Geneen Roth’s books and articles explore hunger, deprivation and healing, including her New York Times bestseller, Women Food and God (2010). When Roth and her husband lost their life savings in the Bernie Madoff scandal, the sense of financial free-fall prompted her to write the memoir Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money.
What sort of realizations helped form this book?
In order to keep my sanity during the days after I found out that we had lost our money, I began to focus on what I hadn’t lost—which was my life, my relationships, my ability to see, feel, grieve, and the ongoing capacity to be aware of what I still had. The more I focused on those, the more alive I felt, and the more grateful I was. Then, someone wrote a piece for a magazine called "What Bernie Madoff Stole From Me," and when I read it, I realized I wanted to write a piece called "What Bernie Madoff Couldn’t Steal from Me," about my (and our) relationship to money. The response I got from that piece, which was published in Salon, was overwhelming. It resonated with so many people in such profound ways that I realized another book had found me.
Did you discover the fascinating parallels between food and money before or after you began this project?
Definitely not before. I was unconscious about my relationship with money before we lost it. I felt confused and conflicted and compulsive about all aspects of money, and didn’t really want to find out why. Which was how I felt about my relationship with food for many years. Both areas seemed too complicated and anxiety-ridden to understand and feel clear about. But in those days after the loss, I started seeing the parallels. I saw that I’d spent years focused on what I didn’t have instead of what I did have, in the same way as when I used to eat compulsively. I always focused on the next bite instead of the food on my plate and in my mouth. I saw that the tendency to want more, get more, was also relevant with money.
How does slowing down and becoming more mindful, an approach you advocate toward eating, translate into spending?
When people slow down and ask themselves what buying this particular thing is going to give them, they might become aware that they want something that money can’t buy. People spend money for many different reasons, the way they eat for a thousand reasons beside physical hunger: because they feel like it’s going to make them feel better about themselves. But since the “fix” doesn’t match the need, we end up feeling let down, and, sometimes, quite empty. Slowing down, and being curious about why you feel the sudden need to spend this money now allows you to ask yourself questions that you wouldn’t ordinarily ask. And this is a good thing because, in the end, I haven’t met anyone who was happy simply because they had more things.
You devote an entire chapter to the elusive subject of what is “enough.”
“Enough” is a relationship with what you already have. When you’re focused on the jacket that you saw in the window, not the one in your closet, you are, by definition, not focusing on what you already have. And if you refuse to take in what you already have, you will never be able to have enough, because sufficiency is not an amount. After there is enough money for basic necessities—food, shelter, clothing, medical—enough isn’t a quantity. Most of us live in a mindset of scarcity and deprivation, and from that mindset there is no such thing as enough, no matter what you have. People with $10,000 want 20, people with $100,000 want 500, and people with a million dollars want $3 million.
You say you “couldn’t afford not to” look at your beliefs and behaviors regarding money. As a nation, we’re also facing this imperative. Do you see your book as especially timely in light of our current economic situation?
I hope it’s timely—absolutely! The relationship with money, like the relationship with food, is an exact reflection of our beliefs about scarcity, abundance, worth, wealth, value, and pleasure. We have to redefine what real wealth is in terms of our relationships, our communities, our work and our happiness. If you make a list of the most contented, loving, satisfied people you know, there’s a good chance that it won’t be filled with the richest people around.
Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money
Viking / March 22, 2011 / 9780670022717 / $25.95