FOODIE FLIXS: Just Ate (2012)
Updated: Nov 14, 2021
As human beings, we are all susceptible to addiction: Drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling etc. But how does one cope, when your addiction is food? We need food to live. Without it, one can not survive. You can forgo going to the pub, and walk past the liquor store. You can flush your pills down the toilet; rip up your dispensary card, and block your dealer. You can drive past the casino and delete your gambling apps; you can even abstain from sex (if only for a short time), but how does one avoid food? How does one cope with an addiction that is impossible to avoid. You can't. After all, food is the sustenance of life.
About a month ago, while perusing through YouTube, I came across a documentary: Someday Mellissa (2011), about a young girl who succumbed to bulimia. Her problems with body image began at the tender age of 14, while at summer camp. The daily act of getting into a swimsuit and being compared to her taller, slimmer, friends was excruciating;
it started her on the path to bulimia. Within five years, she would be dead of a heart attack. After viewing this profound documentary, within the next 12 hours, my YouTube feed was submerged with "survival" stories, documentaries, and films about women and their relationships to food. As I pored through this pile of information, I came across an independent, English film: Just Ate (2012).
This is the story of Eve, a young chef who is bulimic. The film opens with Eve ferociously brushing her teeth. It is the end of evening service at the restaurant, and she announces last call in the kitchen. Benji, a line cook who works beneath Eve, asks her out for drinks after their shift. She politely denies him, and heads home instead. In the privacy of her car, Eve unleashes all the stress she may have endured during her dinner shift, by rocking out to music, while driving. She is soaring. Her eyes are vibrant and alive; nothing can touch her. Eve comes to a full stop in front of the beautiful house she shares with her parents and two siblings, in Hampshire, England. As she turns off the ignition, her entire demeanor changes. A black cloud of depression has shrouded her.
Eve enters her home careful not to wake anyone, and retreats into the sanctuary of her room. She locks her door, and carefully retrieves from her closet a plastic, red case. Eve snuggles under the sheets, opens a good book, and her nightly ritual begins. Inside the red case are rows of chocolates and caramels; white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and gourmet chocolate, all neatly aligned. Before every bite, she stares at the chocolate like a gemologist studying a rare diamond. She savors every morsel. As she flips the pages of her book, Eve sets the timer on her phone. Once the timer goes off, she purges. Eve is meticulous and careful not to allow her body to fully digest the massive amounts of chocolate she has binged. Throughout the night, she will have thrown-up at least three times. The ritual comes to an end, only, when the entire contents of the red box have been devoured. That is when she allows herself to, finally, sleep.
In the morning, Eve's entire family is in the kitchen eating. Her mother, in her stern demeanor, asks Eve to join the family for breakfast. Eve politely replies that she "just ate." Her mother asks her "when?" This completely throws Eve off. She is visibly shaken, and ready to escape this tense setting. Eve jets off to the local soup kitchen where she volunteers during the day. While preparing brownies, Eve meets a handsome (homeless) fellow by the name of Sebastian. Once the brownies are ready for consumption, Eve is dying for a piece, but does not dare devour the sweet delight. Instead, she brings a piece to the homeless "hottie" as a segue to converse with him.
The relationships between Eve, the aimless, line-cook Benji, and the homeless hottie, Sebastian, are muddled and lacking in intensity and believability. I feel as if an important slice of the film was left on the cutting-room floor, due to lack of funds. The most important relationship in the film is not between Eve and her two suitors, but rather between Eve and her mother. While snooping through her daughters room one day, her suspicions of her daughters eating disorder are confirmed. The confrontation between Eve and her mother is the most powerful sequence in the film; Eve is allergic to sugar, which makes her sickness all the more deadly. The dynamic between the two women deserved more attention, and further exposition. I almost nixed the idea of writing this piece altogether, as I try to avoid giving negative attention to a well-intentioned film. But the idea of a chef with an eating disorder seemed too enthralling of an idea to forgo. It brought to light an important subject matter that needed attention and further discussion. Exactly how prevalent are eating disorders in the food industry?
Upon further research, I sadly discovered eating disorders within the culinary industry were prevalent, indeed. Depression in the kitchen, due to long hours, under-payed wages, and being berated by egotistical, management is excruciating to endure. The exhausting, long hours leads to agitation and stress. This may trigger one to using food as a coping mechanism. In an article for Catapult magazine, "When You Have a Career in the Food Industry and an Eating Disorder," the author, Hannah Howard, recounts how her co-workers dealt with food: "I noticed that my cheese mentor at the trendy restaurant I worked after Artisanal was on a perpetual diet where she eschewed nightshades and carbs, and downed shots of apple cider vinegar. At the next restaurant, my manager took the whole nine-hour shift to eat one plastic cup of Greek yogurt, licking a scant spoonful in quiet moments, with a faraway look in her eyes. I caught the hostess throwing up in the bathroom in the thick of a busy service."
In another article, Girl vs. Food, written by pastry chef Maya Okada Erickson, for the on-line magazine Taste, Ms. Erickson stated she was destined to work in the food industry. Although she loved cooking, her primary dream was to be a dancer. That dream was demolished due to a physical injury. She went from trying to attain the "lithe" body of a ballerina, to cooking 12 hours a day, eating everything and anything. She became difficult to work with due to the hunger pangs and mood swings. (Similar to our heroine Eve, in the film.) The physical signs of the disease were catching up to her: "My hair started falling out, and then my teeth. I ignored all these warning signs from my body telling me it was shutting down; I just kept working and starving until finally the pain in my mouth was so great I thought I was going to die."
As stated by the National Eating Disorders Association, "Eating disorders have historically been associated with straight, young, white females, but in reality they affect people from all demographics, and are not caused by any single factor." People of color, old and young, as well as men, have been affected. Former New York Times food critic, Frank Bruni, was bulimic, and wrote about his struggles with bulimia in his memoir: "Born Round."
There seems to be a correlation between choosing a career in food and eating disorders. Testing ingredients and creating flavors can turn obsessive, and may lead to binge eating. For others, it's a way to control their unhealthy relationship with food, and become inspired with creating culinary dishes. Turning your food obsession into a career can be a double- edged sword. Not everyone is able to slay the beast. Some are too embarrassed to seek help and turn to substance abuse. The only way to take control of your eating disorder is to change your relationship with food, and attend recovery meetings. In the culinary world, food is everywhere, all the time, and eating disorders do not discriminate.
(Just Ate, directed by Lisa Downs, and starring Anna Westall (who also wrote the script) is now streaming on Amazon and You Tube.)