My Reading Month: October 2014

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The end of October already? I’ve watched leaves change colors and children get dressed up in adorable costumes (all via Facebook). I’ve watched my Pinterest get covered in all manner of apple, butternut, and pumpkin things. And of course, I’ve read some books. I also took a fabulous pilgrimage (that’s what I’m calling my vacation) to some food and literary places that I can’t wait to tell you about. But unfortunately, that’s a post for November.

While we’re on the cusp of that, though, here’s a look at My Reading Month.

Currently Reading at Time of Publication

On Immunity:  An Inoculation by Eula Biss.

Books

IMG_6208October was a fun month. That’s the word I’m choosing to describe it:  definitively fun. I did some traveling back to Virginia, where I was a presenter at the ODU Literary Festival, and I don’t know what it is about a Kindle book and a cross-country plane ride, but I just tear through books. And when they’re this fun, it’s even more tempting to do so.

  • Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson. This was a digital review copy (it’ll be out in March 2015), and it was a tie for my favorite book that I read this month. This book features a cast of characters for whom things have gone astray. A woman wakes to find the front wall of her house missing. A pianist goes to his studio, only to discover the keys to his piano have disappeared. A directionless woman literally loses her sense of direction. Loves, jobs, and memories are all lost, and it’s a race to either find them before the damage is complete, or acclimate to this new, lost life. This book was quirky and full of strong characters – make sure you check it out in March.
  • My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff. And here we are, the CA –> VA leg of my reading binge. I read this in one airplane ride. I was dazed at the end, but it was lovely. Rakoff’s first job after college was as a secretary at a venerable literary agency, the one that represented J.D. Salinger. As she sorts out her own life, she gets to know the book business, Salinger’s work, and her own path towards the future. A great, bookish coming-of-age memoir.
  • Rooms by Lauren Oliver. And this book took me from VA –> CA. I didn’t do this in one sitting, alas, but I feel like I could have. This book tells the story of a dysfunctional family who has come to the estranged father’s house after his death to sort through his belongings. Twist? The house is haunted by the ghosts of previous inhabitants. The drama of the afterlife meets the drama of the here and now, and I couldn’t put it down.
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. You guys. This book is raw, and rough, and yet so tender. As Hurricane Katrina bears down on the Mississippi coast, this family – three boys, one pregnant girl, and their alcoholic father – try to survive and prepare, all the while negotiating love and loss and hope. This book made me uncomfortable in ways that I thought were valuable and important.
  • 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Helene-Marie Bertino. This book was the other tie for favorite read of the month. Musical, kinetic, quirky, and so scrappy, this book was funny and wild and also takes place over a span of about 16 hours, which is downright impressive. I’m recommending it to everyone. So, you know, read it.

I usually include a few articles, but truthfully, there’s only one I want to talk about, and I think it’s for another post, all on its own, about food and excess and identity. (I mean, aren’t I always yammering on about food and identity?) So for now, there’s My Reading Month. You read anything good that you want to recommend?

My Reading Month: September 2014

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After a busy summer, it’s been good to settle into the security of fall.

But then, I remember:  I live in Southern California. Fall is really just summer, but in months that end in R.

For me, though, fall is more than just weather. (I mean, it’s the weather. That part still depresses me.) But fall means back to school, which for me always meant back to reading more – reading for homework, reading to learn, to enjoy, to grow. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to challenge myself in my reading life, reading things that stretch me out of my comfort zone (like Roxane Gay’s collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Annia Ceizadlo’s memoir, Day of Honey) and also things that further immerse me in the areas I want to learn more (like the biiiiiig book I’m currently reading, The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher).

So while I might have to be satisfied with only the tips of the fronds of the palm trees turning a bit yellow, and the warm days and cool nights, I still have fall reading, and that’s no small thing.

Books

  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay:  This book has gotten tons of buzz, and it’s just as good as everyone says it is. Gay takes a kind approach toward feminism, embracing empathy, human fallibility, and common sense. This book made me uncomfortable at times, but it also made me think, made me ask questions, which is what I had hoped it would do.
  • The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant:  My first Diamant! This book reminded me a lot of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and told the story of a young girl growing up at the beginning of the 20th century in Boston.
  • Day of Honey:  A Memoir of Food, Love, and War by Annia Ciezadlo:  Holy crap, this book. As Iraq descended into civil war, Annia Ciezadlo and her new husband spent their honeymoon in Baghdad, where her husband would be working as a war correspondent. Herself a freelance journalist, she spent the next six years living in Baghdad and Beirut, eating, learning, and writing about the people as wars and skirmishes flared up around her. A thoughtful historical look at food and war and what both mean in the lives of civilians.
  • Delicious by Ruth Reichl:  This may be unfair, but I didn’t expect this book to be as good as it was. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel set at a food magazine, written by the women who would know that world best. A definite recommendation for those who love food and fiction.

Over at Book Riot

This month at Book Riot, I held forth about the necessity for writers to read; my editor crush on Judith Jones; how much I loved the novel The End of the Point; my weird habit of evangelizing to people about booksmy outright giddiness over three memoirs by funny ladies coming out this fall; and four methods for choosing your next book to read.

Articles

The Goat Note | grilled pizzas

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I have, for some time now, half-joked to Amanda that if the volume is loud enough on my car radio, I can sound exactly like [insert name of singer here]. Reba McEntire. Lea Michele. Mariah Carey. Idina Menzel. Oh yeah. That high F in “Defying Gravity”? If the radio’s loud enough, I can hit it. Ever. Single. Time.

When I was in high school, my friend Liz and I went through a pretty big Sister Act 2 phase. We watched it all the time. And while chatting on the phone one day, I attempted the radio volume trick without the help of the radio. I attempted to hit the high note in “Oh Happy Day.”

I wasn’t trying hard or anything. I mean, I’m not crazy. I actually can’t hit a high F.

Unless I’m in my car.

With the music really loud.

Alone.

Point being, I went for it, and it was a mess, and we joked and laughed about it for years. I was understandably upset that she did not ask me to perform “Oh Happy Day” at her wedding, but since she probably couldn’t have gotten me a gospel choir anyway, it was really a lost cause from the beginning.

I hadn’t thought about that in awhile, until I happened on this the other day.

Oh yeah. The goat note. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times, and it still just tickles me.

But this feeling that I can do something that’s actually outside of my ability is one I often suffer from. When I watch So You Think You Can Dance, there’s a part of my brain that really believes I can extend my leg up over my head, and I reeeeeeeallly want to try. But I know I can’t. I will end up disappointed and injured. I cannot jeté, and that is my cross to bear.

And y’all. That’s how I felt about homemade pizza too. I’ve got a pizza stone. I’ve tried things. I’ve done the makeshift pizza peel off the back of a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal. I’ve tried different dough recipes. I’ve tried under-saucing. I’ve tried under-cheesing. And still, whenever I made pizza in my oven, on that stupid pizza stone, I was met with disappointment. The dough of that disappointment was still raw in the middle. The bottom of that disappointment would be disproportionately crispy to the rest of the soggy, stupid pizza.

I had given up. And then, oh happy day, I discovered grilled pizza.

The grill allows a forgiving workspace that is level to our bodies, no longer requiring us to hunch over and extend our bodies (or our arms) into a hot oven. There’s no need to slide the pizza onto an already hot stone; you just flip that dough on the grill, letting the shape fall as it will.

A few things I learned for successful grilled pizza:

- Let the dough sit out for at least half an hour before you stretch it. This allows the gluten to relax (or something scientific like that) and makes it so you can stretch out the dough without it shrinking back.

- Organize your stuff. Get all your toppings ready to go because once the pizza dough is on the grill, you’ve only got a few minutes before it’s time to add toppings.

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- Sauce is not necessary. Yes, I know. I said it. Sauce is great – I mean, who on God’s green earth doesn’t love sauce? But sauce is not essential. I used a brushing of olive oil, and it worked beautifully.

- Dress up your crust! Why not? Before I put my dressed up pizza back on the grill, I brushed the crust part with olive oil, added a little salt, and it was a fun ending to each slice of pizza.

Essentially, here’s the deal:  preheat your grill to medium or medium-high heat. If any toppings need pre-cooking (for instance, I grilled some zucchini first), go ahead and do that once it’s hot. Pat out and stretch your pizza dough (I used pre-made dough from Whole Foods) to the desired size(s). Assemble your area with your toppings. Pour a glass of wine, if you are so inclined.

When you’re ready, spray the grate with cooking spray, and then pick up your dough using two hands and flip it from the tray/cutting board/plate/cookie sheet onto the grill. Imagine you’re turning over a place mat; that’s the motion. Don’t worry if your dough isn’t a perfect circle. This is homemade.

Close the grill, let it cook a few minutes (taking care not to burn it); 3-5 minutes should do the trick. You’re looking for light golden grill marks. When you see those, use a pair of tongs and flip the dough over. Allow to cook 3-5 more minutes, till you get grill marks.

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At this point, remove the pizza to a tray and dress that sucker up like it’s heading to church. I made two pizzas:  one with grilled zucchini, torn basil, mozzarella, goat cheese, minced garlic, and a sprinkle of pecorino; the other with sliced heirloom tomato, goat cheese, torn basil, mozzarella, garlic, and pecorino. I found two smaller pizzas easier to work with, and it can be a good way to make a grown-up pizza and a kid pizza, in case you have children with strong pizza opinions.

Once the pizzas are dressed, open the grill, use your tongs, and slide the pizzas onto the rack. You’ll want to bake 5-7 minutes, most likely. You’re looking for melty toppings and golden crust without burning the bottom.

When the pizzas are done, remove from the grill, let sit for a few minutes before slicing, and then cut those things up and enjoy.

Honestly, I didn’t have high hopes. I thought it would be like singing “Oh Happy Day.” I thought it would be the goat note of pizza. But it wasn’t. It was easy and delicious and fun and satisfying. The leftovers were great, too, and I was in no way disappointed. Quite the opposite, actually.

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Remembering the Two Fat Ladies

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This post originally ran on Food Riot, which has closed its doors. I’m rerunning some of my favorite posts I did for the magazine before it goes dark forever. 

I was peripherally aware of Two Fat Ladies when their shows first aired in the late 90s. I was a little bit of a Food Network junkie back then, a teenager with big dreams of becoming a pastry chef, and I liked these two quirky broads riding a motorcycle around England. My taste had no discernment back then – I watched anything and everything food. But in my late twenties, when my dreams of professional chefdom had gone the way of my dreams of becoming a figure skater and a country music star, Two Fat Ladies resurfaced for me. And now that both of the Ladies – Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Wright Dickson – have left this earth, we are left only with our ability to remember the Two Fat Ladies.

In my late twenties, when I was introduced to The Cooking Channel – the cooler, more community-oriented younger sibling to The Food Network – I spent hours hanging out with my then-girlfriend (now wife), watching Unique Eats, Unique Sweets, and to my glee and utter enjoyment, reruns of Two Fat Ladies. We set the DVR and gorged ourselves on episode after episode of these two hilarious British ladies cooking dishes we had never seen, and sometimes never heard of.

Food television has become formulaic and well-practiced. Allen Salkin’s book From Scratch:  Inside the Food Network gives an excellent history of how cooking shows settled into the formula we know today. Early shows lacked money and production value. Things went wrong. But as time has passed, we have come to expect flawless sets, beautiful dishes, beautiful hosts. There is something pristine and clean about food television these days.

Perhaps that’s why we glommed onto these reruns of Two Fat Ladies. These women cooked throughout England and Scotland (and even Jamaica in one episode), in a variety of different kitchens, usually rustic-looking, sometimes close and tight, sometimes cavernous. They wore clothes suited to their frames, personalities, and comfort levels. Most shows ended with Jennifer enjoying a cigarette and a drink.

Their humor was naughty. We do not call the immersion blender by its proper name in my house; we call it the kitchen vibrator, as Clarissa did in one episode where Jennifer made a potato soup. They joked on vegetarians, on Americans, and lovingly, on each other.

I remember one episode where the women took off walking in search of eggs. After awhile, Jennifer pitched a fit. She was tired of walking, and she announced that she was done. She sat down, and despite Clarissa’s entreaties to keep going, she stayed put and smoked a cigarette. It was a moment of awkwardness, of unscripted on-camera human behavior that is completely absent from food television. A woman is tired from walking and refuses to go on. The awkwardness was palpable as we watched. And when Clarissa came back, riding in the open bed of a truck, her feet swinging, a smiling face for her friend, all was well. The day was won. The dishes were made. But we still remember and talk about that episode.

Try finding that on Food Network these days. You won’t.

We remember singers by listening to their songs. We remember artists by visiting their paintings or sculptures. We remember cooks by making their recipes. But this is where my problem comes in.

A friend gave me the cookbook, Cooking with The Two Fat Ladies, for my birthday a few years ago. I recently looked through it, knowing what I would find. A lot of meat. Like, seriously. There was one episode that my wife and I remember often. Clarissa lined a terrine with bacon, then filled it with whatever she was making, and then covered the top with bacon as well. She made a bacon lid. Just let that sink in for a moment.

I’m a vegetarian, and even if I weren’t, many of the ingredients are hard to find in the States. We don’t readily have game available. My only options are desserts, which do look delicious.

But the conclusion I came to was that to remember the Two Fat Ladies, I will have to look to their other influences on my life. My wife and I still enjoy watching those old reruns, though we’ve seen almost every episode. We sing the theme song together. We joke about the kitchen vibrator whenever we make soup with an immersion blender.

And we remember the nights at the beginning of our life together, when we would make a snack and settle in for marathons of Two Fat Ladies. We can remember them as the soundtrack of our courtship. We can remember them as icons of our eating lives. Remembering the Two Fat Ladies won’t happen through making their recipes (or a bacon lid, just imagine), but it will happen by the simple act of remembering.

My Reading Month: August 2014

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Oh my goodness – August is over, everyone has posted their summery photos of oceans and tomatoes and, if my Facebook feed is any indicator, yesterday was the first day back to school.

And my August was seriously busy. I went to see a giant rubber duck in the harbor in San Pedro.

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I went to an island and hiked and ate a gorgeous picnic that we did not photograph because, as it turns out, when Amanda and I hike for miles on end and I deal with the anxiety that always creeps in that I might actually die on an island, or at least be forced to survive in the wilds with limited water and wild animals about, I cannot stop to photograph the food. I need to eat.

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We made pasta from scratch. So, what I’m saying there is that my life changed forever.

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My month was so busy, in fact, that I read more short(ish) Internet articles than I did books. But that’s okay. With giant rubber ducks and surviving in the wilderness (for six hours) and making pasta, you can only fit in so many books.

Books

  • Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg:  You can ask at least a dozen of my friends – right now, I feel like I recommend Lean In to every woman (and some men) that I talk to. It might seem a little odd, but this book pretty much rocked my world. I thought there could be a few relatable gems in there, some raise-your-fist-in-solidarity moments, but I didn’t expect it to be as applicable to my life as it was. Sandberg is a business executive; I’m a writer. The business world and the literary world are quite different. Except that, sometimes they’re not. And we’re both women who want success and equality and fairness and progress. And if the VIDA count is any indication, there’s still a lot of gender disparity to contend with in the literary world. And beyond all of that, this book was about looking at the small ways that we internalize myths and half-truths about ourselves, our abilities, our work ethic, and our self-worth.
  • The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver:  This novel, y’all. It was my favorite thing I read last month (and it was a good month, so that’s quite a distinction). The book tells the story of the Porter family, who own property in the fictional coastal town, Ashaunt Point, on the coast of Massachusetts. Following the characters through generations, through wars, the novel is far-reaching and graceful in the way it handles family discord and high expectations and failure and hope. This novel is sprawling, transporting, gorgeously written. The sense of wildness and the way it’s grounded in place and the characters. Sigh. I highly recommend it.
  • The Tenth Muse:  My Life in Food by Judith Jones:  Judith Jones, famed former Knopf editor who gave us such gems as Julia Child’s cookbook and Edna Lewis’s The Taste of Country Cooking, has given us a lovely memoir of her life in publishing and in food. If you’re familiar with her life at all, then some of the book will seem a bit repetitive, but I enjoyed getting to know the editor behind so many wonderful cookbooks.

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The Toast I Propose: It’s Not $4

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This post originally ran on Food Riot, which has closed its doors. I’m rerunning some of my favorite posts I did for the magazine before it goes dark forever. 

Toast is the new hip thing that we’ve always had all along, going the way of doughnuts and cupcakes, becoming artisanal and innovated. Except with toast, it seems there’s not so much innovation as an attention to the art form of bread, of toasting, of slathering toppings.

I do not take issue with this artistry; my sister once teased me for making sure I got butter into every last square centimeter of surface space on my toast. I was meticulous; it was my breakfast art.

But the toast pill is a hard one to swallow, especially at $4 a slice. Many articles have been written about it. One, an article in Pacific Standard about Giulietta Carrelli, who seems to have started San Francisco’s toast trend, even made me think, “Okay, cool, I would support that business,” largely because they focus on the person making the toast rather than the toast itself, which at the end of the day, is still toast.

Just last week, months after that article ran, Bon Appetit ran a piece on how to make the perfect toast at home, urging readers to start with good bread, to slice it thicker (genius), make sure the toaster is really hot, use butter, salt it, and eat it while it’s hot. All decent advice.

But is it possible we’re over-thinking this? It’s toast. It’s the ultimate five-ingredient yum. Your house comes hard-wired with the only equipment you really need to make it (an oven). Toast is one of the first things I ever learned how to make, somehow without all the gourmet advice from a magazine.

You take your bread, sliced however you like it. You toast it, using oven or toaster (toaster is easier – a bonus for morning breakfast prep). Slather it with butter for a classic experience. Spoon a little jam on there if you wish, you sassy thing. If you want to cover it in peanut butter or Nutella, no one will judge you; so few breakfasts can be both quick and decadent, so carpe diem. Carpe the hell out of that Nutella.

While it’s a great thing that something as homey and delightful as toast is available for people in coffee shops or cafés, people on the go with no time to cook for themselves, I just have a hard time getting down with a whole toast trend, where a shop might serve 350-400 slices of toast on a busy Saturday or Sunday.

Because when we take a humble food like toast – the perfect sick food, the perfect lazy, poor, sad, tired, in-need-of-comfort food, the perfect first food for kids to learn to cook, the perfect breakfast in bed for lovers, old and new – and we dress it up in all this finery, when we take it out of the home kitchen and into the trendy coffee shops of the world, then we take something away from the simple enjoyment that people are seeking in the first place. We take something simple and we make it utterly complicated and expensive and precious. And not everything can be precious, you guys. Not all foods need boutiques and reality shows (okay, this hasn’t happened with toast yet, but give it time). A slice of toast should just be a slice of toast, simple and perfect, popping from your toaster with a merry ding. That’s the toast I propose.

 

Everything I Eat Is Wrong: Food Shockumentary Fall-Out

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This post originally ran on Food Riot, which has closed its doors. I’m rerunning some of my favorite posts I did for the magazine before it goes dark forever.

This article wrote itself in reverse. I set out to document a phenomenon I saw happen repeatedly on Facebook. Someone would watch a food documentary – the kind of documentary film meant to shock you into a changed course of action. A shockumentary, if you will. And after watching said film, the person would find themselves lost at sea. Suddenly, everything they ate was wrong, so they sought help and advice on Facebook, where they found such a conflicting collection of opinions, facts, and approaches that they were left throwing their hands up in frustration.

Each time I saw this happen, I tried to help:  I tried to let them know that no action was required right that second; that there was a lot of information out there and that they ultimately had to do what was best for them and their family and lifestyle and budget and moral compass. I recommended taking a moment to breathe. I tried to be their Fairy Godmother, the Fairy Godmother of Food. I wanted to wave my wand and make their decisions easier, to clear up the muddy waters of food education.

But I was living in a food closet, because here’s the thing:  up until last week, I had never watched a shockumentary. I had read Michael Pollan books. Friends had told me horror stories of things they had read or seen. I had even driven past a few factory farms on my way cross-country. I had resources, and I knew a few things, but only academically. Only enough to give me some opinions. Just enough to leave me wanting to wave a wand and make everything all right.

When I set out to write this post, I asked a few friends questions about their experiences with food shockumentaries:  what had they watched, how had they felt, what did they change as a result? The answers were largely consistent. They had watched one or two of the most notable food documentaries – Food, Inc., Forks Over Knives, Super Size Me, etc. – and had been horrified at the state of our food system. They had felt a range of emotions – shock, shame, guilt, anger. They resolved to do things differently, and they made adjustments to their diets and food shopping. Not all of the changes stuck, but they were changed people. While the images eventually receded to the backs of their minds, and the initial horror softened into faded memory, they remained passionate about what they knew. They took the reasonable steps they felt they could take. Did they give up all meat/soy/corn/soft drinks/etc. entirely? No. But they did what they could.

I talked to a friend, Rachel, who used to run her local chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local in Virginia. When I first announced my article idea on Facebook, she reached out, recognizing a similar moment when she used to deliver information and education about farming, and where our food comes from, and the benefits of buying fresh and local. People would feel doomsday descending; the feeling that everything they had been doing was wrong became palpable, and she learned to recognize it and counteract it by handing down sensible advice. She urged people to start small. As she said, “when people realized what a big impact a small effort could make, they seemed to relax a little.”

I was ready to write, really. But I felt nagged by my conscience. Could I really hand down advice to people who have watched food shockumentaries without having first watched one myself? Doesn’t that seem a bit presumptuous? A bit condescending? A bit hypocritical?

So last week, my wife and I scanned through movies to stream on Netflix. And I mentioned one I had seen listed called Vegucated, about three New Yorkers who switch to a vegan diet for six weeks. We decided to watch it, and I felt my conscience would settle. And all was well until the three New Yorkers went to a seminar on the food industry, where they watched behind-the-scenes footage of factory farming and meat processing.

And the bottom fell out. I dropped my wand. And then I picked it up and broke it over my knee. Who was I to give advice? I couldn’t be a Fairy Godmother. I need a Fairy Godmother. Suddenly, all my advice sounded empty and hollow. I had seen things I couldn’t un-see.

It was at that point that I was happy this article got written in reverse. I went back to my notes, to the responses I gathered from friends. I let their reactions and experiences bolster me up; I wasn’t alone. I re-read Rachel’s notes. I let her practical advice empower me.

And I talked to my wife. A lot. I rode the wave from emotional reaction – horror, shame, guilt, shock – into academic discussion. Who are we as eaters? What do we want? What can we do?

The thing is, whenever you subject yourself to new information, whether it’s about the food system or the government or the environment, you make yourself vulnerable to the impulse to change. We are humans, and we are dynamic. We learn new things, and we process and synthesize and make decisions about how to proceed.

I can’t be a Fairy Godmother because I can’t wave a wand and make everything rosy and fair and ethical. I can’t make information easier to process. We are citizens of the world, and we are eaters, and we must decide how to proceed, trusting our moral compass and our brain and our circumstances to guide us.

But I suppose that really, my initial advice still holds true. The advice I had planned to give to others is the advice I’ve had to give to myself. Your feelings are valid. Your reaction is honest. As a person, you are dynamic, an ever-changing being; as an eater, you are dynamic, an ever-changing being. And whatever you decide, whether it’s a big or small change, be gentle. Walk softly.

Breasts or Wings? Hooters and My First Food Shaming

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This post originally ran on Food Riot, which has closed its doors. I’m rerunning some of my favorite posts I did for the magazine before it goes dark forever.

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The year was 1993. I was in the third grade, and my teacher, on a Monday morning, asked us to write up what we had done that weekend.

Saturday is a blur in my memory now, but I remember writing easily about Sunday. For lunch, we had gone to Hooters, where I would have ordered either a grilled cheese sandwich or a hot dog. (It would be later that I would appreciate their wings.) Those days were grand, my friends. Hooters made one hell of a grilled cheese sandwich, and their hot dogs weren’t bad either. I was one happy girl amid the blare of televisions airing sporting events, with my mom and my dad and my little brother, all happily chowing down.

When my teacher asked me to share what I had written, I stood up at my seat and read. My teacher smiled. She knew what was up. I thought she had likely had the grilled cheese, too.

But when I sat down, the pure evil that was Jessica Carson (names have been changed because I’m too poor to get sued) descended upon me.

“You go to Hooters?” she asked, dripping with judgment. She might as well have asked, “You eat babies?” or “You still watch Barney?” All the same to her.

“Yep! Their grilled cheese is really good.” I was on a mission, similar to the evangelical mission I would take up in my teen years. I was bringing people to the path of grilled cheese.

“You only go there because your dad likes to look at the waitresses’ boobs,” she taunted.

“That’s not true,” I said. I feel sure my face must have flushed; it’s my embarrassment reaction. “My mom went with us.”

Jessica sat back in her chair. “Then your mom is just sick,” she said. And with that, she turned back to her desk, where she plotted all her evil deeds (like kicking me in the fourth grade – that bitch just wouldn’t let up).

I was humiliated. How had the innocent joy of a rocking grilled cheese – perfectly buttery bread grilled on the flat top, with what I can only assume was a white American cheese that my untrained palate then mistook for fancier fare than my run-of-the-mill yellow Kraft singles, melty and delicious, nonetheless, with curly fries on the side – how had Jessica Carson turned that joy in a parchment paper-lined basket into something shameful, wrong, and embarrassing? How had she taken my parents down in one fell swoop? They weren’t in our class; they couldn’t defend themselves. And I was so shocked at the accusation – my dad some dirty old man, my mom some weird sidekick of his – that I was rendered speechless.

Some version of this has likely happened to all of us. Perhaps as you were sinking your teeth into velvety foie gras, someone piped up and told you about the complicated ethical debate surrounding the production of foie gras.

Perhaps you’ve merely been tearing into a bag of Funyuns and received the stink eye from people who issued complaints about the stink of the snack (and let’s face it, the inevitable stink of Funyun breath).

There is a scene at the beginning of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where a young Toula is asked by a table full of terribly white, terribly blonde, terribly PB&J-eating children what she is eating for lunch. “Moussaka,” she replies. “Moose caca?” the blonde girl laughs, poking fun at Toula’s heritage, her food, and her family.

M.F.K. Fisher is quoted as saying, “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” That quote gets at the heart of why I would not order buffalo wings on a first date (or several dates to follow – you need some level of commitment to feel safe eating messy foods in front of a significant other). Eating is sensual and a little animalistic. It’s active – we tear, we bite, we chew, we dredge, we pull, we hold. It is a physical need, and therefore it’s a highly physical act.

But it’s also an emotional act, one that makes us vulnerable to the people around us. From the embarrassment of food stuck in our teeth to the full on food shaming antics of Jessica Carson and her lemmings all the world over, eating exposes us to one another.

When I set about writing this article, it was to share a funny anecdote about Hooters. But as I wrote, it showed me something more. Just like finding a friend to shop with or go to a concert with, we should perhaps be selective about who we share our food, and indeed our love of food, with. The same way we should think twice about giving our hearts to feckless or undeserving individuals, we shouldn’t give our appetites away too freely either. We need not fear food shaming, but we also need not waste our passion on people who see a Hooters sign and think only of breasts and not of wings.

Food is physical. It fuels us. It comforts us. It’s personal. And frankly, it’s too precious to let the Jessica Carsons of the world ruin our grilled cheese sandwiches.

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