First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson

Interestingly, I chose the photos and wrote the captions that come with this article soon after reading First Bite, but now that I settle to actually write its review a couple of months later, I discover that half the foods pictured here I would not have again, as I have gone back to not eating meat! In fact, I have gone further than last year’s pescetarianism and for now, I think I have turned into a fully-fledged vegetarian.

All that this confirms is that Bee Wilson’s premise is 100% right: of course, you learn to eat. You don’t just naturally hate broccoli, or immediately love sauerkraut the minute you come out of your mother’s womb. Of course, tastes (the ones accessed through the buds) might be partly innate, but overwhelmingly the foods one likes or dislikes are liked or disliked because of their history in our little personal repertoire of past meals. I already knew this and would not have been one of the people Bee Wilson tells us have felt offended by her research, who reacted as if being told they could choose to like green beans was a personal affront. I have experienced the fact that you can get used to new tastes time and time again, and have sometimes trained by own palate to enjoy healthy food: as a child, I never had olive oil but switched to it in my early twenties when I found out it’s better for you. Did I find the taste a bit funny, at first? I actually did, but soon got used to it and now enjoy it a lot more than I do the sunflower oil I grew up on. Since then I have found out that although olive oil is good in salads, it’s not the best for cooking with so I then started using coconut oil a bit more. I had also never tried brown rice a month ago and now have it every week. And of course, reciprocally, I used to gorge on biscuits and chocolates and was able to have half a pack in one sitting, but now I have one or two and feel content with that, and would rather have an apple if I’m still hungry for something sweet.

So, in short, Bee Wilson has just put my experience in words that are well-written, entertaining and simply so common-sensical that it was a giant breath of fresh air to read her. Yes, too many of us, myself included, sometimes lose touch with the pleasure of eating, either because they have shot their taste buds dead with permanent snacking on high fat, high sugar food, or because they feel guilty for just being alive and having cake once in a while, as we now live in a culture of constant body shaming and blaming.

It’s great to be reminded that food tastes good; that food is good for you; that food is to be shared and celebrated and enjoyed; but that food is not to be consumed within the context of guilt-ridden agendas brought on by the rubbish that goes on in our heads and contaminates our bodies through our diets.

For all the healthy, no-nonsense advice it gives us though, First Bite is not a preachy book, and not even a self-help book. It’s a comment on our current eating habits, informed by knowledgeable data and drawing on the author’s personal experiences. It is amazingly brilliant read that I finished in a few hours, just before going off to download the author’s previous book, Consider the Fork, which I will review next. Food writers – they must have one of the best jobs in the world. I wouldn’t mind spending one day in the shoes of Bee Wilson, especially if I could do half as good a job as her. I am considering having “Bee Wilson Rocks” T-shirts printed.


Saucisson sec, une merveille.


Moroccan couscous, one of the dishes I miss the most from France.


Smoked salmon salad, the utltimate favourite.


Sashimi – the tuna ones are sometimes even better than salmon.


Oh, a good curry! I will miss the ones you can find in Malawi when I’m gone.


Grapefruit and avocado, often enjoyed separately.


My dad’s pork ribs are the best. Of course. Miss them so!


A breakfast of yoghurt, muesli and fresh fruit salad. Does not have to be healthy, if it’s gigantic.


A new favourite (temporarily? We’ll see…) – South African malva pudding.

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