First published in July 2018.
Anyone who knows me will know what a huge fan of food I am. I adore cooking new recipes, playing around with flavours, and visiting new restaurants. It comes as no surprise, then, that I have wanted to read Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up!: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want ever since it came out. Many will remember Tandoh from The Great British Bake Off, of which she was a contestant in 2013.
In her insightful introduction, Tandoh gives her reasoning for writing such a positive book about food; it directly goes against the wealth of dieting and fitness crazes which have swept the United Kingdom over the last few years. She begins by rubbishing the often contradictory dietary advice which we hear almost daily on the news: ‘We don’t want to go hungry, we don’t want to be too greedy, we don’t want to live too exuberantly, we don’t want to be a kill-joy. We fret about our size and shape, and too often police the bodies of others. We accept the lie that there’s a perfect way of eating that will save your soul and send you careering blithely through your eighties, into your nineties and beyond. Do what you want, we’re told – but you’ll die if you get it wrong.’
The main exploration in Eat Up! is ‘everything that happens in the peripheries when we take a bite: the cultures that birth the foods we love, the people we nurture, the science of flavour and the ethics of eating.’ Tandoh recognises the splendour of all food, regardless of its preparation; she shows the myriad ways in which food is directly linked with how we feel, and what we need in our lives. ‘Not every meal,’ she writes, ‘will be in some sunlight dappled orange grove; sometimes what you need is a pasty by the side of the M4, and there’s no harm in that.’ Food can also be used as a tool in order to bring people together; it ‘transgresses the “boundaries” between here and there, us and them, me and you, until we are all just bundles of matter, eating and being eaten.’
The celebration of food is linked in with Tandoh’s own memories: the blackberry bush near her grandmother’s Essex garden; eating a huge Indian takeaway with her girlfriend when both were suffering with influenza; the food which comforted her when her grandfather died. She also touches upon her own relationship with food in the past, and the eating disorders which she has dealt with in the past. Eat Up! is highly revealing in this manner. Never does it feel preachy, or as though Tandoh is hard done by in any sense; rather, it feels like sitting down and having a conversation with the very best, and most intelligent, of friends.
The history of food, and the ways in which we eat, have both been touched upon here. The research which Tandoh has done is impeccable; facts and statistics blend seamlessly into her narrative. So many issues are explored which can be linked to food and eating: those around weight, how we eat in public, the joy of seasonal eating, the diet industry, culture, eating trends, food as power, comfort food, and the scientific processes of digestion, amongst others. This varied content, all of which has food at its centre, is fascinating, and makes for an incredibly engaging and coherent book.
Eat Up! is, pardon the pun, a delicious book; it is warm and understanding, and filled with love and humour. Such positivity abounds; throughout, Tandoh cheers for the existence of every body, no matter its size or shape. We all need to be nourished, and we need to feel happy when we eat. In this manner, Tandoh weaves together a fascinating narrative about food, peppered with recipes for every occasion, and body positivity. ‘The way you feel about food,’ she points out, ‘sits hand in hand with the way you feel about yourself, and if you eat happily and wholeheartedly, food will make you strong.’ I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience of Eat Up!, and know that it’s a tome I will dip into again and again.