A food critic should naturally have a love affair with food, but for former New York Times food critic Frank Bruni, the affair was love-hate. Growing up in an Italian family who often cooked enough food to feed at least two small armies, Bruni was a self-diagnosed “baby bulimic” who grew into a college bulimic and an adult late-night binger.
“As badly as I wanted to lose weight and as often as I pledged to,” Bruni writes in his memoir “Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater,” “I also discovered that there was a strange mercy in being fat, a peculiar sanctuary.”
Though 352 pages, “Born Round” is a quick and savory read as you learn Bruni’s weight seesawed through most of his life. Like any good voracious eaters struggling with their weight, he’d resort to fad diets, fasting, laxatives, Mexican speed and running, and it was a cyclical struggle.
In 1999, when covering Washington D.C. politics for the Times, Bruni was sent out on the presidential campaign trail to cover then-Texas Governor George W. Bush. Eating no less than seven meals a day, Bruni became “Frank the Human Tent” thanks to a Timberland windbreaker he practically lived in. “When my Timberland was on, nobody could see just how big I was. I could hide inside it.”
Bruni remembers restaurants and meals vividly, the way statisticians remember numbers: “Remember the smell of the hot oil that still clung to the fried chicken on the food line? And the way the chicken seemed to have a palpable crispness?” he writes of the cafeteria food at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He writes in a humorous and easy, almost lyrical, way: “And the sweetest sound in the world? The most gorgeous music? The bells of a Good Humor truck,” he recalls.
Bruni’s so good at descriptive writing you feel like you’re eating right alongside him. You’re working next to him in Rome when he finally makes a good lifestyle change with eating, which is just when he got the New York Times food critic call. Could he survive eating for a living when he finally was able to not live to eat as much? “I had absolutely no idea how long I’d manage this,” he admits.
“Born Round” isn’t so much about losing weight and gaining weight, eating and not eating. It’s about the life journey of a journalist, of a man looking for love, of a man struggling to find peace with his relationship with food — and with himself. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes heartbreakingly sad and absolutely enjoyable from first page to last. It’s a story anyone who enjoys food, who’s ever had struggled with a few pounds or who just loves reading a great narrative can appreciate, and maybe learn from.
“I took another bite of the dessert, just so I didn’t seem to be avoiding it,” he writes. “But I stopped there. Somehow, I learned to do that. At least for now.”
Rating: W W W W W