Food Fight by Linda B. Davis
Publisher: Fitzroy Books
Format: Paperback ARC
Number of pages: 248
Publishing: June 27th, 2023
Source: Jackie Karneth from Books Forward
Opening Line: "I've been eating the same lunch since first grade: a plain bagel, a handful of pretzels, and two Hershey's Kisses- pretty normal and impressive only in terms of its exact sameness day after day."
Ben has been pretty happy with his routine for school lunches, it's the exact sameness in his diet that has helped him get through elementary school. But middle school is an entirely different thing. Like where you sit during lunch kind of determines what social group you'll end up in and Ben's friend, Josh is determined that they'll be a part of the popular kids. He's even started to put together a group of cool kids for Ben, Nick and him to hang out with. But being a super picky eater tends to be something that can also get you noticed, and not in a good way. Which is exactly the situation Ben finds himself in when Darren, the boy who he beat out for a spot on the soccer team ends up sitting at their lunch table. Darren is a relentless bully, he makes a point of calling Ben's meal a "sad excuse for a lunch," and taunts him any chance he gets. He tries to embarrass Ben in front of his friends and even in front of Lauren, the girl they both have a crush on. Ben tries to use humor to deflect Darren's comments, but Darren isn't easily dissuaded.
Things start to go from bad to worse when Ben learns that the upcoming three-night trip to Abner Farm will include eating six authentic colonial meals. Ben doesn't believe there is any way that he can go on the trip, as the rules are pretty strict about bringing any outside food, and he doesn't want to have his mom ask for any accommodations believing that will just draw more attention to himself. But leaving Lauren on the trip with Darren alone proves to be too hard for him to swallow and Ben decides to go on the trip. Just as Ben starts to think he can make things work on the Farm, eating the small flapjacks they offer for breakfast and the few apples he finds and tries to snack on, he is accused of bringing contraband onto the Farm (candy bars) and risks being sent home. Eventually, Ben summons the courage to explain to everyone why the candy bars couldn't belong to him and educates everyone about ARFID, or his diagnosis of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.
I must admit I knew very little about ARFID prior to reading Food Fight. I have however met many kids who are selective in what they like and don't like to eat. I know of one kid who only eats yogurt, waffles, and Poptart's. That's it. And another kid who won't eat any condiments (ketchup, mayo, tomato sauce etc.) and likes their pasta and rice without anything but butter and a little cheese. I can even relate to that feeling of not being able to eat certain foods. Growing up our family dinner motto was being a part of the clean plate club. Whatever mom made, we had to clean our plate, nothing was to be wasted or thrown away. Now as a kid I wasn't a fan of cauliflower or zucchini, and I spent many a dinner sitting at the table with ice cold vegetables staring at me, knowing that there was no way that I could gag them down. So yeah, I could relate to how Ben must have felt and I'm sure that many other kids can too. Ben has never been able to explain his eating habits and has kind of given up on trying because no one seems to believe him anyway. His dad was not very supportive, thinking that it's just something that he can get over by trying new foods. Chicken is just chicken. What's the big deal about trying something other than the chicken nuggets from McDonalds? What he doesn't realize is that Ben physically can't make himself swallow new foods and starts to gag when he tries. Ben's mom was more supportive and tries to find ways to help him cope. She even extends the idea about him going to counseling to better understand his condition.
While reading I also felt really sad about all the bullying that Ben endured and that his friends didn't pick up what Darren was doing at first. While feeling so realistic to what kids encounter at school, it also made me sad and pretty mad. It's that sort of subtle bullying where snide comments are made in the hallway, or insults are made under your breath to shame the person. Unfortunately, this is the kind of bullying that can so easily go unnoticed or be misinterpreted as just having made a joke. Ugg, I so dislike bullying. Ben had a strategy to deal with it most of the time and I certainly commend him for his tolerance. My favorite character had to be Olivia. She's just so darn friendly and doesn't seem to let other people's thoughts about her bother her. She reminds me of the kids who wear what they want to wear, and don't want to be a part of some popular clique. They just want to be themselves and who cares what other people think right? There was just so much about this book that worked for me. The characters and circumstances were all so realistic and felt so relatable. I'm looking forward to see what the author writes next.
I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE