Scratch the final half of that last sentence, or rather, amend it. There was
agenda, which was this: to promote my belief that a great many people, including those of us with a professional focus on food, have food secrets, food anxieties, and complicated relationships with food, which we love but don't always manage properly.
Most of the books I'd read by professional eaters didn't broach this. They described purely romantic, joyous experiences with food, seldom acknowledging that food can be enjoyed in excess and that eating can become an unhealthy compulsion--not unlike a drug addiction.
I wanted to get that point across, and I wanted to describe how after many turbulent decades I moved from a needy, wary, resentful, heedless, and deeply fraught relationship with food to a much, much smoother one. I wanted to recount how I ballooned to around 270 pounds--I'm just under 5-feet, 11-inches tall--and then fought to get rid of more than 70. I wanted to do that in part because I thought the lessons I'd learned along the way could be instructive not
to other overeaters but to anyone and everyone trying to integrate a sizeable appetite with a desire to stay healthy and reasonably trim.
But what I wanted more than anything else was to tell a good story. The overarching impulse behind this book wasn't an overeater's impulse, or a bulimic's impulse, or a fitness guru's impulse. It was a journalist's impulse. Upon reaching the richly ironic destination of restaurant criticism, I looked back and realized that my swerving, lurching, roller-coaster journey to get there might make for an interesting narrative. I realized that it had a clear theme: an obsession with food I had to wrestle control of and channel in a healthier direction.
In writing the book, I tried to make that theme the organizing principle--the factor that governed which episodes and incidents from the past, along with which friends and family members, would take center stage. One of the greatest difficulties I encountered was determining how often, and for how long, I could and should digress from the subject of eating. Eating was the big, main river. If the tributaries were many and frequent, would the larger landscape come to seem incoherent?
I fiddled as I tried to figure that out, cutting out whole periods of time and lengthy anecdotes, then adding some of them back, then taking a few away again, then just scratching my head. There was a long riff on the sad and comical fates of the various dogs in my family's life: it ended up on the cutting-room floor. There remains a long riff on a stupid email joke at
magazine that spawned the rumor that Mary Tyler Moore had died. Maybe it shouldn't be there.
Writing a memoir is strange that way: there's no right, no wrong, a dozen different opinions from a dozen different friends, and an ultimate acknowledgment by all of them that only you can decide what to lose and what to keep because it's your story--such a deeply, deeply personal thing.