Cherries and Gems in Eat It: Sex, Food and Women’s Writing

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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.

About the author

Abigail Dennis

Abigail Dennis is completing a dissertation on representations of food in the Victorian novel at the University of Toronto. Her writing has been published in The Journal of Modern Literature, Studies in Popular Culture, Scene Magazine (Australia), and the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Sweets. Her blog about food in/and literature is at www.gastropoetica.blogspot.ca.

By Abigail Dennis