I’ve always been a sucker for memoirs and biographies. I love the ability to be a fly on the wall and get insight into someone else’s life and mind. To find out their innermost desires and learn about what drives them in the direction of success. I’ve read biographies about strong, accomplished women including Elizabeth Blackwell, Eleanor Roosevelt and most recently Michelle Obama. But in all the biographies I’ve read, I’ve never experienced someone’s life through the lens of their food story, and the specific dishes they ate. Until now.
Laura Shapiro’s book, What She Ate is a refreshing glass of fresh squeezed lemonade among a shelf of standard, processed bulk batch juice boxes. For me, this book was love and admiration at first sip.
Shapiro takes the life stories of six notable women – a completely jumbled group that spans different centuries, countries, professions and lifestyles. I am curious to know Shapiro’s reasoning for selecting these six women out of endless options, but I think she chose them because many are more out of the mainstream, and this way she is the first person to tell her readers these stories, this time, through the intimate lens of food.
This was the first time I had heard of some of these women, like Dorothy Wordsworth and Rosa Lewis for example. I learned about them through the lens of food, which made their stories all the more interesting. Then take Eleanor Roosevelt, who’s biographies I had already read. After reading her food story, I realized how little I knew about the real Eleanor until I saw her through the lens of her interactions with food throughout her life. Especially as it played into her relationship with her husband.
A unique biography, culinary history with more than a splash of feminism, Shapiro taught me more about Helen Gurley Brown, Eva Braun and Barbara Pym than I would have ever learned from reading a traditional biography. As all great writers do, she made me think, and made me start to wonder about my own food story and how that plays into my life story. Food is such an intimate and personal part of our lives and culture, and when studied properly, it is a fantastic way to learn the true inner workings of a person.
I highly recommend this work of feminist culinary biographical magic. I think it would be a fantastic read for a book club, because there is so much to discuss about each women’s story as well as your own. After you read this book, not only will you have a better understanding of six interesting women, but you’ll also be more self aware about your own food choices, and the things that may drive them. And with self-awareness comes growth, so do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book. 🙂
Enjoy, & stay classy! x