BOOK REVIEW: Toad Food & Measle Soup

 Toad Food and Measle Soup

After reading the wonderfully compassionate Much Ado about Aldo, this book, geared to the same age group, was a huge letdown. Aldo was a boy who decided that he loved animals so much he was no longer going to eat them. Leo Nolan, the star of Toad Food and Measle Soup, is enmeshed in that tiresome storyline of a thousand sitcoms: Character decides to become a vegetarian; forces bizarre food on family and makes them miserable; character is caught “sneaking” meat, causes rest of family to rebel; everyone goes back to eating meat and everything is happy again.

In this case, that character is Mom, and the title of the book refers to her young son’s impression of the food she serves: “toad food” (tofu) and “measle” (miso) soup. Mrs. Nolan makes the unpopular announcement at the dinner table:

“Vegetarian food?” said Mr. Nolan. “You mean, no meat at all?”
“That’s right. Grains and cheese and even fish, and lots of vegetables. But no meat. For a while.”
Leo groaned. “No hamburgers? No hot dogs? Just vegetables?” He made a face as if he’d tasted something sour.

ARGH! Fish are not vegetables! Vegetarians don’t eat fish!

But a mutiny is brewing. Dad later admits to Leo of Mom’s new cooking style:

“Just between you and me, I don’t like it much either.”

As soon as Mom steps out the door, Dad suggests an alternative to the stir-fry Mom has left them on the stove:

“How about this idea? You and I will head downtown and have a good old hamburger at Burger Barn.”
“Whoopee! With French fries, okay?”
“Hamburg, French fries, and a Coke coming up.”

The pair head down to a fast-food restaurant to celebrate their return to the Standard American Diet:

“A toast,” [Dad] said. “To good old hamburgers!”
“To hamburgers,” Leo echoed, and took a big bite. He ate slowly, savoring the taste.

Suddenly, they spy a familiar face in line at the Burger Barn:

“Dad, look! Mom’s buying a cheeseburger!”
Mr. Nolan chuckled. “Looks like we’re not the only ones who are tired of vegetables.”

Abashed, Mom sits down with her family.

She took a bite out of her cheeseburger. “I like vegetarian food, but not all the time. And I have to agree, this tastes better than toad food and measle soup.” …

Leo finished his hamburger and took a gulp of Coke. No more strange food. At least not for awhile.

While this storyline may have gotten laughs twenty-five years ago, to a modern audience it seems remiss. With childhood obesity at a troubling rate, it’s irresponsible to glorify fast food and soft drinks and denigrate vegetables. That’s true whether your family is vegetarian or not. Modern sensibilities may also find fault with the outmoded gender roles (Mom always cooks and determines what the family eats; Dad has to go behind Mom’s back to break her “rules”). And, for us vegetarians in the audience, do we really need more false stereotypes about how “strange” and unappetizing our meal choices are?

From an animal welfare viewpoint, there’s a few other slipups in Toad Food. Leo buys a chameleon at a pet shop on impulse, admitting to the shop clerk that he doesn’t really know how to care for the animal. He is disappointed and frustrated when the lizard cannot change fantastic colors and patterns:

He went back to his room to look at his pet. There wasn’t really anything he could do with the lizard. He wasn’t any fun to play with. He didn’t make any noises. He wasn’t even good to pet.

As the lizard fails to meet his expectations, Leo returns to the pet shop to trade in the animal for a guinea pig. Needless to say, many animal advocates are not going to be happy with the behavior modeled here: impulsive pet store purchases of animals, the toy-like view Leo takes of the chameleon, and “trading up” pets like baseball cards.

However, Leo does show some more responsible behavior when a dog comes into his life. He diligently cares for a stray Dalmatian until the dog’s owner can reclaim him. In fact, he takes such good care of the dog that his father suggests:

“How about if we drive to the Animal Shelter on Saturday and see if there are any nice dogs looking for a home?”

So, on that note, the book ends. Humane families will probably applaud the fact that Leo shows dedication to caring for a dog, and the family opts to adopt rather than heading down to that corner pet store again. However, as this part of the story comes at the conclusion, many might also decide that this positive element is too little, too late.

(Review originally appeared at Goodreads.com)

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

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