child), and found the story engaging even though he doesn’t have any personal connection to her life. He loved seeing all the food she had never had before coming to America (ice cream, cheeseburgers) and we discussed how his on grandfather had never tasted cheese or ice cream before coming to the US. This resonates with us in particular because Chen was a household name in our kitchen growing up, but after discussing this book as an adult – apparently not for white folks? Ages 4.5+ AAPI women’s history, #OwVoices AAPI illustrator.
- Mountain chef: Tie Sing (Pimentel) – It would be a chore to read this with age 6.5, so I’m gonna wait until the Earthquakes are older. Covers anti Chinese discrimination in the pioneer days, honestly the story is pretty boring and it’s just a list of good things he plans to cook but nature and wilderness gets in the way. I’m also hung up on the fact that a mule wandered away to potentially die with a ton of food rotting on its back. Kids don’t really get hooked on biographies unless they are particularly daring and adventurous, and this is underwhelming. He was a quick thinker and flexible when things went wrong but the story is… meh. Yellowstone
- Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando (Wang) AAPI author, inspiring and hopeful. Innovation, wealth inequality empowerment. Much better than The Discovery of Ramen (Amara) – which is didactic and boring. Asian (non-American) history.
- George Crum And The Saratoga Chip (Morrison) – I know I read this and generally liked it, but I lost my notes! multiracial biographies and stories about Black men outside civil rights & basketball are rare. What I know for sure is that it’s better than Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament (Renaud) – which was unengaging and thin (guy wanted thinner potatoes, he made chips. the end.) this just isn’t worth reading. good illustrations though.
Side By Side: Cesar Chavez & Dolores Huerta (Brown)- dual biographies. Was hoping this would be more engaging than the separate ones, but it’s not. Just kind of didactic and bland. Not bad, but not engaging. Not really a story, just “when the growers and politicians wouldn’t listen, Cesar stopped eating for thirty-six days so….” kinda factoid-ish & poor storyelling. Bilingual (dual Spanish & English) age range: not sure, whenever kids don’t find it boring?
Dolores Huerta – Q was instantly turned off by the cover (as was I) the 90’s colored pencil style just looks so boring. I had to convince him to sit through the read, and he was willing to sit through it with a lot of expressive voices while I read it, but he didn’t connect with it. It started strong – Dolores is a teacher and the kids are too hungry, shoeless, and sick. That first page grabbed his attention and held him in with an info gap, but it wasn’t enough and by the second half of the book he was like “eh.” i love the idea, but the illustrations are off-putting, they feel like shitty photographs. After that first page with kids in a classroom, Q had no reason to feel engaged or connected with the book, even though the story is a decent one. Every page starts with “Dolores is…” and the repetition is painful as a read-aloud.“This is Dolores. Dolores is a teacher, but her students are too hungry to listen. They are too sick to play. They have no shoes to wear at recess.” Latinx American Women’s history
I Am Farmer: Tantoh Nforba (Paul) – Cover is unengaging, but story is well written. Q had a hard time with the images, there is something bland about them, has had this problem with this illustrator in the past. I liked this. How he’s made fun of, but embraces his love of gardening, turns being taunted reclaims the name ‘farmer.’ Battles typhoid for seven years (chronic illness), works on giving people access to clean water, good practices to prevent disease. Environmental activism. Limbum phrase “Abi yu ngir” that translates ‘unity is strength’ and community works well for collaborative action. Everyone pulls together to create clean water catchment that saves lives. Leads more projects, like bringing clean water to conflict areas, water delivery service for Blind people (disability rights). #ownvoices Black authors (Baptiste Paul is black from St. Lucia), illustrator is a Black woman who grew up on ivory coast. add to healthy masculinity, kind and gentle brown boys, African history (northwest Cameroon in Africa, originally from village of Nkambe.
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table (Martin)- Writing and illustrations too bland for 6, try again at 8. Sustainable food movement, food deserts, teaching regular people to become farmers, working in collaborative action to create farms in urban areas for wealth equality. environmentalism
- The Good Garden: Don Elias (citizenkid) Based on a true family in honduras and a real teacher named Don Elias. another good example of White authors using their power to boost the work of people of color. We see the impact one teacher can have on educating people to help themselves. also see the predatory explotation of coyotes since htey control the economy and take advantage of disadvantaged families. Kids are confused that coyotes are drawn with coyote heads, but I loved it. And they seemed to get it a little when I understood why. thought Q would be bored with this, but he really wanted to finish the book, particularly because we don’t know if the family is going to be okay or not until closer to the end of the book. works in tandem with pancho rabbit and the coyote. Sustainable farming, environmentalism, Central America (Honduras), Latinx, composting, terraforming, tricksters
- Fast Farm and Slow Farm (Jung) – (Fiction loosely based on history & movement founded by Carlo Petrini). I loved the idea of this, and the story was engaging enough for 5 & 7. But the writing is terrible and awkward, the punctuation is all messed up. It’s clear this was written by someone who doesn’t have a 100% clean grasp on the English Langauge and didn’t bother to consult an editor. Which is weird, since the characters are white. Why do they need to whitewash things with an Asian author? Anyway, the kids learned about how fast food affects flavor, how healthy food is, and how sustainable it is. It was a sweet book, introducing kids to the slow food movement and the downsides of unsustainable factory farming and processed foods. Organic gardening. Author is listed as Jung, but 2017 copyright belongs to Dong-Hwi Kim, and mentions ‘English edition.’ Author was born in Argentina, no bios say where they are now. Original hardcover was published in 2016 in Chinese. End notes explain how international slow food movement started in Italy in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, and there are some Q & A with him. Caveat: Evil redhead trope. This is picking up more and more where we actively code white folks – particularly redheads and pale blondes, as villains. Which is so opposite of the point and harms further movements to allow white folks to redefine whiteness outside this narrative. Anyway – that’s an issue for a whole other list.
Acknowledging the people who make and provide our food
What I really want is for kids to see how much of our diets rely on the exploitation of immigrants and BIPOC. Some of these books do that better than others.
- Undocumented – Book for older kids (maybe 8+) on food service worker exploitation as it intersects with citizenship and wealth inequality.
- Migrant – bare glimpse into challenges facing German Mennonite migrant farmers in the US
- Before we eat (Brisson) – The book is forgettable. basically we see how different types of foods are harvested/made, like cheese, milk, fish. all very healthy and sustainable and sustainable gentle farming. a little too clean and idyllic, but I like the idea. running theme of thanking all of the people from the farmers to the grocers to the parents who buy and cook the food for us. Sustainable & organic farming. Diversity-wise, except for a few token Black folks and 1-2 ambiguously Indigenous/Latinx farmers, the book skews mostly white and we don’t see how much of our diet relies on immigrants and BIPOC. environmentalism, farmers markets. This isn’t really a biography since these folks are nameless, but I’ll leave it here for now because I can’t find anything better.
- How did that get in my lunchbox (Gaggiotti) – Q enjoyed for a single read at 5.5 in kindergarten. inspired us to discuss going on farm tours at some point. helpful and informative and cute. not sure how i feel about all the latinx looking people picking clementines, brown people picking coffee, and white people doing most of the other stuff, but there’s some token people of color thrown in here and there and all the people look skilled and dignified, so I guess it’s more or less accurate at least.
- On the farm, at the market (Karas) – forgettable. not a fan of the kind of underexposed, charcoal-covered illustrations of Karas. basically we see farmers, cheese-makers (lots of pages on making cheese), mushroom growers getting ready for the farmer’s market. feeding animals but not slaughtering them. then folks (white folks) shop at farmer’s market and someone makes a pie with the stuff she bought at her restaurant (snoooore). boring, but decent if you really need a simple book on farmer’s markets.