I first heard rumblings about this hilarious memoir about raising an adventurous eater on Twitter. My interest was peaked instantly. After all, my mission in life is to raise three foodies.
The title, Hungry Monkey, promised some laughs and assured me that this would not be another self-pontificating tome advocating tricking your kids or beating them over the head with flax seed until they give in to keep from starving. The fact that I had read Matthew Amster-Burton‘s articles in Gourmet sealed the deal. I emailed him, we engaged in a pleasant email exchange and a few days later I had a review copy of Hungry Monkey in my possession.
Hungry Monkey is as delightful as anticipated. Amster-Burton is self-deprecating, funny, and his enthusiasm for food and parenting is contagious. I found myself nodding violently when I read things like, “My approach to nutrition: eat a variety of great-tasting food. The word hedonism has a bad Summer of Love connotation, but it precisely describes the way I approach food and the way I hope Iris will too.”
Each chapter concludes with a few creative recipes ranging from baby creamed spinach to Thai catfish cakes and Irish oats with candied bacon. My copy is already stained and dog-eared from diving right in to make the duck ragu. It was as delicious and easy as promised, even though I had to substitute chicken drumsticks due to the deplorable lack of appreciation for duck at my local Whole Foods.
Amster-Burton is a freelance food writer and a stay at home dad. He relates his thoughts on food and parenting in a refreshingly direct style. It’s an especially welcome change when he debunks a lot of the guilt-inducing rules around baby food, “Why didn’t I make my own peach and pear purees? Because I tried it and the Gerber was tastier.” How nice to hear the same conclusion I came to myself as a harried new mom.
Hungry Monkey takes its readers from the eager optimism of the first time parent to the frustrations of a foodie watching their adventurous toddler turn into an increasingly picky 4-year old. But throughout it all, even after his daughter decides that she doesn’t like spicy foods after all, Amster-Burton conveys the simple joy of eating with Iris, and not simply feeding her.
Hungry Monkey made me laugh, salivate, and then laugh some more. But the underlying message under the humor couldn’t be more serious. The only way to resolve this growing obesity crisis in America is to begin eating with our children, to sit down and take the time to enjoy our food together, instead of throwing down some chicken nuggets in front of them. If we don’t treat them as foodies from the beginning and cultivate their palates, how can we expect them to appreciate food and eat well as adults?