If You Can't Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury

If You Can't Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury

by Geraldine DeRuiter
If You Can't Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury

If You Can't Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury

by Geraldine DeRuiter

Hardcover

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Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • From the James Beard Award–winning blogger behind The Everywhereist come hilarious, searing essays on how food and cooking stoke the flames of her feminism.

“With charm and humor, Geraldine DeRuiter welcomes us into her personal history and thus reconnects us with ourselves.”—Mikki Kendall, New York Times bestselling author of Hood Feminism


When celebrity chef Mario Batali sent out an apology letter for the sexual harassment allegations made against him, he had the gall to include a recipe—for cinnamon rolls, of all things. Geraldine DeRuiter decided to make the recipe, and she happened to make food journalism history along with it. Her subsequent essay, with its scathing commentary about the pervasiveness of misogyny in the food world, would be read millions of times, lauded by industry luminaries from Martha Stewart to New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, and would land DeRuiter in the middle of a media firestorm. She found herself on the receiving end of dozens of threats when all she wanted to do was make something to eat (and, okay fine, maybe take down the patriarchy).

In If You Can’t Take the Heat, DeRuiter shares stories about her shockingly true, painfully funny (and sometimes just painful) adventures in gastronomy. We’ll learn how she finally got a grip on her debilitating anxiety by emergency meal–planning for the apocalypse. (“You are probably deeply worried that in times of desperation I would eat your pets. And yes, I absolutely would.”) Or how she learned to embrace her hanger. (“Because women can be a lot of things, but we can’t be angry. Or president, apparently.”) And how she inadvertently caused another international incident with a negative restaurant review. (She made it on to the homepage of The New York Times’s website! And she got more death threats!)

Deliciously insightful and bitingly clever, If You Can’t Take the Heat is a fresh look at food and feminism from one of the culinary world’s sharpest voices.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593444481
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/12/2024
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 51,830
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Geraldine DeRuiter is the James Beard Awardwinning blogger behind The Everywhereist and the author of All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, Marie Claire, and Refinery 29. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband, Rand. They are currently working on a cooking-themed video game and ordering too much takeout.

Read an Excerpt

1

The First Taste of Defiance


When people find out I’m a food writer, they immediately want to know what my first food memory is. It’s like the pissing contest of the culinary world—whose first gastronomical imprint is the best. I’ve read enough culinary memoirs to know that’s where the seeds of someone’s entire relationship with food supposedly begin. There is nary a cooking competition where the chefs are not required to create an entire menu around that memory.

These recollections are always so lyrical—the sizzle of sofrito, the brine of an oyster, the scent of cookies fresh from the oven. Memory, distilled into flavor and scent. The taste and feeling become locked into the electrical wiring of our brains, more so than first kisses. First kisses can be absolute disasters, too clammy or taste of Cheez-Its, affronts to the senses, but the first food memories, my God. Ask anyone in the food world—the answer is always poetry.

I’ve concluded that someone must be lying.

The first thing you remember eating is soufflé? Not your own coagulated snot, not a dusty jelly bean you found on the floor, not your older brother’s farts? Was every chef and food writer in the world born a fully formed adult with a standing reservation at Balthazar? As a kid, I distinctly remember drinking water from a vase that had recently been relieved of flowers. I remember desperately licking Fun Dip off a plastic tablecloth, the granules spilled from the packet, mixed with grains of salt and pepper that were scattered on the table from an earlier meal. I did not care. I know that I ate the paper wrappers that clung to the outside of peanut butter cups, with some sort of hazy understanding that it was dark chocolate around milk (the logic behind this confounds me, because it requires the absence and presence of intellect all at once).

If you want poetry, I can lie to you. I can tell you about my mother diligently stuffing cannelloni and making béchamel from scratch, back when that was the sort of thing she did. I can tell you about all the rustic southern Italian dishes my grandmother tried to get me to eat, meals that I often rejected handily.

If you want to know my actual first food memory, it’s this:

The setting is the early 1980s, a time that looks more like the 1970s, really; there are bell-bottoms and big hair, though it could be that my family is just stuck behind the fashion. The carpet is a burnished red, the upholstery of the couch quilted and iridescent gold in the rare Seattle sunlight. It feels like velvet, and when I run my chubby hand along it one way, it is smooth and shiny; the other way, it bristles up like a cowlick. Picture me, a toddler. I have a baby mullet, the hair you see on professional European soccer players, a receding hairline, and a sort of wispy tail hanging off the back of my enormous head. (It is easy to envision me, working through the last few seasons on a premier team, nursing a knee injury, wondering if my supermodel ex-wife still loves me.)

I am dressed, without fail, either like a rodeo clown or in the long underwear of a cartoon prospector, snap buttons that go up the inside of one leg and down the other. They are cold and I will squirm as my mother attempts to button me into them, and once she does, I am free to roam the house like a cat, which is more or less how I am regarded. Make sure she doesn’t get outside. Don’t let her climb on the furniture. Did someone feed her?

My family has just arrived in America. My mother is the last to immigrate. She leaves my father and Europe all at once, claiming that she is coming to America only because she doesn’t want to have another baby on the U.S. Army base outside Munich, where my brother was born. He is three when he arrives in America, wide-eyed and confused. He leaves behind my father, the only home he has ever known, and a beloved red biplane that my father built him, with his name—EDWARD—in black block letters painted across the top.

After I am born, my mother tells my father that she is not going back to Germany, where my father is stationed and will live for the rest of his life. My brother does not get the red biplane back. He is softly haunted by the loss of a home and a life he remembers before this one, but for me there is nothing else. There is only the chaos, the noise, the people all around buzzing like a hive of bees. This is all there has ever been. I get lost in it.

The sink in the downstairs bathroom is not high. It is so short that even my petite mother has to bend down to use it. And this is how I score my triumph. In a blissful, unsupervised moment, I grabbed the tube on the counter.

It was not the first time I had reached for it; I remember that desire, unfulfilled, just a feeling, really, unattached to words. I often managed to get my fists—shaped like tiny round dinner rolls, dimpled at the knuckles—around the tube. My mother would whisk it away, after I’d completed the complicated task of grasping it. I was too young to articulate my want. I don’t even remember crying; I just remember the ease of her lifting it from my hands, the long curtain of her honey blond waves brushing against me.

But she is not there to thwart my plans this time. After all, what trouble could a toddler possibly get into, unattended, in a bathroom in 1982? (It’s a miracle my generation survived at all.) I have concluded the cap must have already been off, because I don’t think I had the motor skills at that age to remove it myself. I squeeze the container, and creamy mint deliciousness oozes forth. I press my finger to the edge and deliver it to my mouth, or maybe I just squeeze the tube directly into my open, waiting maw. But there it is: my first food memory. Mint toothpaste, served straight from the tube.

This substance will never be a secret ingredient on Iron Chef. Decades from now, the culinary experts on Top Chef will not be asked to create a menu around a tube of Aquafresh. This is because toothpaste is not food. It is a health and beauty product. It is designed to be spit out.

In the coming years, manufacturers will realize the untapped market that children present, the willingness of parents to spend endless resources to preserve their progeny’s teeth. Toothpaste will be available in banana, in bubble gum, in electric-blue raspberry. A veritable thirty-one flavors of dentifrice in saturated Lisa Frank hues. But these options do not exist in my world. There is only the chalky paste of the standard mint-flavored Crest, bracingly cool and astringent. What kind of desperation leads a toddler to eat toothpaste? How has my brief life gone so astray? I am starved for anything that has even the suggestion of sweetness, because it is entirely absent from my young existence. No one in my family bakes. No one makes cakes or cookies or serves dessert. There is the occasional dusty breath mint found at the bottom of my aunt’s purse, which I will pop into my mouth, bits of foil still clinging to it. But toothpaste is the closest I can get to dessert, akin to minty frosting. And eating it is forbidden, which means I want it all the more.

Also, I like mint.

Years later, standard toothpaste instructions state that children under the age of six should be given only a pea-sized amount and supervised to minimize swallowing. Does the tube say this in 1982? It seems improbable, and it also wouldn’t have mattered: At this point in my personal history, I am extremely illiterate. I doubt it would have made a difference, anyway. These are the early years of Reagan’s first term, and supposedly the Russians may destroy us at any moment; I live my toddler life to the fullest. I walk, bravely, unsteadily, ingesting toothpaste as I go. The downstairs is where we live, and my aunt Pia—my mother’s oldest sister—lives upstairs. That is where everyone congregates to scream at one another. I stumble up the steps; I have less balance than usual. My hands are now preoccupied with delivering toothpaste into my face and cannot steady me, and my head is breathtakingly large. There is wood paneling on the walls, and I walk through the simulated forest that is late 1970s American home decor.

I manage to make it all the way up the stairs, toothpaste still in hand, neck unbroken, toward sounds of my family having dinner. The scraping of cutlery against dishware, the eternal litigation of age-old family quarrels, the barking laughter, set against my uncle’s records. A delicate blend of hostility and affection screamed in two languages, intermingled with the music of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, it calls to me like the sea does a sailor. This is all I want—to eat the food of my questionable toddler choosing surrounded by my people. This is all I will ever want. The door at the top of the stairs is closed, which is an insurmountable problem for me. I cannot reach the handle, and besides, my hands are covered in toothpaste.

But miraculously, the door opens. My mother is there. I don’t remember how she looks, really, or even grasp the concept of what a mother is. I just know that she is mine. I fill in the gaps in my memory with photos from this time—my Italian mother, large green eyes and masses of blond hair, full lips. A small space between her two front teeth. She will be small and beautiful for always. By the time I am thirteen, I will be taller than her. But that is years away. Now she looms over me, bends down, plucks the tube from my hands.

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