In reading the work of Frank Bruni, outgoing New York Times
restaurant critic, his love for food and dining could not be more apparent. Though he came to the position with no formal training in food or even background in food writing, every review evidences his appreciation of cuisine both high and low; through his outright reverence for the skills and ambitions of chefs, and unmistakable appreciation for what's on his plate, it's clear that this is a man who lives to eat.
However, Bruni's relationship with food is a good deal more complicated, as he writes in his memoir, Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater
, published this coming Tuesday, August 25. Born with a prodigious appetite and growing up in a family where food was regarded as a true expression of love, his weight began to climb even in childhood; though never truly obese, the young Bruni felt his size out of control early in life, and his mother encouraged him to begin dieting before his tenth birthday. This pattern would persist throughout his life—a voracious appetite and the constant fight to counter it—and set the stage for his later battle with bulimia, short-lived drug abuse, and crippling insecurities that affected or forestalled any romantic relationship.
This is not the normal stuff of food memoirs, which tend to look back on eating through much rosier, more nostalgic eyes. Bruni doesn't hold back on the visceral detail and searing self-analysis. The reader sees him at his high points and at his lows, searching out Mexican speed and hiding his body from dates in a windbreaker; we hear about every regretted Chinese takeout container or junk food binge that kept him up at night. At times, it becomes a bit too much—reading more like the diary of a man in the grip of an eating disorder, rather than the reflective memoir of a man who has moved on.
The book picks up considerably towards the end, where Bruni gets into his role at the Times—and, paradoxically, discovers that eating for a living helps him to manage his issues with food. Having lost a good deal of weight and now maintaining a healthy frame, his approach is simple, almost comically so—eat reasonable portions, give into cravings only in extreme moderation, live as active a lifestyle as possible.
Its shortcomings aside, Born Round makes for a gripping read—for anyone interested in the life of a critic, in parts, but more importantly, for those struggling with their weight, diet, or confidence. As much as food and dining are celebrated in our society, it is rarely acknowledged that a person's relationship with food is often a complicated thing. Bruni's memoir takes one step towards beginning that discussion.