Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Interview: EAT IT! Sex, Food & Women's Writing with Nicole Baute, Brianna Goldberg and Sarah Barmak

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EAT IT! Editors and Authors

EAT IT: Food, Sex and Women's Writing (Feathertale Review) is a multi-genre anthology edited by Nicole Baute and Brianna Goldberg. From the best way to poison one’s husband to the politics of the potato, EAT IT explore women's relationships with food with humour and insight.

Brianna and Nicole are also contributors to the anthology; Brianna is the author of a short story called “A Lady’s Gotta Eat" while Nicole contributed a story titled "Left Over".

Today we speak with Brianna and Nicole, as well as contributor Sarah Barmak, whose essay, “Poison is a Girl’s Best Friend,” also appears in EAT IT.

From the best food scenes in fiction (whether gruesome or delicious) to the perfect last meal, Nicole, Brianna and Sarah speak to us about the EAT IT, food and more.

You can attend the launch of EAT IT in Toronto on October 22, 2013 as part of the This is Not a Reading Series at the Gladstone Hotel. The event starts at 7:30p.m.

Open Book:

Tell us about EAT IT and why you felt strongly about this project.

Brianna Goldberg:

Like many of my most favourite meals, EAT IT is the product of pure love and pure hunger. It came about organically, in that the book grew from ideas and anxieties Nicole and I were working through in our own writing, and then further developed as we asked other women writers, “Hey, do you have complicated feelings about food, too? Why’s that?”

In recent years I’ve grown into a person with a deep love of and appreciation for food: it feels like a torrid romance, fraught with cravings and intense pleasures and bittersweet nostalgia for snacks long past. This food affair is made all the more torrid by complications surrounding it — all the baggage of body image and inherited “domestic” expectations and biology and more. That’s pretty deep, y’know? And I wasn’t seeing those complications being publicly addressed in a thoughtful, productive, playful way. So when Nicole and I sort of stumbled into a conversation about it, we became really motivated to invite readers and writers to engage with this ginormous ball of cultural and personal complications around food from their own unique perspectives.

Nicole Baute:

I love food, but I’m sensitive to the power dynamics involved in the preparation and consumption of it. When I was in high school I deliberately avoided learning how to cook because I saw it as “women’s work” that, as a budding feminist, I refused to be associated with. That sucked when I moved away to university and found myself eating a lot of bland stir-frys. My attitude also stopped me from appreciating the incredible skill and care it takes to be a family cook (sorry Mom! I know it now!).

I suppose my views are more sophisticated now, and I’ve become more interested in what other women have to say. So it’s been an honour to help facilitate a conversation about gender roles, social expectations, body image and desire through the lens of something that is such an essential part of being human — and with humour and literary flair.

Sarah Barmak:

The idea of a book on food, women and feminism made instant sense to me. I adore everything about food, cooking and eating and reading about it. I've always felt it was ridiculous that women traditionally make most of the food eaten around the world, yet we don't have the uncomplicated relationship that men have with eating and enjoying it. We have both a superabundance of food and lots of subtle and unsubtle messages that make us feel weird about eating, whether it's magazines picking apart a starlet for eating Cheezies or the barrage of "health" articles about how evil carbohydrates are. As a result — and this is something many men fail to grasp — it's hard to be a woman and have an anxiety-free relationship with food. I personally know a number of smart, accomplished, beautiful women who have had eating disorders so bad that they have lasting bone damage in their 20s.

Secondly, I had a great feeling about EAT IT because of the talented young writers and editors involved — I've known Brianna, Nicole and Brett (Feathertale founding editor and publisher) for years in different contexts, and they're all so accomplished and dedicated — so the idea of working with all of them at the same time was a no-brainer.

OB:

What is one instance of food appearing or being referenced in a poem, story or novel that you found memorable?

BG:

People usually talk about Virginia Woolf’s writing being thinky and ethereal but I find she talks about food with gusto and terrifying detail: bloody rare joints of mutton and bald partridges and old crumbs of cheese. I love in Mrs. Dalloway when stupid Mrs. Killman goes to town on some messy, squishy chocolate eclairs. And in To The Lighthouse, all Mrs. Ramsay’s social anxiety is centred on a dish I’ve been meaning to try for a while, Boeuf en Daube, which is a beef stew with orange rinds and olives. #WoolfNom

NB:

I’m not sure why my mind goes straight to the grotesque, but I’ll never forget the horrific image of the baby on the spit from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and the father and son rummaging through long-abandoned pantries for a few overlooked cans. Not sure how that got so dark. Perhaps it was in anticipation of question number three.

Also, EAT IT contributor and short story writer Sarah Selecky wanted me to mention the dinner scene in Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. "It goes on for several pages of crazy," she says. "At the end, after you've lived through this whole horrible dinner through the eyes of a child, the mother brings ‘some lovely pineapple’ for dessert. It's excruciating.”

SB:

I love food, but many of the dishes in books I've remembered haven't been appetizing in the slightest — just memorable. As a teen reading Homer, I was always struck by how often he'd describe Odysseus's warriors feasting on "mutton and sweet wine." Being a Jewish kid, I knew sweet wine had been standard thousands of years ago, but was kind of an acquired taste now. I had to make an effort to picture these blood-soaked fighters all sitting around enjoying a glass of Manischewitz.

OB:

What would your last meal be?

BG:

This is exactly what came into my head with that question — and some of the answers confuse me but I’m going to just go with it: fried chicken and waffles, one of those elaborate kale salads from Fresh with a side of cornbread, strawberry shortcake, a hot fudge sundae with chopped nuts and a maraschino cherry served in a tall glass with a long spoon, an Asian pear… and sangria.

NB:

I doubt I’d be able to eat at all. When I get extremely nervous I lose my appetite, which is an accomplishment considering I’m infamous among my friends and family for insisting to be fed at regular intervals.
But if my appetite surprised me, I’d ask for sushi — tuna, salmon, unagi and vegetarian rolls with fresh avocado — accompanied by a glass of chilled white wine.

SB:

My life would be over, so I'd skip the comfort food and chow down on something I'd normally be too freaked out to eat. I'd order fugu, the Japanese pufferfish that can kill diners with its lethal tetrodotoxin (imagine the delicious legal confusion if the toxin killed me before I could be properly executed).

As a side note, I find the entire idea of last meals bizarre and fascinating — a symbolic last pleasure extended to people who will never experience pleasure ever again.

OB:

What's next for you?

BG:

We’re just going to keep spreading the good word about EAT IT and our amazing contributors for as long as the world is willing to listen. After that, it will be nice have some time to do my own stuff for a while. I have some writing about becoming a 1950s housewife during my year of living in the Caribbean that I’m working on, and some more creative work about the Toronto mafia in the 1970s.

NB:

I just returned from six months in Ghana, where I was working as a media trainer. My Internet/e-reader situation was pretty devastating, so I’m eager to catch up on all the CanLit I missed. I’m also looking forward to time to focus on my fiction.

SB:

I'm at work on a few writing projects that will hopefully appear in 2014. I realize that's laughably vague, but they're in the early stages. Stay tuned.


Brianna Goldberg (http://www.briannagoldberg.com) is a writer and producer from Toronto. Her work has appeared in both of Canada’s national newspapers, on CBC Radio, and in international outlets including Salon, Jezebel and IRIN. Brianna recently returned from a few years of living in the Caribbean and Africa, where she freelanced on topics ranging from terrorism to Virginia Woolf. Follow Brianna on Twitter @b_goldberg.

Nicole Baute (http://www.nicolebaute.com) hails from rural Southwestern Ontario but considers Toronto home. She has worked for the International Festival of Authors and as a reporter at the Toronto Star, and her fiction has appeared in Joyland, Dragnet and The Feathertale Review. Follow her on Twitter @nicolebaute.

Sarah Barmak is a journalist, word enthusiast and all-around nerd. She writes about culture, ideas, business and urban issues. Her work has appeared in the Toronto Star, the Globe & Mail, Canadian Business, The Grid, This Magazine and The National Post. Follow her on Twitter @sarahbarmak.

For more information about EAT IT please visit the Feathertale Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo (look for it on the literary journal shelves) or online at http://feathertale.com/store/Eat-It/.

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