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First Bite: How We Learn to Eat Hardcover – December 1, 2015

4.6 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the André Simon Food & Drink Special Commendation Prize, UK
Winner 2016 of the Fortnum & Mason Food & Drink Award for Food Book

New York Times Book Review
“[An] exhaustively researched book.... [T]he central premise of First Bite is one that we’d all be wise to see as liberating, generous and ultimately optimistic: If we learned what and how to eat as babies, we can unlearn and relearn and actually change what Wilson sees as our collectively chaotic relationships with food.... First Bite is, first and foremost, an anthropological category killer on the topic of how we learn to eat.”

Wall Street Journal
“[A] fascinating new book.... First Bite should be read by every young parent, and is a good resource for adults with eating disorders and those with more prosaic problems like waistline drift. There are some very useful ideas within these pages, and none of the usual pseudoscientific bunk that plagues books about diet. Carefully crafted, astutely served, delicious and nourishing: First Bite is a real treat.”

Financial Times
“Wilson’s book is, at its core about the pleasure of eating and how we can reconnect with this.... Drawing on nutritional science, neuroscience, anthropology, economics, literature, history and occasionally autobiography, First Bite is a feast of a book.... Wilson’s focus on how we learn to eat rather than on what we eat is a refreshing new template for improving our relationship with food.”

Washington Post
“[A] fascinating new book.... Wilson sprinkles just enough personal narrative through First Bite to establish her as a sympathetic figure without turning the book into a memoir.... Her tone is refreshingly loose and friendly; she’s one of the few food scholars I can think of who can effectively quote both Margaret Mead and Homer Simpson. Ultimately, her message is a hopeful, even liberating, one bolstered by examples large and small.”

Boston Globe
“Wilson lays out her discoveries in a series of easily digestible chapters that balance science and anecdote with short interludes on various foods.... She makes a case for health, but even more so, for pleasure, for enjoying what we eat.... Her tone is down-to-earth and research-based at once, gentle, encouraging, no-nonsense. The book lacks the self-helpery pap that mars so many best-selling books about food, but offers up advice and well-supported information on how we can teach ourselves and our children to eat.”

Scientific American Mind
First Bite is a worthy read that provides sharp insights into how our tastes evolve. Notably the book offers all of us Pringles fiends and Hostess hounds a chance at redemption with sage advice on how to quit junk-food addictions and change even the most ingrained eating habits.”

Huffington Post
“Wilson taps uncannily into a number of food anxieties…. [She] wrote First Bite: How We Learn To Eat as a study of taste preferences and food habits, but it is really an economics book. Economics is the study of scarcity and choice… Wilson's ingenious turn is looking at our preferences -- the demand.”

The Guardian, UK
“[D]elightful.... The overarching question is how we acquire our tastes and what, if anything, might be done to change them – both for our kids and for ourselves. That is a refreshingly different way of structuring a discussion of how we eat now and how we should eat better…. The well-meaning experts lecture us about what we ought to eat; Wilson wants to understand why we eat what we do. And to her immense credit, she thinks that taste, pleasure, emotion, and memory – both fond and horrid – are important parts of the story.”

Los Angeles Review of Books
“absorbing read... timely.”

London Review of Books, UK
“[A] brilliant, heartfelt book about [the] crisis in our contemporary diet.... Wilson is intelligent, passionate, sincere, tirelessly curious and endlessly willing to admit mistakes and learn from experience.”

The Observer, UK
“Enlightening and sparky.... Wilson is a brilliant researcher and in this, her fifth book, she has unearthed science that makes sense of our most intimate and tender worlds.... What’s ultimately wonderful about [First Bite] is the way it sends you back to the development of your own palate.”

The Times, UK
“Everyone will identify with something in First Bite, be it the analysis of why some of us don’t like beetroot…or the distant memories of being ordered to clear your plate by an earlier generation who had grown up in terror of waste…. If any book can effect long-term weight loss, it should be this one, because it feeds the mind rather than denying the body.”

Sunday Times, UK
“If there were any justice in the world, this book should be at the top of this month’s diet-book bestsellers. But what makes First Bite so readable is Wilson’s candour about her own relationship with food and her valiant but not always successful attempts not to pass on her fads to her three children.”

The Independent, UK
“Written with her customary acuity and readability, First Bite is primarily concerned with demolishing the mountain of twaddle that has accrued around our vexed relationship with food.... Despite having a violent antipathy to diet books, I was won over by Wilson’s arguments. Her views are sensible, persuasive and cognisant of human failings. More than anything I’ve ever read, this book explained to me why I am the shape that I am and how I can do something about it.”

The Telegraph,UK
“Wilson writes vividly with a huge range of references as she pursues her quest to understand how we can be persuaded to eat what’s good for us.... [H]er insights are invaluable.”

New Statesman, UK
“[A] book that is never less than engaging..... If First Bite can be summed up in a single sentence, it is this: in order to change what you eat, you must first change what you like.... [An] eminently sensible and very readable book.”

Cambridge News
First Bite is an addictively-readable insight into our dietary peccadillos. Packed with anecdotes and studies from around the world, it shows that our tastes are not innate, but something we’ve learned in childhood: our first nibbles of solids, our memories, our ideas of love and comfort – they all go into the melting pot of what we now crave, and what disgusts us.”

“[A] lucid survey.... [Wilson] dishes up an impressive range of research in neuroscience and nutrition on topics from the evolution of the Japanese diet to babies’ self-directed preferences for, say, turnips, as demonstrated in the fascinating, flawed work of twentieth-century US paediatrician Clara Davis.”

“Clearly, [Wilson] has not only written a fascinating book about identity and how our tastes and food preferences are formed (and can be changed), she is also truly wise.”

Brain, Child
“Over eight chapters Wilson takes us on a food journey that roughly parallels a child’s development, with detours into disorders (turns out that ‘eating disorders are as numberless as snowflakes’) and meditations on hunger.”

“[A] unique study.... Writing eloquently on how complicated eating has become, Wilson looks at—among other things—the role that memory and nostalgia play in one’s eating life; how school and government programs address hunger; and how dietitians are changing the way they work with obese patients to increase weight loss.... The book will resonate with all who have problems with food, not just those with acute issues.”

Publishers Weekly
“[A] smart and telling journey that outlines food habits and where they originate.... Using brief tales, Wilson details many disorders across the consumption spectrum in an insightful and earnest tone that appeals to food-lovers and parents. Discussing everything from adults with stringent eating patterns to gendered weight misperceptions and changes in cultural norms, Wilson delineates how diets develop and, more importantly, how to make healthy modifications.”

Winnipeg Free Press
“Every chapter has a full tray of factual bon-bons.... Wilson is an eclectic writer; although she peppers her prose with anecdotes about her own kids, she does a fair bit of globetrotting as well, with jaunts to India, China and Japan.... Snug between each chapter, like a leaf in a recipe book, is a tiny essay on a particular food: beets, chocolate and milk all make an appearance at the table.... [An] upbeat eight-course meal for the erudite foodie.”

The New Yorker, Page Turner blog
“Wilson...often uses the topic of food as a gateway to explore the intersecting histories of ideas, culture, technology, and society.... [Her] interest in First Bite lies in how the combined forces of culture, memory, and long-standing food preferences lead individuals to perpetuate the often unhealthy eating habits they’ve inherited.”

New Republic
“Bee Wilson’s new book First Bite takes on the subject of how we learn to eat as children and the habits we end up with as adults.... The good news in the book is that some of our bad habits – even the bad habits we’ve passed on to our offspring – can in theory be undone.... First Bite collects an impressively wide range of success stories from this front.... While First Bite does not introduce itself as a self-help guide, its pages contain a generous portion of no-pressure advice, doled out in a sensible but soothing manner.”

Shelf Awareness
"First Bite is both a rich social history for those interested in the relationship people have with food and an encouraging word for harried parents hoping to expand their children's culinary horizons."

National Post, Canada
“Wilson confronts a basic but perplexing question: how does each of us decide what we like to eat? Are we born with innate preferences? Or are our food habits shaped by family, culture, geography, even emotions—and to what degree?”

“That I scoured this book for feeding hints doesn’t mean it is primarily an advice book. First Bite is more an exploration of overlapping topics – food, family, memory, marketing –with reminders, again and again, to pause and re-examine what we think we know.... [Wilson] knows that people are weary of being lectured at, and that there is scant evidence to suggest that simply telling people to eat better does any good. But there are nuggets of wisdom deposited throughout the book that, taken together, point toward a new way of thinking about food.”

Kirkus Reviews
“[A] well-informed...guide to healthy eating and a well-balanced diet.... With generous measures of grounded wisdom and solid research findings, the book should attract and possibly inspire broad groups of readers struggling with eating-related issues.”

“Food writer Wilson probes the psychology of food memories, dips into the chemistry of flavor and digs deep into the physiological and social roots of obesity in this smorgasbord of insights.”

Popular Science
“[Wilson] proves to be a clear-eyed and level-headed guide to the fraught and fretful landscape of contemporary dietary research.... Wilson is a lucid and compelling writer, weaving nimbly between historical narrative, scientific research, and personal anecdote.”

Chicago Reader
“The nicest thing about First Bite...is that Wilson truly believes that foods that taste good and foods that are good for you are not mutually exclusive.... Wilson is most interesting when she examines social environments, particularly how families and peers influence eating habits.”

Albany Times Union’s Books Blog
“Wilson skillfully shares research, contemporary food issues across the world, and anecdotes from her own experiences along with nutritionists and psychologists to demonstrate that everyone learns to eat, therefore we can unlearn bad habits through recognition and retraining.... It’s a book that anyone can connect to.”

Maclean's, Canada
“[M]eticulously researched.... Wilson makes a strong argument that we can ‘relearn the art of eating.’ This process doesn’t necessarily start with nutrition, but with taking pleasure in food.”

Pop Matters
First Bite’s extensive research carries Wilson from Ireland to Pennsylvania, through a 26-page bibliography of scientific papers, and her own painful struggles with food as a daughter, sister, and mother. The result is a book readers will be unable to put down until the final page.... Now is the moment you need First Bite.”

About the Author

Bee Wilson is an award-winning food writer, historian, and author of four books, including Consider the Fork and Swindled. She has been named BBC Radio’s Food Writer of the Year and writes about food and other subjects for a wide range of publications including The Guardian, The London Review of Books, and the New Yorker Page-Turner blog. Wilson lives in Cambridge, England.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 1, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465064981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465064984
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 18, 2015
Format: Hardcover
First Bite is a bit of a departure for Bee Wilson. She usually writes about food history, as in her excellent books Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat and Swindled:The Dark History of Food Fraud, as well as her many articles and reviews in magazines such as The London Review of Books.

In this book she investigates how and why we acquire food preferences, and the consequences of those preferences. This involves her delving into biology, chemistry, history, sociology, and a great deal of personal experience.

The science and history of how we decide what and what not to eat is fascinating, although I was not as interested in the emphasis on the many ways that children fail to eat properly or even at all sometimes. Those who are parents or who have vivid memories of their own childhood experiences with food will probably appreciate these discussions more.

Perhaps the most important finding that Wilson details is that food preferences are not set in stone -- you can learn to enjoy food that you've always avoided. Further, whole societies (Japan is her best example) can change their diets for the better. It gives us all a bit of hope that we can reverse the alarming trends of the past several decades.

Wilson also branches out into new territory by actually providing some recommendations on how to deal with the food idiosyncrasies of children and with our own diets as adults.

(Thanks to NetGalley and Basic Books for a digital review copy.)
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Format: Hardcover
"The best children's food is a result of adults controlling the nutrition, but children controlling what they put in their mouths."

I love that quote, and I must admit, I had to stop myself from quoting the book over and over in this review. It is incredible, with so many parts worth sharing and talking over with those around you. I stopped nearly every other page to look at my husband and say "listen to this!"

And that is saying something, as this is a hefty book, almost textbook-esque in its scope and content. But the author's writing style pulls you in, making the information very understandable and fun to read! There is so much amazing information and history, that I loved reading the work, but had to take a break in between chapters to process everything I'd just finished reading.

Through it all though, the work inspires you. Ms. Wilson is very factual, not deriding or preaching about better or lesser food habits, but allowing the reader to learn and internalize the food truths she lays out. I came away with new ways to look at my own eating and my family's eating, and a new appreciation and understanding for why I like the things I do, and the way I want to bring up my children when it comes to food.

This book releases December 1, 2015, and I HIGHLY recommend a copy!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley
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Format: Hardcover
I first encountered social historian and food writer Bee Wilson through her brilliant book, Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, which looks at history and much more through examining the evolution of cooking, and the implements needed for this.

Wilson is my favourite kind of writer or non-fiction – extensive in research, meticulous citing to enable the interested reader to search further, and, most important of all for me – a gifted weaver of words. However erudite a writer, I need the skills a good novelist possesses – how to tell the story. Essential that this is done in non-fiction as much as in fiction, I think. Bee Wilson knows how to tell the story.

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat is a more personal, different kind of book, though all the strengths of Wilson’s writing, as detailed above, are as impeccably in place. This book takes a long and cool look at the origins of our often disordered eating habits. It is a more personal book because Wilson herself, as she explains, was a disordered eater, tending towards weight gain, attracted to the sugary, struggling with this and that diet. Meanwhile her sibling had another kind of eating disorder.

Food, in lands of plenty, has become a huge problem for man. Fashions in advice for how to change, in the developed world, the curious mixture of obesity and malnourishment which is endemic, is endlessly written about, and the legions of diet gurus all grow fat (metaphorically, one assumes) on the proceeds of the over-fed’s obsessions.
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This book goes thru a lot of different topics and goes in very unexpected directions. If you are a new parent wondering what to feed your child, or if you have a picky eater in your house, or you are an adult picky eater, you will find a lot of this information very useful. For the rest of us, myself included if you have ever been on a diet, have trouble feeling guilty about food, put labels on food, you'll be relieved to know you are not alone. I wouldn't call this a diet book, because that would be insulting, it's so much more. I found myself wondering about my first exposure to food, how dysfunctional my mother eats, how my niece and nephew only eat chicken nuggets and pizza (apparently the human body can exist just on beige food). How so many of my dinner companions say they never eat fruits or vegetables because they don't like the taste of it. How perfectly normal that sounds today. Bee Wilson has done an amazing job patiently explaining to us that is possible to relearn how to eat.
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