Reviewed in this essay: Eat It: Sex, Food & Women’s Writing, edited by Nicole Baute and Brianna Goldberg. Feathertale, 2013.
There are some gems in this mixed-genre anthology from Feathertale, an offbeat Canadian writer’s collective. The pieces are varied in tone and style, taking the form of short fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, letters, and poetry. The mood is generally light, with a few exceptions. Julia Kilpatrick’s description of a deer hunt, and Kathryn Kuitenbrower’s unnerving tale of a woman’s imaginings of murdered and abandoned children, sit remarkably well alongside some very funny counterparts, such as Maya Reid’s exploits in a Beijing restaurant specialising in animal penis (“The waitress brings the noodles I ordered. ‘These are penis-flavoured,’ she announces, giving me a sympathetic smile”); Rebecca Kohler’s letter to her “inner feminist,” analysing her sexual attraction to her salaciously macho local butcher; and Jennifer Bain’s recollections of a big-city foodie’s culinary journey into the kitchens of the Alberta heartland.
Other pieces tend towards superficiality, reading more like an extended Facebook post, or the script of a quirky hipsteresque indie comedy. Detours into gendered cliché at times make this seem more like a weirdly avant-garde episode of Sex and The City than a subversive feminist endeavour. This isn’t a fatal flaw, because even if the anthology’s spirit originates in works of scholarly feminism like Elspeth Probyn’s Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities, it is a proudly non-scholarly collection, and its sense of fun and creativity are infectious.
Be warned, though, sexy-thrill-seekers, that the “sex” in the title is something of a misnomer. Many of these pieces have sex play into them in one way or another; yet I get the sense that here, as so often elsewhere, “sex” has been used as a kind of vague umbrella term. After all, what does a piece about a dairy-loving mother’s struggle to breastfeed (eloquent as it is) have, necessarily, to do with sex?
Arguably, also, the reflexive linking of food, women, and sex is so well-practiced now as to be predictable; they’ve been lumped into the same apple basket ever since Eve. Surely the beauty of food as a literary trope is its capacity to stand for anything and everything?
Still, a number of these pieces make interesting exploratory forays in the direction of a more original conception of the gender-food dynamic, and this is, as its editors say, a welcome counterbalance to an industry dominated by writing by and about men. That alone makes it a worthwhile read; the really outstanding selections are – forgive me – the cherries on the cake.