Get monthly email updates when I add new resources to our Family Action Toolkits
Food, Connection & Culture
Challenges & Requests
- Do you have any articles/information, or have you reviewed books, on why writers should not use food descriptors to characterize POC? Particularly pieces written by POC? I’m thinking specifically about the problematic nature of Karen Katz’ The Colors Of Us. Thank you! – Kellie G.
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- We’ll focus mainly on destigmatizing books – helping kids see how other cultures are equally as valuable, complex, and important as the one they grew up in.
- This seems to start around age 4, and ramps up from there. Mainly this seems to come out in the lunch room – but the way we wear our hair, the way we dress, and the way we express our gender are other challenges I’ve seen popping up lately.
- Until kids reach the age of reason (around age 7) and can cognitively grasp that one thing can have two conflicting properties at the same time, all of this might feel like talking to a lump. That’s okay, it’s good to prep for this.
Food is intricately tied into our racial and ethnic identities, and food bias in the cafeteria is something kids have to deal with every day. It’s not okay to comment on the smell or looks of a friend’s lunch and call it disgusting (I am speaking specifically to you, nice white folks. Food is allowed to have flavors and smells).
This universal experience – being a little grossed out by new, unusual food – happens to all of us. We ALL tend to center ourselves and presume the false dichotomy of different=bad and familiar=good.
This is something we won’t unlearn without conscious effort.
Peace doesn’t come when one faction wins and the other assimilates. We obtain peace only when all of us are willing to accept each other’s beliefs as equally valuable to our own – when we make space to understand and learn how to support each other even when we disagree and differ.
authentic artisan pop tarts* and cow tongue are going to be SO trendy in like ten years. Just wait.
*Apparently artisan pop tarts are already a thing.
Public Book List
I pulled a chunk of these and made a public book list about Anti-Asian food shaming, so that’s right here.
Quick & Messy Book List:
Using food & sharing to strengthen community & friendships
- Yaffa & Fatima
- Sun bread
- The Cookies series by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (I think there are about 4) help kids understand social/emotional language in terms of cookies, which makes it way easier for kids to empathize because OM NOM NOM NOM COOKIES.
- See the Bookshop list of recommended books celebrating AAPI food culture
Learning about cultural/ethnic/faith-based food restrictions
- Lailah’s Lunchbox
- A Day With Yahyah – on local gathering, collecting food and providing it for family not just as a means to an end, but a process in itself and a way to reclaim and preserve their (First Nations/Cree) identity and family narrative. Gorgeous, but bery slow and was hard to get the kids to sit through.
- Wild Eggs – Similar, but for Inuit traditions – slightly more engaging, still a little too didactic.
- Still searching for a good one about eating kosher
- Fishing With Grandma – Another Inuit tradition (The Inuit community have their publication game on in full gear)
- Still searching for one about Sikh community kitchen (Langar)
- Not My Girl – the part where her forced boarding-school (residential) has successfully whitewashed her diet, and she finds it hard to stomach food she once loved, which adds another aspect (there are many in this book) of how having our culture ripped away causes trauma that doesn’t easily (if ever) heat.
Food shaming & ableism
- The Princess And The Peanut Allergy – this happens to also be a FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC allegory about white/male/abled/who-ever-has-more-power fragility and lashback. Click here for the article on fragility. 4+
- Eating Gluten Free With Emily – Includes microaggressions, like when friends parents don’t take her allergy seriously. Click here for our article on food allergy microaggressions
- Alvie eats soup – collins – Parents try to hide his inability to eat anything but soup. shame and abuse him trying to get him to comply. (Never once do they ask him why he only eats soup or try to help him deal with sensory issues.) parents really make it all about them, esp because his grandmother is a world-famous chef. “the shame.’ said Alvie’s mom.” “Alvie’s parents worried. They worried about growth. They fretted about nutrition. They despaired over what would be served at his wedding.” This is so perfect for showing how shallow and navel-gazing of the ‘woe is me’ warrior parent. “Alvie’s parents resolved to cure their boy forever. They tried depriving him.” – leaving him in a locked prison cell with only solid foods and juice, knowing he can’t eat it. subjected him to tests and a ton of doctor evals, “they tried tricking him.” So concerned about what his grandmother would think of their parenting, what people will say at his wedding – all of this is about THEM. Twist ending: it turns out granny only eats peas. I’m particularly fond of this because SOUP is a flexible food – you can puree ANY food into soup, and nutrition is clearly not an issue with his diet. addit’l keywords: picky eaters, food sensory disorders, Autism warrior parents, ableism, ABA, abuse
- Dylan The Villain (problematic)- problematic for taking food allergies lightly. which sucks because otherwise it was a hilarious book with chubby (adipositive) parents who are unconditionally accepting and loving. Suggest exposing allergens to people is a good prank and/or that they somehow have it coming to be exposed to an allergen. (No one deserves medical reactions or death, ever.)
Understanding food insecurity
- Maddi’s Fridge – click here for our article on this
- The Lunch Thief (Bromley) – Okay for one read, dated illustrations and not engaging enough to pick up again. We see perspective of protagonist – the kid who steals his lunch is a jerk. Then he realizes this kid is just desperately hungry. I’m not a fan of the fat-shaming, with multiple digs at the progonists weight that are completely unnecessary and even suggest fat kids are obligated to share their food whereas thin ones wouldn’t? “HA! You never forget food,” says Alfredo, poking my belly. Eating is my second most favorite thing to do.” / “My baseball coach says I should lose some weight. Maybe I don’t need two burritos.” wealth inequality, at least the protagonist is latinx and the poor kid is white, which swaps stereotypes. bullying, empathy, perspective
- A Shelter In Our Car – see my article about this book here
- Boxes For Katje (international donations for famine). See my article on this here.
- A Bike Like Sergio’s – see caveat from De Colores. This was our experience as a multiracial white/asian family, but it’s unlikely to happen in a traditional Latinx community, and the white author depicts Ruben as ambiguously Latinx. Click here for our article on food insecurity.
- The Good Garden – Click here for my article relevant to environmentalism, sustainable farming & wealth inequality
- Snowboy and the last tree standing – click here for my article related to environmentalism and food deserts.
- One Hen – Click here for our article on effective altruism
- The Butter Man– essakalli – little girl’s father is Moroccan immigrant. While she waits for dinner to be ready, he tells story of what happnd in Morocco, runing out of food with drought, butter man no longer comes by with butter. right when they’re getting down to the very last bit of food, his father comes home with food in a deux ex machina. girl gains perspective in waiting for couscous to cook compared to him waiting for his father to come home with food after weeks (months?) and the droughtt o break so they could grow food again. (Tamazirt, Morocco, high atlas mountains, Africa), wealth inequality, normalizing Muslims, patience Q found it too slow and boring at age 5. climate change, drought, environmentalism
- The Sandwich Swap Queen Rania (this book is written by a real-life Queen!) uses school lunch and childhood friendship as an allegory for religious and cultural divides, putting the concept of an ideological war into terms even a preschooler can understand. Click here for my article on food shaming about this one.
- The Night Eater – more about quantity (fat) shaming than type of food.
- The Boy Who Loved Math – Erdos was able to live in an interdependent community who were happy to assist him with his disabilities, since he couldn’t cook for himself. As a result, he could spend more time on his mathematical work, which benefited everyone.
- Don’t feed the bear – This doesn’t quiiiiite fit here, but I’m still thinking of a good way to approach it, because it’s a cute book with some messages underneath we can take advantage of in terms of greed, generosity, inclusion, and fat-positivity.
Validating Kids Who Have Been Food Shamed
- A Bad Case of Stripes (internalized shaming)
- Spaghetti In A Hot Dog Bun – kid at school makes fun of her for liking strange food and having curly hair. she ends up standing up for herself and doing how she do anyway. eventually she helps him out and they become friends, which feeds into that tired trope of being nice to bullies and it isn’t really very realistic at all. But whatever.
Books about fat liberation
Other books that inspired us to talk about food judgement
- Mr. putter and tabby row the boat – Q noticed this line “Mr. Putter smiled. He liked Ms. Teaberry’s funny food.” and pointed out how we shouldn’t call another person’s food ‘funny.’ we discussed how it’s okay to think someone’s food is unusual and strange, and there’s nothing wrong with being confused or surprised by someone’s choices – we just don’t say it out LOUD. We then discussed how that sentence shows he feels about the food – is it judgemental? Is it with disgust? Is he still being a good friend by thinking his friend’s food is strange? Additional keywords: chapter books, elders, friends, hot summer days & heatwaves
Compilations destigmatizing food in various cultures
This Is How We Do It – lamothe. Fills the need for everyone looking for books learning about other cultures, but since there’s not story, Q got so bored (even after being initially engaged) that he couldn’t stand to finish it. I liked that it showed 7 families from around hte world (Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia) and our similarities and differences in daily life, like houses, school, how we dress, what we eat for lunch, etc. Q was more interesed in where he fit in, and having a title for “this is where i sleep,” he was mostly interested in pointing to that, then talking about how HE sleeps, rather than learning about other people. so maybe 5 is a little too self-centered and not curious enough about other cultures. all the families are 2-parent hetero. illustrations based on photos, but in a fun, rather than creepy way. I’d stick with 6.5+
Here and There – miller – cute and energetic illustrations going over daily life, lunches, grocery shopping around the world. Walls of text make this too much for 6, but cute illustrations showing how play, school, chores, shopping for food is different around the world. Multicultural, but didact.Maybe aim for 7+
shante keys and the new year peas – 2+ shows a few different people (stand in for cultures) and what they eat to celebrate the new year.
A world of cookies for santa- didactic, what kids in various countries do to set out cookies and traditions for santa across the world. leaves room for ambiguity. most santas are white, one is black. not bad, but boring read, as there’s no story. seems designed for older kids 6+, but at that point do they even believe in santa? multiculturalism, focused on christianity, nativity scenes. Shows a brownish Jesus. I was a little nervous about the fact that the Hawaiian kids are half naked (a common theme with white illustrators is always drawing pacific islanders & indigenous folks as half naked), but they are on the beach so at least that makes sense. cookbook includes recipes for cookies mentioned at the end. one Amazon reviewer knocks it down stars because most recipes include coconut and nuts. Which is utterly absurd – whitewashing international recipes to cater to an american diet, (americans are disproportionately more likely to be allergic to nuts). No complaints about use of milk despite the fact that more POC are lactose intolerant than white folks. this is like me knocking down an international drink recipe book for having no nonalcoholic options for folks with Asian flush. FFS.
- Equating groups of people in terms of objects like food:
- Any book that uses reduces race to skin color, and further reduces skin color in terms of food, which is super objectifying. This is particularly pernicious when authors who identify as a single race are talking about multiracial children. Example: French Toast, The Colors of Us
- Books that equate people to objects (ie: A is for apple, I is for Indian), example: The Waldorf Alphabet Book
- Normalizing revulsion
- I’m not in love with Invisible Boy, for many reasons (the victim/savior dynamic, etc.) On top of that, it felt like a miss on helping kids empathize with having your food being made fun of in the lunchroom, rather than a way for kids to see what it feels like. It almost felt like the author was trying to normalize that behavior as something we should expect.
- Dragon of the red dawn (pope osborne) – I could write a book the many problematic issus in this BS book. (Dear goodness, it’s a SERIES). But for now, let’s focus on this part where the author just assumes the reader is (or should be) confused by chopsticks and disgusted by sushi: “Raw fish?” said Jack. He gulped.” / “Jack was so hungry he was willing to try anything, even raw fish and seaweed.” Like did the author just assume no Asian kid would ever read this? Or did she just not give a fuck about how we’d feel? Why reinforce stigma against our food? That was SO unnecessary. WTF.
- No More Poems! (Miller) Lots of issues with this oddly aggressive an toxic book, but in terms of food – this tired old bullshit where a kid gets grossed out by a fish with a head. “This fish is my dinner / He’s looking at me / It’s freaking me out” Now – I’m surprised Santat, an AAPI (Thai) illustrator went with this, and I’m wondering why. Did he not want to rock the boat and push back? Do Thai folks not eat full fish the way we Chinese folks do? Does Santat not get the symbolism of serving a full fish in Asian cuisine? Given how awful many aspects of this book are, I’m terrified to think what in the first draft didn’t make it into print.
- My Grandma’s a Ninja – tarpley. This book is a mine of orientalist treasures, but for now let’s focus on: “Grandma made dinner instead. It was raw fish. It was horrible.” Fuck you, Tarpley.