You may not have a lot in common with Frank Bruni. He's a gay journalist, now in his 40s, who spent several years as the New York Times's restaurant critic after having written for papers in Washington, Detroit as well as for the New York Post. He also wrote a book on George Bush (which I haven't read). You may not be able to connect with his life, but I guarantee that if you have every binged or gone on a crazy diet that has left you screaming for food (or just something other than grapefruit all day), you will find yourself nodding in agreement with Frank Bruni.
Bruni's descriptions of his Italian family's eating dynamics will make you laugh, cry and scream. One story that stuck in my mind was how he described his mother's approach to preparing a holiday dinner for guests. If twenty people were invited she would prepare each dish as if all twenty people were going to make that dish their only food during the meal...twenty full meals' worth of mashed potatoes, for instance!
Bruni always loved food (nothing wrong with that!), but it quickly became an addiction for him. Even as a child, he would consistently overeat and, had he not been a gifted swimmer, he would have grown into a seriously overweight man. Instead, during his young adulthood, he usually managed to keep his weight at a fairly acceptable level through exercise and a series of horrible fad diets and bulimia.
For the most part, the pictures in the book show a normal to slightly pudgy man though he did gain quite a bit of weight on the campaign trail with George Bush but the words betray someone totally and constantly obsessed with what he considered his highly imperfect body. I think that, perhaps because he is gay, his body dysmorphia is very similar to that of most women. I just wanted to shake him for the many times he refused to go out or see old friends because he was afraid they would reject him due to his weight...and then go and binge up a storm to console himself.
The most important part of the book for me was how he described the eating epiphany he had while working in Italy as the Times Rome bureau chief. All around him, he saw slim Italians. Naturally, he tried to figure out why they were so slim compared to most Americans. Was it that they walked more? No, they like to zoom around Rome on Vespa scooters. Smoked more? No, the Italian smoking rate is going down and in any case, smokers or not, they're still slim. Less of a taste for sweets? No, a favourite breakfast food is the cornetto, a sugary, custard-filled pastry, washed down with a sugary cappuccino. And let's not forget one Italy's great gifts to the world, its gelato (ice cream). More exercise? Not that either.
The answer is that they don't super-size anything.
In Italy pasta came on plates, not in troughs, and the amount might not be more than a dozen forkfuls. A roasted chicken was more likely to serve four or even six people than two. [...] I seldom saw them tunneling idly into bags of chips or hauling in nuts by the fistful.
In the end, Italians were generally slimmer than Americans for the plainest, most obvious reason of all.
They ate less.
How beautiful, how elegant, how simple. Think of all the diet books, clubs and programs that would disappear if people just ate normally.
You're probably wondering how Bruni managed to be a restaurant critic in one of the world's food epicentres, New York, without ballooning into a monster. Again, the answer is simple: lots of exercise...and PORTION CONTROL. But I leave the details of his restaurant adventures to Frank himself. Read the book!