A look at Ali Manning’s new book

“Where does the food come from?” This simple question is the premise behind “Can I play with my food?”a new children’s book from Memphian and first-time author Ali Manning.

The picture book for early readers explores food and science through the eyes of two sisters, Nema and Lexi.

Nema and Lexi let their imaginations run wild as they discover where food comes from and how a simple experience can shape their dreams.

“My mission has been to show kids that black scientists exist and expose them to the world of food science,” Manning said. “Furthermore, I want people to remember the importance of acceptance and that we are all capable of achieving our dreams with community, access and support.”

Ali Manning, author of "Can I play with my food?" and owner of Umami Food Consulting.

Manning is a food scientist and owner of Umami Diet Counseling. With over 10 years in the food industry, she uses her passion for food, science and community to help food entrepreneurs solve problems beyond the kitchen. As a food scientist, she assists customers in product development, focusing on issues ranging from flavor profiles to food stabilization. It also helps companies accurately declare nutritional information on their product labels.

In addition to managing her clients, Manning is the program consultant for Green Fork Projectan initiative that helps restaurants reduce their environmental impact, and the creator of Food science 4 kidsa program that teaches the basics of food science to elementary school children and allows them to perform fun experiments virtually or in person.

“Can I play with my food?” was born out of her desire to find joy in childish things.

“This book was born out of my desire to rediscover things that brought me joy,” Manning said. “As a child, I loved the creative arts (drawing, singing and poetry), but somewhere along the way I forgot.”

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She calls the book her “passion project.” The idea of ​​writing a book started as a personal hobby, but eventually became a reality when she decided to self-publish. Illustrator Taylor Bou brought his story to life with his works.

Manning said this book was “dear to my heart” because the fearless co-character is modeled after his sister Alexis, who has Down syndrome.

“In the story, Lexi is bold, curious and dreams big, and that’s what I want my audience to recognize,” she said.

This story not only shows kids that playing with food can be fun and educational, it also highlights the importance of acceptance. While others might think a disorder like Down’s Syndrome is an obstacle, Nema and Lexi show that the ingredients of compassion, acceptance and love make everything possible.

“I want to show kids what’s possible,” Manning said. “Lexi is a fully functional child with special needs. It is a hope and a dream that people with special needs can achieve what they dream of.

Manning is already dreaming of his next book.

“I already have a few ideas in the works,” she said. “It’s rare to see children of color represented in this way. I hope to develop the dreams of these girls.

Slated for release February 22, “Can I Play With My Food?” is available locally from Novel. Bookstore, Burke’s Book Store, Cooper-Young Gallery & Gift Shop, Feast & Graze, Sweet LaLa’s Bakery and Terra Cotta. The book is also available to order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and Bookshop.

Jennifer Chandler is The Commercial Appeal’s Food & Dining reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]rcialappeal.com and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.

‘Can I play with my food?’ book events

February 24: Benjamin Hooks Library

Ali Manning will host a book reading and Science 4 Kids program from 2-3:30 p.m. at the Benjamin Hooks Library, 3030 Poplar Ave.

March 5: Novel

Manning will host a book talk and 2 p.m. book signing at the novel, 387 Perkins Extd.

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