“It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters,” Dan Pashman begins every episode of his podcast, The Sporkful. “We’re about to challenge your assumptions about consumption and drop a sporkful of knowledge on you. Because we’re obsessively compulsive about eating more awesomely—and, if history has taught us anything, it’s that the hosts of food shows need a lot of catch phrases.”
This sense of humor—a little bit irreverent, a lot shameless Dad—carries Pashman’s podcast, which he’s hosted for five years and recently got picked up by WNYC. The episodes cover pretty much everything to do with food, from which pasta shapes are better to what different kinds of chocolate sound like when you break them. Pashman always brings on guests, whether experts or simply other eaters he can argue with.
Pashman’s debut book, Eat More Better, grew out of his podcast, and runs on the same curious, excitable, food-loving energy. “If you’re like most people, you enjoy putting food in your mouth, chewing it, and swallowing it,” the book begins. “But you probably don’t derive as much pleasure from that pursuit as you could. This book will change that.” Written as a textbook of Pashman’s eating philosophies, the book—which quotes various “Eaters” Pashman found via his podcast, and includes frequent flights of fancy—takes a humorously rigorous look at eating from every angle. Should you consume a cheeseburger right-side-up or upside-down, so as to maximize the taste of cheese? (The latter.) Should you split a baked potato into halves or thirds? (Depends on whether you prioritize toppings or crisp.) Should you eat a chopped salad? (No.) The proudly dorky comedy and linguistic flair are here, too, i.e.: “The bites of your past cannot be rebitten, but the bites of your future have yet to be written.”
It took writing the book for Pashman to get an accurate bead on how his style comes across. “We’re talking about these really mundane food questions very seriously, and there’s two ways to look at that. Either it’s sort of a giant joke, just because it’s so absurd to spend so much time and energy discussing something so small—and I always thought of it as this very wry exercise in absurdism,” he says. “But what I learned from working with my editor and talking to friends is that actually it comes across as more earnest.” Of the topics he takes on, he says, “Really, deep down, I know that they’re not that important in life—but actually, I really do think they’re that important in life.”
Pashman grew up in a family of eaters, and he can trace his childhood through his mother’s enthusiastic cooking phases. “We went to Texas in the mid-‘80s, and my mom got really into fajitas. There was a big fajita era in the Pashman family,” he says. There was also a Texas barbecue phase, then an Italian phase with a lot of pasta. “We would go away as a family and all the meals would get planned, and then—how do we fill the time between the meals?”
The approach Pashman takes in Eat More Better is—earnestly—methodical and logical. On when to apply the term “sandwich,” he writes, “On this matter I am a strict constructionist, which means I believe we must look only at the framer’s original intent to find the limits of sandwichdom…First, you must be able to pick it up and eat it without utensils, and without your hands touching the fillings. Second, the fillings must be sandwiched between two separate, hand-ready food items.” It should come as little surprise, then, that Pashman comes from a long line of lawyers. “Forming an argument and debating and turning a question over and looking at it from the other perspective is something that always came naturally,” he says. His mother is a marriage therapist, which goes a long way toward explaining the genesis of a chapter entitled “Psychology: Finding Yourself, Finding Your Food.” (“Freud observed that the experiences of early childhood have a lifelong impact on the psyche, which is why adults confronted with marinara, masala, or moonshine that’s not how Mom used to make it experience mental anguish at holidays like Thanksgiving,” he writes. “This phenomenon is known as the Psycho-Gravitational Pull of Oedipal Stuffing, an issue I’ll cover in more detail in my next book, Turkey from the Teat.”)
By now, Pashman has embraced his earnest interest in eating more awesomely. “Where it becomes a satire is if you don’t acknowledge it’s a joke. You double down. You’re like, ‘No, this is important! No, this will change your life! Learn how to eat a sandwich and it’ll change your life!’ ” he says. “Clearly I understand that how you eat a sandwich isn’t as important as life and death. But I do think it’s the kind of thing that can bring you small bits of happiness every day that add up to a change in your life. I do actually believe that.”
Jessica Gross is a writer based in New York City.