What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

A beloved culinary historian’s short takes on six famous women through the lens of food and cooking—what they ate and how their attitudes toward food offer surprising new insights into their lives.Everyone eats, and food touches on every aspect of our lives—social and cultural, personal and political. Yet most biographers pay little attention to people’s attitudes toward f...

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Title:What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories
Author:Laura Shapiro
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What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories Reviews

  • Karen Witzler

    Very enjoyable. An assemblage of almost randomly chosen women from literature and history whose stories are retold by a gifted food writer. Intellectually lively and historically interesting with each section just the right length for my bedtime reading. I confess I read the section on Eva Braun(cyanide and champagne) first. The more admirable women are Dorothy Wordsworth (lake fish), Rosa Lewis (pigeon pie), Eleanor Roosevelt (mutton and Home Economics), Barbara Pym (wilted salads), and Helen G

    Very enjoyable. An assemblage of almost randomly chosen women from literature and history whose stories are retold by a gifted food writer. Intellectually lively and historically interesting with each section just the right length for my bedtime reading. I confess I read the section on Eva Braun(cyanide and champagne) first. The more admirable women are Dorothy Wordsworth (lake fish), Rosa Lewis (pigeon pie), Eleanor Roosevelt (mutton and Home Economics), Barbara Pym (wilted salads), and Helen Gurley Brown (diet jello). Quite good and recommended. I want to try Shapiro's

    soon.

  • Susan

    “If I eat I feel guilty. And I’d rather feel hungry.”

    The above is a quote from one of the six women featured in this book – Helen Gurley Brown, editor of “Cosmopolitan,” for over thirty years. It helps highlight the difficult, complicated relationship, that so many women have with food. Author, Laura Shapiro, takes six women and gives us a potted biography of each, with a particular slant towards their attitudes, and relationship, to eating.

    Those featured are Dorothy Wordsworth, Rosa Lewis, Ele

    “If I eat I feel guilty. And I’d rather feel hungry.”

    The above is a quote from one of the six women featured in this book – Helen Gurley Brown, editor of “Cosmopolitan,” for over thirty years. It helps highlight the difficult, complicated relationship, that so many women have with food. Author, Laura Shapiro, takes six women and gives us a potted biography of each, with a particular slant towards their attitudes, and relationship, to eating.

    Those featured are Dorothy Wordsworth, Rosa Lewis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, Barbara Pym and Helen Gurley Brown. There are those who enjoy a fairly uncomplicated love of comfort food – such as Barbara Pym. Those who equate cooking, or providing over meals, as a way of pleasing the men in their life, such as Dorothy Wordsworth and Eva Braun. Rosa Lewis, who apparently inspired, “The Duchess of Duke Street,” used her skills as a cook to rise from a scullery maid (born in the ‘village’ of Leyton – well, I expect it was a village at the time!) to the owner of the Cavendish Hotel and a famous chef, who prepared food for King Edward VII, among other famous clients.

    The two women whose food stories were, to me, the most interesting were Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Gurley Brown. Eleanor Roosevelt apparently employed the ‘most reviled cook in Presidential history,’ in Mrs Nesbitt; who continually provided meals that her husband found repugnant. Helen Gurley Brown, as I mentioned in the beginning of this review, spent her life eternally dieting measured success in her marriage to David, gloating that he was a “motion picture producer, forty-four, brains, charming and sexy. And I got him!”

    This is very much a book of social history and biography and there is little analysis about why these women acted the way they did, or had such troubled, or happy, relationships with food. That aside, it is an enjoyable read, which may well lead you on to read full biographies of the women included. I have read biographies about some of them, such as Eva Braun, which is why, perhaps, this work added little that was new to me. However, it does look at such an important part of all our lives – eating and preparing food – and is a fascinating read. I received a copy of the book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  • Roman Clodia

    In this vastly entertaining book, Shapiro uncovers the 'food stories' of six women: from Dorothy Wordsworth who cooked for her brother as if she were his wife, to Helen Gurley Brown who might gush about food but who never ate much more than protein powder and sugar-free jelly (yeurch!)

    Shapiro has done her research rustling around in the archives but this is determinedly 'popular' culinary history - she disses academic rese

    In this vastly entertaining book, Shapiro uncovers the 'food stories' of six women: from Dorothy Wordsworth who cooked for her brother as if she were his wife, to Helen Gurley Brown who might gush about food but who never ate much more than protein powder and sugar-free jelly (yeurch!)

    Shapiro has done her research rustling around in the archives but this is determinedly 'popular' culinary history - she disses academic researchers at the start, but it's noticeable that there's no theoretical scaffolding to her work - this is just a collection of stories: amusing, sad, illuminating, for sure, but it would have been nice to have seen some analysis added to the wealth of material collected here.

    That said, Shapiro tells her mini-biographies with a lively fluency, whether we're with Eva Braun eating with Hitler, or Eleanor Roosevelt superintending menus in the White House. Not all the women are necessarily interesting: I admit to skimming the section on the Edwardian caterer, Rosa Lewis; and the novelist Barbara Pym who wrote about 'nice' food in 1970s England.

    This is a quick read as about 25-30% is notes: interesting, undoubtedly, and enjoyably entertaining but a bit more intellectual depth would have been helpful.

    Many thanks to HarperCollins for an ARC via NetGalley.

  • Diane S ☔

    Review soon.

  • Sarah Swann

    This was middle of the road for me. I enjoyed 3 of the 6 stories and ended up having to DNF the last story about Helen Gurley Brown. I couldn't read anymore about how her mindframe was "be skinny, no matter the cost." I really enjoyed Eleanor Roosevelt's story and the one about Eva Braun was interesting, although I felt it was more about Hilter than about her. Overall it was an ok read for me.

  • Kayo

    I thought this would be a totally different book. It wasn't that interesting and I couldn't care less about most of her 6 subject. Very disappointing. It could have been great.

  • Michelle

    No.

    I did not like this book. I started off saying "Well it's kind of interesting, in a sort of boring history class kind of way," but by mid-book, I had given up the optimism. What's the problem? First, the title: What SHE ate. Not what HE ate, not what she DIDN'T eat. And the majority of this book was not at all about what SHE ate. Next, six "remarkable" women - really? We have a mentally ill incestuous old maid, a server-come-cook who displays narcissistic tendencies, the woman in charge of "t

    No.

    I did not like this book. I started off saying "Well it's kind of interesting, in a sort of boring history class kind of way," but by mid-book, I had given up the optimism. What's the problem? First, the title: What SHE ate. Not what HE ate, not what she DIDN'T eat. And the majority of this book was not at all about what SHE ate. Next, six "remarkable" women - really? We have a mentally ill incestuous old maid, a server-come-cook who displays narcissistic tendencies, the woman in charge of "the worst food in the White House ever," the mistress of Hitler (but no worries, her chapter was really all about him), some 3rd rate mildly successful author, and the editor of Cosmo - who proudly admits anorexia.

    She could have called this book "Six Women and the Men who Hold Them Up" and that would have been more accurate. Or she just could have called it "Six Random Women and the Food They May or May Not Have Eaten While They Were Being Uninteresting." Also equally accurate.

    I liked the premise. However, the presentation was a huge letdown. Shapiro could have taken this idea far, if she had chosen different women and actually used the idea of food to explore their idiosyncrasies, their successes, and their relationships.

    This book fell far short for me.

  • Michelle

    This should have been such a great book! The concept was wonderful, but the writing style interfered with the story telling way too much. Also, the author seemed to keep losing the thread of where she was going with each story. She'd start in on the woman's story and then very mechanically, try to add something about food that seemed irrelevant and forced. She didn't actually have very much to say about food for several of the women even though she had decided to tell 'their food stories'. Yes,

    This should have been such a great book! The concept was wonderful, but the writing style interfered with the story telling way too much. Also, the author seemed to keep losing the thread of where she was going with each story. She'd start in on the woman's story and then very mechanically, try to add something about food that seemed irrelevant and forced. She didn't actually have very much to say about food for several of the women even though she had decided to tell 'their food stories'. Yes, they had interesting stories, aside from food, but the way she went about it made me feel a little suckered into reading a book that I probably wouldn't have picked up if the true premise of 'some short bios on a few women from history, that are unrelated to each other and some of them you might not have even heard of before'.

  • Brenda

    This is a book about what 6 women in history ate. Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of poet William Wordsworth, Rosa Lewis, a female chef in England, which was rare in her time, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress until they married shortly before their suicides, and Barbara Pym, a British author, and Helen Gurly Brown. I only knew about 3/6 when I started the book. Don't know what I expected but I ended up disliking the 3 I knew about AND the three I didn't. VERY much disliking. This made

    This is a book about what 6 women in history ate. Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of poet William Wordsworth, Rosa Lewis, a female chef in England, which was rare in her time, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress until they married shortly before their suicides, and Barbara Pym, a British author, and Helen Gurly Brown. I only knew about 3/6 when I started the book. Don't know what I expected but I ended up disliking the 3 I knew about AND the three I didn't. VERY much disliking. This made finishing the book very difficult. I'm stubborn is my only excuse.

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