‘Feed Yourself Like You Would Feed Your Best Friend’ Says Ruby Tandoh

The Debrief sat down with Ruby Tandoh to talk about her new book, 'Eat Up!'

'Feed Yourself Like You Would Feed Your Best Friend' Says Ruby Tandoh

by Vicky Spratt |
Updated on

At this time of year, the limbo between winter and spring, most mainstream conversations about food tend to revolve around what we should or, perhaps more poignantly, should not be eating. For everyone, but particularly anyone with a disordered relationship with food, December and January can be a difficult time of year. Punitive messages about indulgence followed by restriction seem to be everywhere.

And so, the release of Ruby Tandoh’s new book Eat Up! Provides some welcome relief. Since her appearance on Great British Bake Off, Tandoh has advocated for ‘eating what you love’ and written about the dangers and untruths of clean eating culture. Her exclamatory new title is not a cook book but, instead, a manifesto which aims to put pleasure back into eating.

WATCH NOW: The Debrief Meets Ruby Tandoh To Talk About Her New Book

Unlike many contemporary celebrity chefs and food writers, Tandoh refuses to play the part of ‘expert’ or promise her readers anything other than taste. She has openly spoken about her own experiences of having an eating disorder and the journey of recovery. So, it’s no surprise that you will find no obsequious odes to the curative properties of coconut oil or evangelism about the wellness benefits of unaffordable ingredients here. Instead, you will read critical chapters about why certain food fads are in vogue alongside others which wax lyrical about the joy of ‘bad taste’ and eating what you want without fearing what others will think with short recipe ideas peppered (sorry) throughout.

Just before you reach Tandoh’s recipe for ‘Rich and Smoky Bean Stew’, there’s a section which stands out and is worth quoting at length here:

‘When diet is such an integral part of our identity, it's easy to succumb to the tempting idea that you can reinvent, resurrect and evolve simply by going on a diet. But it just doesn't work that way.

All those bristly, uncomfortable, short-tempered, imperfect, orally questionable bits of you are who you are, and they’re swirled through the muddle of goodness and badness at the core of your soul. You are strange, wobbly, angular, lazy, stress. You’re going to spend your whole life trying to pick apart these threads and make sense of this absolute chaos of contradictions – we all are. You’re going to wonder how the hell you get anything done when the heart of who you are is just one big ‘WHY?’. And all of this is OK because life is confusing and strange and often unhappy, and there’s no diet that can gloss over this. No perfectly choreographed parade of little vegetable nibbles or energy balls can cure that feeling inside of you, because you know what? There’s nothing to cure…’

There is something radical about *Eat Up! *It is a love letter to food and, above all, a love letter to ourselves; Tandoh’s narrative recipe is a mix of realism, imagination and encouragement which will undoubtedly speak to many.

Speaking to The Debrief, Tandoh explained her frustrations with the way food and eating are generally discussed at the moment. In particular, she took aim at the pervasive idea that food can be alternative medicine which has been peddled by some of her contemporaries. ‘The idea that food is medicine is a particularly toxic one’ she said ‘I don't know how we got here, but what's happened is that food is being framed by some less scrupulous writers and bloggers as an alternative to conventional medicines. Obviously,’ she added ‘what you eat has an impact on health, but this idea has been stretched so far: curing cancer with alkaline diets, solving depression with brassicas... It's terrible cos 1) it doesn't work 2) it breeds a distrust of doctors and science and evidence-based practice. Within some evangelical wellness communities, there's a real conspiracy theory-style suspicion of the whole world. It literally endangers lives and by preying upon the most vulnerable and desperate among us. I hate it’.

Why does she think all of this dodgy pseudo-science has taken hold? There’s no denying that celebrity chefs and food writers from Deliciously Ella to Tom Kerridge (who has gone as far as to publish a book called 'The Dopamine Diet') have done very well out of it in recent years. ‘I think it’s a mixture of things’ Tandoh reflects ‘one thing is this anxiety that we have about life right now - we live in a really uncertain time, socially and politically. The NHS is at risk and our futures don't look great and among all this turmoil, we're anxious and reaching out for anything to give us some semblance of control over our health and wellbeing. And food is so many people's means of exercising control’. As she sees it there is a sense that being ‘”glowy” and lithe’ could somehow soothe or salve us ‘even if the whole world is crumbling apart’. It’s a tempting narrative, she says, but ‘all we’ll get from so-called wellness is an empty wallet’.

It’s also very difficult to ignore the sexist and classist undertones of ‘clean eating’ and the restrictive diets associated with it. ‘I think it’s a clever rebranding of the diet industry’ Tandoh says ‘for many years, things like Weight Watchers reigned supreme, and everyone just dieted cos that was what women were meant to do. It was a rite of passage. But something has changed and recently companies have begun reacting to our cries for more diversity of bodies within advertising, more body positivity, less fatphobia. In theory, that should mean the death of the diet business, but actually it's just put on a new skin’. ‘Glow’ Tandoh says is a euphemism for ‘thinness’ and ‘detox’ is the more politically correct synonym for diet while ‘nutrient dense foods’ has become a misleading moniker for what would once have been called ‘low calorie’.

We know how damaging all of this can be. Various experts have warned of how ‘clean eating’ is connected to the rise of Orthorexia amongst teenagers in particular. Tandoh reflects on how the comparative narratives about dieting affected her growing up, ‘I remember reading glossies as a teen and seeing those “what's in my fridge” features or “what I ate today” and thinking: ‘oh right so I guess hot water and lemon is and good breakfast then and I'll count out 7 almonds for my 11am snack”.’ Eat Up! Is an antidote to this, ‘I'd like to see less about what women eat and more about how we feel about food, and who we cook for, and how it plays into our identities’ she says ‘those are the food stories we need to share.’

This shouldn’t be a radical thought in 2018, but the fact that it is can only be testament to how necessary Ruby Tandoh’s timely new book is.

Eat UP! Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want is published now by Serpent’s Tail

**Follow Vicky on Twitter **@Victoria_Spratt

**READ MORE: The Debrief investigates - Hormonal Contraception And Mental Health **


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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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