What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

  • Title:  What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories
  • Author:  Laura Shapiro
  • Genre:  Nonfiction
  • Pages:  320
  • Published:  July 2017 – Viking
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  Everyone eats, and food touches on every aspect of our lives—social and cultural, personal and political. Yet most biographers pay little attention to people’s attitudes toward food, as if the great and notable never bothered to think about what was on the plate in front of them. Once we ask how somebody relates to food, we find a whole world of different and provocative ways to understand her. Food stories can be as intimate and revealing as stories of love, work, or coming-of-age. Each of the six women in this entertaining group portrait was famous in her time, and most are still famous in ours; but until now, nobody has told their lives from the point of view of the kitchen and the table. 

It’s a lively and unpredictable array of women; what they have in common with one another (and us) is a powerful relationship with food. They include Dorothy Wordsworth, whose food story transforms our picture of the life she shared with her famous poet brother; Rosa Lewis, the Edwardian-era Cockney caterer who cooked her way up the social ladder; Eleanor Roosevelt,  First Lady and rigorous protector of the worst cook in White House history; Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, who challenges our warm associations of food, family, and table; Barbara Pym, whose witty books upend a host of stereotypes about postwar British cuisine; and Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan, whose commitment to “having it all” meant having almost nothing on the plate except a supersized portion of diet gelatin. (publisher)

My take:  What She Ate is an interesting book that, in the end, made me examine (and appreciate) my own food story. Of the six stories, two stood out for me. Shapiro introduced me to author Barbara Pym. Upon finishing her story I placed a couple of her novels on my TBR list. I’m not sure why she wasn’t there before! Equally interesting and more entertaining was Eleanor Roosevelt’s chapter. I’m always intrigued when I hear about people who treat food only as fuel and not a source of enjoyment. I loved learning about the food served at the White House during her husband’s presidency. All in all, I found What She Ate to be a worthwhile read and recommend it to fans of culinary biographies.


Praise for What She Ate:

Recommended Summer Reading
by ELLE, Bon Appétit, and Eater.

 

“A unique and delectable work that sheds new light on the lives of women, food, and men. .”—Kirkus Reviews

 

“…six crisply written, ardently researched, and entertainingly revelatory portraits of very different women with complicated relationships with eating and cooking…. A bounteous and elegant feast for hungry minds.”BookList, Starred Review

“Establishes Laura Shapiro as the founder of a delectable new literary genre: the culinary biography.”—Megan Marshall, Pulitzer-prize winning biographer

 

“The idea that eating habits reveal aspects of character is ever-intriguing, and it’s presented here with charm and insight.”—Mimi Sheraton, former restaurant critic for the New York Times and author of 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die
 
“Laura Shapiro has done it again! She’s given us a fascinating and wonderfully entertaining history of six women of the last two centuries you might never have thought of as foodies, yet here they are, distinguished by how differently they dealt with the overwhelming importance of food in their lives.”—Marion Nestle, author of Soda Politics


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laura Shapiro has written on every food topic from champagne to Jell-O for The New York TimesThe New YorkerThe AtlanticSlateGourmet, and many other publications. She is the author of three classic books of culinary history. Her awards include a James Beard Journalism Award and one from the National Women’s Political Caucus. She has been a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, where she also co-curated the widely acclaimed exhibition Lunch Hour NYC.


 

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