Since I started this blog I’ve had Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want by Ruby Tandoh on my list of books to review. (Hereon in Eat Up, for brevity.) It’s a book that sits innocently on my shelf, completely unaware of the massive impact it had on me.
I’m probably not alone when I say that I’ve had a strange relationship with food in the past. It’s been a comfort, a treat or maybe forbidden. Sound familiar? So I didn’t know what to expect from Eat Up – perhaps someone else telling me what to eat – but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Instead in Eat Up, Ruby Tandoh celebrates the pleasure of food. This book isn’t about fancy food, diets or posh restaurants. It’s about the joy and comfort that food can bring to you in the everyday. The sheer bloody bliss that comes from toast slick with butter and a hot cup of tea on a sleepy morning or licking your fingers after a pack of extra salty salt and vinegar crisps. A meal someone you loved made for you. It’s an antidote to all the confusing, over-complicated diet culture content you’ve digested (pardon the pun) in the past.
In Eat Up, Tandoh positions herself directly against the dieting crazes that have been popular in recent years. Instead, she offers a positive take on food. Her tone is warm, engaging and frequently sarcastic – it’s like talking to a passionate, intelligent friend, swapping notes in the kitchen. It’s with this love and generosity, that Tandoh explores further than what’s on your plate. Eat Up delves into many issues that are inextricably linked to food: culture, class, race, body image and weight, diet culture, eating in public, comfort eating and more.
Food and ethics is a complicated issue to unpick, yet Tandoh tackles it with aplomb. She interweaves the history of food, which is jam-packed full of well-researched facts, with delicious-sounding recipes and observations about the integral roles food play in our lives. Particularly, it looks at how what we eat is related to how we feel and what we need at that moment. To paraphrase Ruby, sometimes that pasty on the side of the M4 is the only thing that will do.
She touches upon her personal difficulties with eating disorders, yet I didn’t find the message to be at all preachy. Rather, it was refreshing to learn about someone’s experience without it ending with ‘…and this is how I was fixed, so now you can be fixed too!’. Tandoh acknowledges the intricacies of relationships with food whilst gently reminding us of the joy and pleasure of eating something because we want to. Because it’s scrumptious. Because we’re hungover. Because it’ll cheer us up.
I mentioned at the top that this book made an impact on me – honestly people, it’s a game-changer. I stayed up late reading (which I’ll be honest doesn’t happen that often with non-fiction) and thought about it all night. It made me examine my attitude towards food and, as a consequence, myself. Ruby puts it better than I could: “The way you feel about food sits hand in hand with the way you feel about yourself, and if you eat happily and wholeheartedly, food will make you strong.” It changed my way of thinking from that day.
Food is complicated, right? It’s also wonderful and a cause for celebration. It brings us closer to people and lets us be ourselves. Eat Up is a glorious book that weaves together a narrative sprinkled with facts, advice and body positivity. It’s a real joy to read and I give my thanks to Ruby for embracing food for all its messiness and helping us to embrace it too.