My first caveat for reading this book: for god's sake don't read it when you're hungry. Ruby Tandoh has a way with words that makes you start salivating right from the introduction. In it, Tandoh sets out her aim: to change the way we eat, not in any good food/bad food mindset or clean eating mantras, but through shifting the paradigm through which we think about food.
Or as Tandoh puts it:
Food shouldn't be a bad boyfriend, dragging you down or holding you to ransom. It should nourish your body as much as it fuels you mind; it should pump life through your veins; it should waltz in sync with your mood and your appetite, sometimes blissful, often mundane, always a part of you.
This joyous, revelatory prose runs throughout the book whether Tandoh is talking about fad diets, blackberry picking, late-night McDonald's, cream eggs or why we don't eat our pets, her passion for what she is writing about shines through.
moreTandoh is not here to give a manifesto but rather asking us to interrogate our attitudes to food and by extrapolation to question the wider culture around us: however immune we think we may be.
Scattered throughout are recipes for things as simple as tomato sauce made from tinned tomatoes (and not much else) to fish tacos with red cabbage and fennel (that I'm desperate to try out) to how to eat a cream egg. The recipes are written like how your mum writes recipes, without exact measurements and methods, in a casual conversational style, chatting to you over a mixing bowl yeah about that much flour, and sprinkle in some sugar, oh go on a bit more, it makes six or four if you're really hungry and want a bigger portion. It's a refreshing change of pace.
Tandoh also delves into pop culture, beautifully writing about food on film: the power of knowing what you want in that scene in When Harry Met Sally or the nuances conveyed in a relationship in Moonlight. In another excellent section, Tandoh writes about queerness in cooking, through food-signalling in Strangers on a Train and Rocky Horror Show - zipping through its campy heroism. But she also highlights the importance of nourishment in LGBTQ+ movements - that one in four LGBTQ+ adults in the US can't always afford food to feed themselves and their family, that members of the queer community are more likely to be affected by disordered eating. In another section to reminds us of the Black Panther Party's social and community driven 'survival projects' and the Free Breakfast for Children Program. Tandoh reminds us that resistant work (often undertaken by those who are most oppressed by governmental and societal injustices) requires nourishment and care if it is to survive. An army really does march on its stomach, especially one looking to change the status quo.
There's so much more packed into these perfectly digestible short chapters: on fatness, on exploring your heritage through cooking, on the Quaker movement, on food appropriation. The list goes on. But, ultimately, what does this anti-manifesto manifesto teach us? Well it really is up to you I'm afraid:
You, and only you, can pick a path through this treacherous food world.
But with this book in hand, the job becomes just that little bit easier, and dare I say it tastier.