In Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni discusses his relationship to food and his battles with weight throughout his life.
What made you want to tell this story?
I've read a lot of gauzy and romantic food-related memoirs. You get this image of someone falling dreamily into a pile of fresh arugula. It occurred to me that, for the most part, people's relationships to food were much more difficult, were more like mine. I felt that I hadn't encountered my story anywhere.
Why tell it now?
It didn't exist in my mind as a narrative until I was offered this job at a moment in my life when I had come to terms with my struggle with food and weight. One of the editors who actually offered me the job had met me when I was at my heaviest. Later on, I repeatedly heard the comment, “Gee, I expected you to be a little fatter. You must be one of those people who never had a weight problem.” These were people who didn't know me as anything but a restaurant critic and didn't know anything about my struggles. If with my past and present I'd managed to establish a healthy relationship to eating, then I felt I had an unusual vantage point for telling this story, particularly as a couple years down the road I haven't gained that weight back.
Did you have any literary models in mind?
I circled back to some memoirs. Not literary ones necessarily, but more personal stories. Addiction memoirs, books that dealt with those kinds of struggles, because the story at heart is very similar. Compulsive eating and the struggle to control it have a lot in common with those kinds of behaviors. A significant difference is that you have this subtler challenge, a healthy desire that has become unhealthy. You can't go cold turkey.
How does one write about body image without sounding superficial?
Good question. I'm aware that the challenge of an individual struggling to gain control of his eating habits is relatively minor in the overall scheme of things. Yet this is a subject that comes up over and over again, whether it's diet books, or books about what we're supposed to eat, and why, or how frequently or infrequently we're supposed to eat. We are a weight-obsessed culture, one in which people face a lot of cues and conflicts about something it is vital for them to do every day.
Who will appreciate this book's message most?
My imagined reader would be anyone who really, really loves food, who feels that intense hunger in your gut. But I also wanted to write a book that reads well, and I hope I accomplished that. And above all, I really wanted to produce a portrait of family. I hope that people will have a very intimate experience reading the story and will have a picture of the people I'm talking about.