WHAT SHE ATE by Laura Shapiro


Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories
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A culinary biographer serves up an eye-opening meal.

Renowned food journalist and culinary historian Shapiro (Julia Child: A Life, 2007, etc.) takes her obsession with food in an entirely new direction. Focusing on six women over nearly 200 years, she hopes to prove that “food talks.” Opening a “window on what [each] cooked and ate” reframes the narratives of their lives; it’s like “standing in line at the supermarket and peering into” their shopping carts. Dorothy Wordsworth was a quiet, “very private, very conflicted woman” who devoted her life to her brother, William. But she also found time to write in her journal, an activity that was “her declaration of independence. And she chose the language of food.” Entries about nature and their surroundings were often drawn upon for William’s poems, but the notes on food “spoke directly to Dorothy herself.” Cockney-born Rosa Lewis, a former scullery maid, was acclaimed in her time as one of the great caterers and a favorite cook of King Edward. He loved her signature dish, game pie. During this era of wealth and manners, food became a symbol of success, and Lewis was there to ride it to fame. Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t really care what she ate; it gave her no pleasure. Her husband enjoyed oysters and champagne, and when she learned of his infidelity she got back at him via her terrible cook, Mrs. Nesbitt. The only thing that really mattered to the “passive, faithful, and decorative” Eva Braun was her love for vegetarian Hitler, champagne, and showing off her “slender figure.” British novelist Barbara Pym was the great chronicler of food and eating throughout her many novels, and Helen Gurley Brown, longtime editor of Cosmopolitan, was an obsessive dieter (“skinny to me is sacred”); she cooked primarily to keep her man.

A unique and delectable work that sheds new light on the lives of women, food, and men.

Pub Date: July 25th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-525-42764-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2017


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