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Book Reviews

Who Wants Pizza? The Kids’ Guide to the History, Science and Culture of Food

by Jan Thornhill

There has arguably never been a more important time for children to learn about food. In North America, kids face epidemics of obesity and diabetes due to the overconsumption of junk food. In the Third World, problems such as starvation and malnutrition are more menacing than ever. Meanwhile, many of the world’s fisheries face collapse because of overfishing, and on land, farmers are threatened by the corporate consolidation of food production.

These are just a few of the subjects Jan Thornhill touches on in her excellent survey of humanity’s relationship with the stuff we eat. In books such as I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids’ Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death, Thornhill has shown that she is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects. In Who Wants Pizza? she gives us four fascinating and fact-packed chapters that travel briskly and entertainingly through food-science basics (such as how energy is transmitted from the sun to our bodies through food), cultural aspects of food (such as the development of table manners and the evolution of farming), and the modern-day crises of large-scale food production.

Instead of glossing over the issues, Thornhill’s concise paragraphs and engaging – and often funny – illustrations tackle hard subjects. With both sensitivity and forthrightness, she addresses such chilling matters as the threat to crops from monocultural (single crop) farming, the unknown effects of genetically modified organisms, the spread of diseases like H1N1, the maltreatment of animals on factory farms, and the (huge) contribution of livestock production to global warming.

This is all rather ominous stuff, but thankfully Thornhill closes the book on a positive note with an excellent and non-preachy discussion of the alternatives and options – reduced meat consumption, locavorism, and learning to cook – that can help solve humanity’s food problems. No child – nor uninformed adult, for that matter – should be able to read Who Wants Pizza? without rethinking their relationship with food.