Friday, June 03, 2005

Meet Tucker Shaw

Tucker Shaw is author of Everything I Ate A year in the life of my mouth. The book is a visual study of "everything he ate" that includes notes cataloging what he ate and with whom, all in blog-like, chronological order. (see the book review in the last post)

You mention in the beginning of your book that it started as a dare--how did you come up with the idea in the first place?
Like a lot of bloggers I've taken pictures of what I've eaten forever, since I was a kid, and since we've got digital photography I thought why not do a comprehensive study?

And I experience frustration with food media. I don't think the mundane habits of everyday eating 24 hours, seven days a week are being reported. Magazines focus on new ingredients or famous chefs. I wanted to make sure we were documenting this because I think it's revealing.

Food lives in the world, not in a magazine, or a kitchen or a restaurant, and it's with us wherever we are. When read things about food it's always a rose-colored experience.

When did you decide to turn this project into a book?
I started on January 1, but five months in I decided to publish it. I showed it to friends after just three months. A writer at the New York Times wrote a little article and that put me in touch with Chronicle Books.

Part of me was scared that it was way personal. Having it in a book makes it even more personal. The impact of documenting a whole year at once makes me feel exposed. But that was what I was trying to do. Food is such a loaded topic!

What did you learn from the experience? Any surprises?
I ate way more than what I thought I did. I thought I ate 3 times a day. But that's not true at all. I verified the variety of foods that were available to me. Seeing all of the variety reinforced that it's kind of unprecedented to live this way. Never in history have we had as many choices as we do right now.

The project inspired me to cook more. Mostly it made me anxious to eat different things that I might have passed on. I went to some dinner parties I probably wouldn't have gone to otherwise.

When I was taking pictures a lot of people came up to me and said "I do that too." I was surprised at that.

Are you still recording every meal?
I'm doing it, but not as obsessively and comprehensively. Always at special occasions, if there's a cake you can bet I'm taking a picture of it. Food is so satisfying visually. When I was eating blindly I didn't notice that. Taking the pictures forced the habit. It's funny how emotional looking at some bowls of cereal make me feel. That all of that can be in a bowl of Cheerios.

Speaking of Cheerios, it's hard to not notice that bowl of cereal every night before bed, what's that about?
Cereal is a very calming thing for me. Anyone's day can be chaotic and you want to chill yourself out. Maybe I eat more simply when I eat by myself, more quietly. When you go out it can be satisfying, but it may not be relaxing. I am nourishing myself. It's a ritual that goes back to childhood. Cereal was a go-to snack after school. If mom's not cooking tonight--we're eating cereal for dinner-yay! I like it and of course there are worse things you can eat.

What are you planning on doing next?
I'm writing another novel for teenagers, that will keep me occupied for a while. After that, who knows? I really love food, food is the only thing that I could see myself documenting this way!