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Take a moment and savour, and eat real food too!

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Book by Sara Marlowe, reviewed by Jonathan Hodge

September 12, 2013

At first glance, it might be not be obvious just how political No Ordinary Apple can be. Sara Marlowe’s debut picture book ostensibly shows children that by slowing down, using all of one’s senses, and focussing on the task at hand, one’s food becomes a wondrous adventure rather than simply fuel. On that level alone, it works beautifully. But – like so many memorable works of creativity – it works on other levels too, and those levels are equally adventurous.
 
The book opens with Elliot returning from school to find his neighbour watching the house. He wants a snack, preferably candy. His neighbour Carmen offers an apple instead. Elliot balks, until Carmen walks him through a sensory tour that transforms his ordinary work-a-day apple into something extraordinary. Marlowe’s text, balanced by Phil Pascuzzo’s vibrant and quirky illustrations, makes for a lovely read and one that engages children from two years old on upwards.
 
But there is something subversive lurking within Marlowe’s words. Elliot comes home from school, and his parents are not at home. Why not? Because they both have to work to maintain the sort of standard of living that will afford Elliot opportunities as he approaches adulthood. Only a generation ago (~30 years) such households required a single income, not two. Times have changed. Today, massive food conglomerates have enormous influence on the nutritional health of millions of consumers, through their monopolies of supply, dominance in supermarket distribution, and all sorts of manipulative marketing techniques designed to get us to buy more high-margin processed food. Marlowe’s call to return to a sensory and sensible approach to diet is a subtle throwdown to the likes of McDonald’s, ADM, and Coca-Cola, who’d rather we mindlessly quaff their pseudo-foods.
 
Related to this, Carmen jolts Elliot out of his complacent approach to the world around him, by challenging him to use his senses. When he does, the world is revealed as much richer than he thought. It is but a small leap from using our senses to appreciate our food, to using our sense to reveal the nonsense of the world around us. Elliot, by slowing down in this case, takes his first step into a larger world; he takes his first step towards the hidden truth of that world.
 
Finally, when he asks what made the apple extraordinary, Carmen responds by saying, “You did!” In other words, his actions, his agency produced the change in his world. If he can change his lunch by his own actions, just imagine what he could change should he choose to act with hundreds or thousands of his neighbours, his community, his town?! Before one dismisses such notions as fanciful dreaming, consider the actions of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who dreamed of one day living free of dictatorship – their own agency is what deposed Mubarak. Their task is not yet finished. In many ways, deposing Mubarak was Egyptians first step. Similarly, Elliot has taken one small step, the beginning of a long journey to a greater future.
 
No Ordinary Apple can be purchased through mindfulfamilies.ca

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