Ruby Tandoh describes her new book, Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want, as “the book I wish I had read when I was a teen”. The Sunday Times describes it as a “radical manifesto [that] takes the guilt out of eating and puts the pleasure back in”.
The word “manifesto” has been bandied around a lot with this book. This is hardly surprising; after all, any writing by a non-white, non-straight, non-male author is inevitably branded a manifesto against the abundance of writing by white, straight, males under which we would otherwise suffocate. As Tandoh claimed at ‘Eat Up!’, in conversation with psychology PhD candidate Jess Brough, “There are so many queer people in the food world but so many food writers are straight white men”.
Publishers, she noted, are partly responsible. She cited the example of Belle Gibson, an Instagrammer, whose claim that a sugar-free, gluten-free diet combined with various alternative therapies had cured her cancer formed the basis for a published book.
Tandoh is nervous, she claimed, when talking about the link between diet and mental health – stating that “it doesn’t tell the whole story”. Tom Kerridge’s book The Dopamine Diet, of which Tandoh is critical, promotes a low carb diet, no different to the one that we have been sold at a great profit to publishers for years now, only repackaged using wellness-conscious language.
She is not, she stated, here to tell you that you can’t follow a low carb diet, or go vegan, for example. She is instead here “to help you navigate that in a healthy way”. And if anyone can help, it’s Tandoh. She was a warm, funny speaker, remaining composed in front of a packed lecture theatre. She discussed her own experience with an eating disorder candidly, whilst also making the audience laugh with her scale of food-queerness (cauliflower rice is straight, lobster thermidor is queer, everything else falls in between).
She navigated difficult, sensitive topics, such as veganism and culinary imperialism – her term for the Western phenomena of white TV chefs “discovering” and appropriating the foods of another culture – with sensitivity and eloquence.
Tandoh’s preoccupation in this book is not ethics – it is a book about helping people to eat. Food gives so many opportunities for healing, from the “tactile, sensory” experience of cooking, to the communal joy of sharing food and the pleasure of comfort food after a long day. I can think of no one better than Tandoh to remind you of this.
‘Eat Up: In Conversation with Ruby Tandoh’ took place at the University of Edinburgh on Friday 9 March.
Image: Chris Belous.