It’s apparently diet season (though when is it ever not diet season according to advertisers?), a time for us to purge ourselves of the decadence of December, to shed the shame of the indulgence that was egged on by those same advertisers around 30 days ago.
It’s not new information that the majority of diet-based rhetoric is aimed firmly at women. As someone that has thankfully rarely taken umbrage with their dress size, I’m fairly resilient to the relentless gym membership sponsored ads and bum workout videos that have been cropping up in my social media news feeds in the past few weeks.
But I know that I’m in the minority, and am acutely aware of how affecting this language can be in creating patterns of disordered eating.
The complex relationship between women and food is played out in multiple tropes across film and TV, and advertising in particular. Food is never just food; it’s a symbol for sexuality or for maternal homeliness. Rarely do you see a woman enjoying an enormous cheeseburger, unless she’s stick thin which makes it adorable (I’m looking at your Gilmore Girls).
Which is why after watching the first episode of the Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat recently I felt utterly refreshed.
The concept is simple – chef Samin Nosrat defines the titular four key elements that make food delicious, and then explores how said elements come into play in a variety of cuisines across the world.
Starting with Fat, Samin heads to northern Italy to get to the heart of how different kinds of fats makes everything taste so next-level amazing. We watch her gleefully learn how to knock up a traditional Ligurian focaccia brimming with grassy green olive oil with a smile on her face from kneading through to eating. She visits a slaughterhouse and merrily gets stuck in, flinging pig carcasses around the room and explaining with expert knowledge how each part of the animal is used for maximum economy and flavour. She has a good giggle with a glamorous Nonna whilst whipping up a hand ground pesto with fistfuls of pecorino and parmesan.
In each interaction with those whose families have been making these dishes for generations, Samin’s innate passion for flavour shines through. Having trained as a pasta chef in Italy, her fluency in the language adds an extra level of romance to her relationship with the regional plates; at one point she almost sheds a tear at the richness of a 24 month old chunk of parmesan. Watching her beam with contentment after demolishing a forkful of glossy tagliatelle ragu in slow motion, I notice a smile spread across my own face; watching this woman experience such joy in the act of preparing, cooking, and most importantly eating these dishes is a joyful act in itself.
I watched this episode several times, and it took a while to put my finger on the reason why. It was a good show; filmed in a naturally photogenic setting, it featured a balance of travel, cooking and eating, and left me feeling suitably peckish by the end. But it was the joy that made me hit the rewatch button. Specifically a woman’s joy in eating. A joy that I realised is so often lacking when we consider women and food.
As a woman who considers butter one of her five a day, I am very joyful when it comes to eating. Thinking and talking about future meals, past meals, potential meals is up there with some of my best daydreams and conversations. I am equally as joyful getting stuck into pie and mash as I am the most delicate of fine dining experiences. From salty fish and chips straight out of the paper, covered in tingly vinegar and eaten with your fingers or, if you’re feeling fancy, a small wooden chip fork to exquisite six course small plates; as long as it tastes amazing, I’m here for it.
There have been many times where I’ve felt my love of food has been wrong, that I’m gluttonous and greedy for inhaling the buffet table at work do’s or always being the first one to ask “but when are we eating?!” when fun filled days out are planned.
I know I’m not the only one, but TV, film and advertising certainly make me feel like a solitary creature in this respect. And I’d like to understand why.
It’s a pretty meaty (pun definitely intended) issue, and one that I’ll be breaking down into bite-sized (sorry), more digestible (not sorry) chunks over the coming weeks.
So for now… what’s for dinner?