Eating and reading often walk hand in hand. Whether it is the luscious description of a chocolate cake or the memory of a madeleine briefly dunked in a cup of tea, authors love to write about food, and readers love to read about it. In recent years, some authors have chosen to tackle food from a darker, and yet more realistic angle, which is our obsession with it. Based on the interviews of Jami Attenberg, Lionel Shriver, Melanie Warner we published on Feedbooks, discover what three authors have to say about our sometimes unhealthy relationship with food.
A GLOBAL ISSUE
Feedbooks: In France, the government often tells people what is good and what is bad for them in terms of food and the response is rather positive. Would this position be conceivable in the US?
Jami Attenberg: They’re certainly trying here. Michelle Obama has a campaign to fight childhood obesity, and in New York City where I live, the mayor just banned extra-large sizes for sweetened drinks. I think we have a long haul ahead though.
THE DIET FRENZY
Feedbooks: There is no criticism against the food industry in your novel. The “diet gurus” are the real target. Why?
Lionel Shriver: It’s up to nonfiction to target the food industry, and if this book went on diatribes against McDonalds and Frito Lay it would be tedious, and also simply repeat plenty of other tirades to be found in different sections of the bookstore. I am also disinclined to look to outside forces to explain why I eat a jelly donut. Nobody makes me eat the donut, even if Krispy Kreme is advertising on my TV 24/7. We all have the capacity to decline unhealthy, fattening food. If there is an “answer” to rising obesity rates, it’s going to be individuals resolving to eat better, and less. Big Food is not going to stop marketing crap. Look at what happened when they started reducing the fat in cookies, etc: they just replaced the fat with sugar. Great.
FOOD & EDUCATION
Feedbooks: A lot of books dealing with food and agriculture were released in the recent years. Do you feel this is a long-term education, that people need to be prepared to accept those facts in order to change their behaviour also in the long term?
Melanie Warner: When I first started covering the food industry I was stunned by just how technical and complex so many of the foods we eat have become, and how little we know of this as a society. I wrote this book because I wanted to take people into the fascinating and sometimes scary world of food science and industrial processing, showing them how far removed so many of our favorite foods are from their natural state. Hopefully this book is one among many telling the story of where our food comes from and how our food systems operate. This knowledge is essential for people who want to have a more conscious, and ultimately healthier, approach to eating. Overall, I think it’s a slow process because changing the way you eat isn’t easy, but there’s evidence that so many Americans are now waking up the idea that we can’t blindly trust giant food corporations to do our cooking.
For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie’s enormous girth. She’s obsessed with food–thinking about it, eating it–and if she doesn’t stop, she won’t have much longer to live.
When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle– a whippet thin perfectionist– is intent on saving her mother-in-law’s life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children’s spectacular b’nai mitzvah party. Through it all, they wonder: do Edie’s devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too?
With pitch-perfect prose, huge compassion, and sly humor, Jami Attenberg has given us an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession. The Middlesteins explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.
When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn’t recognize him. In the four years since the siblings last saw each other, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened?
And it’s not just the weight. Imposing himself on Pandora’s world, Edison breaks her husband Fletcher’s handcrafted furniture, makes overkill breakfasts for the family, and entices her stepson not only to forgo college but to drop out of high school.
After the brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It’s him or me. Putting her marriage and adopted family on the line, Pandora chooses her brother—who, without her support in losing weight, will surely eat himself into an early grave.
Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat—an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much we’ll sacrifice to rescue single members of our families, and whether it’s ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.
Former New York Times business reporter and mother Melanie Warner decided to explore that question when she observed the phenomenon of the indestructible cheese. She began an investigative journey that took her to research labs, university food science departments, and factories around the country. What she discovered provides a rare, eye-opening—and sometimes disturbing—account of what we’re really eating. Warner looks at how decades of food science have resulted in the cheapest, most abundant, most addictive, and most nutritionally inferior food in the world, and she uncovers startling evidence about the profound health implications of the packaged and fast foods that we eat on a daily basis.
Combining meticulous research, vivid writing, and cultural analysis, Warner blows the lid off the largely undocumented—and lightly regulated—world of chemically treated and processed foods and lays bare the potential price we may pay for consuming even so-called healthy foods.