We teach our children how to read and write; we teach them how to get dressed and clean their teeth, how to cross the street safely, how to save money and find a job.

But how do we teach them to eat?

In a time when interest in local, organic and sustainable food is on the rise and concern about nutrition, health, food safety, and the environment makes the daily headlines, how we eat has personal, political, and cultural resonance. What do our daily choices about feeding and being fed say about us? How does the food we eat convey our values—about family, community, environment—to our children and the wider circle of people we feed? How does our food communicate our cultural traditions? And how do our eating habits establish life-long ideas about family, community, and our place in the world?

LEARNING TO EAT offers an original and timely perspective on the ongoing cultural debate about how American families eat. Simply put, good eating habits involve more than putting healthy food in our mouths. The “local, organic, sustainable” mantra may be the ground zero of our national discussion—as some of our writers testify—but equally important is understanding that how we learn to eat in our families matters in the rest of our lives—and for the rest of our lives.

To this end, LEARNING TO EAT presents essays that explore the full diversity of foods eaten by modern American families and the many different ways we feed ourselves and others. Our writers think about how families celebrate and grieve over daily meals, consider what we do when food is the enemy, and engage in public debates and private struggles over what and how we feed our children. Most important, these writers reflect on what our food choices reveal about our most fundamental values.

Readers of our book will confront the role food plays in family tragedies, and understand how it plays a crucial part of the class and culture wars. They’ll get a series of fresh perspectives on our national obsession with weight, including what it means to learn to eat again after weight loss surgery and a diabetes diagnosis. They’ll read about how to get their kids to eat duck confit and what it means when both mother and daughter struggle with eating disorders. They’ll read about learning to bake and they’ll meet adults who never learned to cook. They’ll read, and they’ll know why learning to eat matters in our adult lives. They’ll know, at the end, that food is much more than what’s served to us on our plate, and that there’s more than one way—and more than one reason—to establish a healthy American food culture.