In part two of my wonderful conversation with Tommy Tomlinson, author of the impossible-to-put-down book The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America, we talk about how he decided he was going to have to do more than just diet to successfully deal with his weight issues.
Tomlinson describes asking his friends and family about what they thought about his eating habits. "I learned a lot from them about how they would watch what I was eating. And they would be surprised that I would eat the same as them, but I was the one getting bigger. They didn't know that I would stop again at the drive through on the way home and get a second dinner or something. But I also learned about their concerns about me, and their worry that I was going to be gone too soon, those sorts of things. And then I had longer conversation on the record that I taped with my wife, Alix Felsing, and my mom, who are two people who've been with me for most of this journey."
Tomlinson credits his wife in a major way for helping him confront what he calls "the one big problem" in his life. "Alix has been this incredible kind of guide for me," he says. "Without ever nagging or hectoring or browbeating me about it, she has gently and lovingly nudged me to become a better and more healthy person."
Tomlinson writes in his book about something Alix once said to him, which I asked him to repeat on ai because I found it so moving. "She looked at me and said, 'You made my life.'" he remembers. "That was probably the best moment I will ever have as a human being, to know that I made her life. She has certainly made mine."
I hope that exchange, which brought at least one Serious Eater to tears, gets you to check out the rest of our conversation. This episode is as moving, as wise, and as human as a Special Sauce episode gets.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/03/special-sauce-tommy-tomlinson-2-2.html
It's pretty rare for a Special Sauce interview to speak so directly to me that it feels like I've been hit in the gut. But that's exactly what happened when I talked with Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Tommy Tomlinson, whose book The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America is a moving memoir about struggling with eating and weight issues.
As someone who has grappled with a weight problem my whole life, I identified with every word Tomlinson wrote and every bite he took, and I often felt during our conversation that he was speaking about my own experiences with food.
For example, here is Tomlinson on how food makes him feel: "I've never done hard drugs, but the feeling that I've heard people describe when they shoot heroin, for example that incredible rush and that warm feeling that goes over their body, is very similar to what I believe I feel when I have like a double cheeseburger from Wendy's. It's just this burst of pleasure and good feeling."
Tomlinson is similarly eloquent about how he started to make the connection between obesity and food: "I didn't really connect being overweight with eating because I was eating what everybody else in my family was eating. I just wasn't working the way they were working to burn off calories. And as I got older, I started to realize even more deeply that I had these two lives. I had this one life where I was successful and doing well, had good friends, had people who loved and cared about me. And had this second life where I had this addiction that I could not control. And...up until basically this book and me trying to figure it out, I never could reconcile those two things. And so, sure, I knew from early on that I had some fundamental issue, I just never could figure out what it was."
And here he is on the fraught relationship between food and love: "And then there's stuff that's very common in food which is it's about love and affection. Your family has made this gift for you often still to this day it's your mom or your grandmother or somebody like that has made this thing. And they've sacrificed and they've sweated over it. And they've worked on this recipe for years. And it's a family tradition. And they always have it. And so for you just to not indulge in it carries a whole lot of symbolic weight. It's like rejecting the people who love you."
This episode of Special Sauce made me laugh, made me cry, and made me think, and any podcast that can make you do all three of those things is worth listening to, whether you struggle with your weight or not.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/03/special-sauce-tommy-tomlinson-1-2.html
The superb young food and culture writer Osayi Endolyn is back again for this week's episode of Special Sauce. This time our far-reaching conversation includes a discussion of a brilliant piece on fried chicken Endolyn wrote for You and I Eat the Same: On the Countless Ways Food and Cooking Connect Us to One Another, a fascinating anthology edited by former Lucky Peach editor Chris Ying and Noma's Rene Redzepi.
First, we talked about the fundamental premise of the book. "It's obviously not true that food always brings us together, and it's obviously not true that food necessitates a further reflection on a culture, right," Endolyn said. "A lot of us eat tacos or hummus without thinking anything more about where those dishes come from. But, if you took the premise that, we are more alike than we are different, and looked at food as the medium to do that, where could you go? And this book wanted to explore migration and immigration in ways that maybe we weren't always welcoming of having those conversations."
Endolyn picked fried chicken, one of my favorite foods on the planet, as her subject. She used the Australian Chef Morgan McGlone as a jumping off point: A classically trained chef, McGlone learned to make hot fried chicken while working for Southern uber-chef Sean Brock before returning to his native country to open Belles Hot Chicken, a mini-chain of hot fried chicken restaurants based in Melbourne. That cross-cultural recognition became the metaphor that shaped Endolyn's story. To quote briefly from her piece: "No matter where it’s cooked, American fried chicken carries the learning and effort and skill of a people who persevered against unfathomable odds. That Southern hue follows fried chicken all the way to Melbourne and Sydney, too. And therein lies an incredible opportunity. If everyone can agree to share fried chicken, then perhaps that’s a step toward sharing the weight of its complex legacy as well."
I asked Endolyn about fried chicken's legacy, and she said, "There's a lot of struggle, it doesn't always come from one direction, as I mentioned in the book. Because of so much of the hateful iconography, that was used to depict the African Americans stealing chicken and as kind of just gluttonous chicken eaters. During the post-enslavement period and into Jim Crow, you have a lot of people who still feel kind of unsure what it means to eat fried chicken. Whether or not to do so in public."
Where Endolyn nets out on fried chicken requires answering the two fundamental questions all of us must answer whenever we are eating something: "Is it delicious?" and "What does it mean?"
So if that's a question that interests you (and I hope it is) then you have to listen to what Osayi Endolyn has to say on this week's Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/03/special-sauce-osayi-endolyn-2-2.html
On this week's episode of Special Sauce, Ed speaks to Osayi Endolyn, a Florida-based food writer whose work regularly appears in major food publications across the country, and whose column in Gravy, the journal published by the Southern Foodways Alliance, earned a James Beard Award in 2018.
Ed and Endolyn's conversation starts off exactly where most Special Sauce conversations start off, namely with Endolyn talking about her family and the food they used to eat when she was growing up. But Ed wasn't prepared for just how fascinating Endolyn's family history is. For example, her grandmother, Ruth Harris Rushen, was something of a trailblazer, as she was the first woman and first African-American to sit on California's parole board.
Endolyn's family table had a mix of what she calls "California working mom cuisine" - tofu and noodles, roasted chicken and vegetables- and Nigerian dishes prepared by her father, who immigrated to the United States in his early 20s. Endolyn describes her father as somewhat mercurial, but a talented cook. "The food was glorious," she says. "Dinner was sometimes fraught and tense, but the food was really good." The quality of the food was somewhat surprising, particularly since her father, like many immigrants, had to figure out by himself how to prepare the familiar foods from home. And, of course, her father's cooking left its mark on her. "So," Endolyn says, "I think a lot about migration now and what people bring with them and what they leave behind."
Endolyn's current focus on the intersection of food and identity is something of a happy accident. She was living in Atlanta and looking into the roots of Southern cuisine, and saw parallels between food in the South and the food her father would make at home. The realization seemed to expose how writing about food could be about so much more than writing about what's on a plate. "Food can actually be this lens from which we can explore so many different things," Endolyn says. "Why certainly it can be something that I can use to talk about my experiences as a child of an immigrant, or as the descendant of someone who was in the Great Migration, or as a descendant of enslaved people or all of these other historic and personal experiences."
To hear more from Endolyn, tune into this both this week's and next week's episode. We guarantee it'll be well worth your time.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/03/special-sauce-osayi-endolyn-1-1.html