In What She Ate, Laura Shapiro offers up capsule biographies of six very different women, examining them through the lens of food–how they ate, who they cooked for, their preferences and tastes. Shapiro’s thesis is that one’s eating habits can be revealing of character, and that’s exactly how she approaches each subject.
As far as Shapiro is concerned, “Food constitutes a natural vantage point on the history of the personal….we have a relationship with food that’s launched when we’re born and lasts until we die.” Whether you’re an obsessive dieter like Helen Gurney Brown or you use food for fuel like Eleanor Roosevelt, or you enjoy a good gooseberry tart like Dorothy Wordsworth, how you eat and what you eat says a lot about you and how you navigate the world. It’s a very focused examination, and illuminates a lot of hidden corners in these women’s lives.
Those lives are various: Dorothy Wordsworth, Rosa Lewis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, Barbara Pym and Helen Gurney Brown. I admit I went into this book not knowing much about any of them, so I am extra happy that Shapiro included a bibliography, because each micro-biography left me curious and wanting to know more!
If you’re in the mood for biography through a very narrow, focused lens (and you love food!) do give this a try!