The F-Word: year one
I’ll be honest. When I started writing “The F Word” a year ago, it was not my first choice. A regular writing gig? I wanted to have an excuse to read books and write about them, and maybe someone would read it. But I know myself. Reading a book every few weeks and having something intellectual and original to say gave me nightmares in which I read my critical analysis naked at the front of a room filled with famous writers. Not the kind of fantasy I want to be having.
So when Gavin asked me to write for the Idler, I chose food. I eat three times a day or more. I exercise a lot. I have strong feeling about other people’s eating habits. I have my own weird eating habits. I love going out to restaurants. I occasionally often suck at cooking. Despite how much Americans (myself included) fetishize food and love talking about it, I called my column “The F Word” because food is often demonized at the same time as it’s worshipped, especially for women. You really want that cake, but you know you shouldn’t. Don’t even read the dessert menu. Food is a bad word.
When I read my first column, I sound like the first kid at the party. I’m really trying to prove that I should be here and that I know what I’m talking about. But I stand by my cute nervous excitement—I still want to write about food from a normal person’s perspective. I’ll never become an expert, and I’m trying really hard not to become a foodie (though when I went home to Michigan a few weeks ago, I scoffed at the idea of chain restaurants. Then I remembered that it’s the Midwest, not Boston, and there’s no room for that elitist bullshit. Meaning there isn’t anything but chain restaurants).
I also didn’t want my column to become a predictable series of Julie & Julia–esque episodes in the hopeless-chef-is-clueless-and-cute-but-makes-something-amazing-with-only-occasional-breakdowns tradition. Even though food should just be nourishment and maybe enjoyment, it’s chock-full of subtext. For inspiration, I looked to the other Idler writers.
It was Ana Holguin, the beautiful and hilarious writer of the PopHeart column, who broke me down with her piece on Charlie Sheen, “On Winning and Losing It.” Ana has an eye for fashion, pop culture, and comedy. “On Winning and Losing It” starts off lighthearted, and then takes a turn when she compares Sheen’s breakdowns to what she sees in her own mother. It’s gorgeous, heartbreaking, and brave, without an ounce of melodrama. Thanks to Ana, I resolved to be braver (and not just by trying more scary vegetables).
About a month later, I wrote “Liquid Indulgence: A Personal History of Drinking” after a mortifying night out. Because of Ana’s bravery, I tried to be brave, too. I told the truth about things that don’t speak highly of me: my former uptight, self-righteous sobriety and my later, not-so-uptight drunk self. It turns out that drink is a bad word, too. After the column was posted, I received a few emails from strangers about how reading my column actually helped them. I know that my chances of making bank like David Sedaris, J.K. Rowling, or, you know, Stephenie Meyer, are slim to none. But if one person reads something I wrote and gets something out of it, then I’ve done something right. Excuse me while I go weep for a minute.
The day before I went on my birthday bender (see above) I wrote “Birthday Cake Wishes,” about women and disordered eating. When I think about the future of “The F Word,” I think about this column. I’m glad I chose to write about food because it will never stop being a gold mine of foibles and fuckups and controversy and self-hate and self-love. I’ll always be hungry, and I’ll always have new things to say about what and how we feed ourselves, why we feed ourselves, and why we don’t. And of course, there will always be f-words.
Postscript: I really, really want to drink champagne and cook with Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen. Hannah, are you listening? I mean, really. I might even pay you to hang out with me.