Thursday, 15 March 2018

Eat Up

Ruby Tandoh wants you to eat up. Yes, all of you. Regardless of your size, ethnicity, physical ability, gender identity, health, sexual preference, religion, wealth and dietry requirements. Eat Up is a book about the joys of food and importance of nourishment that is inclusive of everyone.

After getting my hands on a copy of Ruby Tandoh's Eat Up, I gobbled the book up at a greedy pace, which seems the appropriate way to read a book that is based around a true love for food and everything that comes with it. 

Eat up is a refreshing manifesto that dissects food in awe; the inky stain of blackberries on skin, the oozing of sweet honey, the cold-curing qualities of steaming chicken soup. Tandoh is poetic in her descriptions of her favourite foods, often sensual, so that you feel your peeking in on some intimate moments of her life. She talks of groudnut soup recipes that helped connect her to her Ghanian heritage after her grandfather's death, the pancakes she cooked for her fiancee after their first night together and her battles with an eating disorder. Her willingness to be open is what makes the book so fantastic and relatable; it's okay to stay in bed all day and eat a whole pack of bourbon biscuits, it's okay that you love to squeeze a double cheeseburger in your hands and lick the mayo-grease off of your fingers, you don't need to feel guilty that you sometimes skip lunch, or that you sometimes eat two lunches. The book reassures that there's no 'normal' or 'clean' way to eat, many factors contribute to the making of your body, your taste buds and the nourishment that you need as an individual.

Eat up has a lot to say about the diet industry and wellness culture. Social media influencers in particular often dictate what foods are 'clean.' (Fresh fruit and veg, gluten-free, low-carb substitutes, low-salt, low-sugar, low-fat.) It is suggested that this way of eating will lead you to a better life; magically re-invent you as a happier, healthier, thinner and therefore more attractive person.
But labelling these foods as 'clean' is problematic and sends out the worrying message that foods that don't fit these catagories are somehow worth less to our bodies and are 'bad'. This encourages a culture where people push themselves to follow strict diets and could neglect giving their bodies the proper nourishment they need. If the seductive nature of a fresh batch of stringy cheesy chips, or the call of a sticky toffee pudding becomes too much and they cave, this is often followed by feelings of guilt and the want to punish themselves.    

"What wellness culture asserts, in essence, is that there is some higher state we can achieve, but only if we're willing to put in the work. Our natural impulses, the ones that draw us to the buzz of sugar, the sting of salt, bright sweets and festive feasts, are all wrong according to the wellness mantra."

Eat up also made me think about how we choose to nourish ourselves as a reflection of how we are feeling. Tandoh writes about the complexities of life, and how this effects our relationship with the food we put into our bodies. When I'm feeling good about myself, I'm happy to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up to elbows, chopping, frying and assembling something wholesome. If I've had a bad day, I want to get lost in a tub of salted caramel-drizzled ice cream, shove a convenient ready-meal in the oven, or maybe eat nothing at all. 
There's no dispute that mental health affects your relationship with food. It is estimated that at least 1.6 million people in the UK (Tandoh being one of them) are affected by an eating disorder. A person with depression can find the act of eating, let alone cooking, overbearing. An anxious mind may not find the thought space to remember to eat. 

"There's one thing I always try to remember, though, when I can feel the tendrils of my old eating disorder creeping back into my mind: treat yourself how you'd treat your best friend. If you would be patient and forgiving with your best friend during a mental health hiccup, then you deserve that, too. If you'd make your friend a fortifying soup, give yourself that kindness. Look after yourself like a fragile, precious thing."

To nourish, therefore, is a sign of showing that you care. Whether it be to yourself, or someone else. Tandoh talks about the gesture of food sometimes being the best way to show someone how you feel. Such as that steaming cup of tea at the end of a long day that says 'Come, sit, tell me all about it.'
Tandoh also points out numerous occasions that this is evident in film. In the wonderful Moonlight, Chiron is served arroz con pollo by Kevin, in a symbolic gesture that means so much more than the food on the plate. When I was sixteen I attempted to cook my best friend a full English Breakfast in bed before she woke up. I burnt the bacon to a crispy charcoal and burst the egg yolks, but that wasn't what mattered.

Mothers and grandmother's are stereo-typically known for being feeders. Supplying endless treats and home-cooked meals as a means of showing that they care, that they want you to feel nourished. My mum makes 'Flakeys', a version of a cornflake cake that is rich with golden syrup, margarine and cocoa powder; it's absolutely bad for you and it's absolutely delicious. If I've been feeling crappy, my mum makes this specially to show me that she's there and everything's going to be just fine; for that moment of tasty sickly sweetness, it feels like everything just might be.  

Eat up is revolutionary in that it has no hidden agenda. It is not aggressive, not trying to push an advert down your throat, there is no YOU MUST HAVE THIS or YOU CAN'T HAVE THAT. The book contains a variety of recipes that work for everyone. From recipes for vegan sweet potato stew to a cost effective homemade curry; there is something for every kind of eater. 

 "You are a human animal, feeling your way through all the goodness and badness of the world with a hungry belly. If you can fully inhabit this truth, your belly will rumble with the same cadence as the murmurings of your mind, and your hands will meet knife and fork with perfect coordination, and you will taste the world just as it is. It really does taste good."


Sunday, 4 March 2018

Sunday Poem

This weeks Sunday poem, Fasting, is one of my own, and in hindsight I'm realising how often Sunflowers manage to sneak themselves into my poems.  


When I showed Saima my engagement ring
she held it underneath her tongue. Her saliva seeping
behind the diamonds — Let it dry there.
I bought her a bunch of sunflowers
to say sorry. She lay them out in rows
on my naked back. Traced around the petals
with the edges of her teeth.

You’re going to have a husband
she spoke into my open mouth.
The ‘o’ of her lips pressed on mine.
I looked up Saima in my mother’s
Arabic name book — Fasting woman.
When I told her, she pointed to my ribs.
Wrote out a sentence with her fingers
Burnt into my skin
                             For you, I am starving.

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