Roxane Gay:’ No one is guaranteed love or affection’

The author of Bad Feminist and Hunger has strong words for incels, harassers in publishing and diet gurus

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1974, Roxane Gay is an author, essayist, New York Times opinion novelist and associate professor of English at Indiana’s Purdue University. She has published a novel, An Untamed State , two short story collections, Ayiti and Difficult Women , the New York Times bestseller Bad Feminist ( which Time publication described as” a manual on how to be human “), and a memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of( My) Body ( Corsair, PS8. 99 ), released in paperback on 7 June. It deals with Gay’s rape at the age of 12 and the lifelong consequences of her decision to make her body as big as possible as a form of self-protection. She is also the author of Marvel’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda and will publish her first YA work, The Year I Learned Everything , later this year. She lives between Indiana and LA.

From your early forays on to internet messageboards to writing this book, it seems as though language was a key part of processing the trauma of your childhood rape. Did writing offer control ?
Definitely. I suppose writing always dedicates us control over the things that we can’t actually control in our lives, so taking control of the narrative of my body as a public space was absolutely helpful in terms of thinking about my relationship to my body. Did you encounter personal revelations as you were writing ?
It started as a process of writing what I know to be true and it became a process of revelation. I was able to make some realisations about myself that previously I hadn’t made and it genuinely forced me to confront my relationship not only with my body, but with food. I mostly saw how unkind I had been to myself when my body has actually gotten me through quite a lot in life. And recognising that, in many ways, I was holding on to the weight for the wrong reasons and the only one that was really hurting was myself. There is some difficult material in the book regarding the effect the attack had on your sex life, particularly when you write that you have to think about your attacker if you want to experience pleasure during sexuality. What kind of responses have you had to that section ?
I actually haven’t heard nothing about that specific portion. I wasn’t thinking about the reader when I wrote that. I was simply writing my truth. That revelation felt connected to the chapter about ceasing Yale to move to Arizona, which alluded to some complicated sexual encounters. Could that be the kernel for another memoir ?
No, that will not[ laughs ]. As long as my parents are around that will not become part of another memoir. I never supposed I would write one memoir, so I can’t say I’m never gonna write another, but I have no plans to. I don’t know that I have anything more to say about myself. You do lots of different kinds of writing- fiction, memoir, essays, columns, graphic fictions, television. Is there any you do and maintain private ?
No. I considered that sharing the work with the world brings closure to the process of any devoted volume or piece. When you published Hunger in June 2017 , nobody could have foreseen the conversation about rape culture that would arise following the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Has that altered the tenor of discussion around the book ?
No- I toured this book before all of that came out. I think it’s definitely going to shift the tenor when I tour the paperback in June, though. Have you been encouraged by this conversation ?
I have. It has been also frustrating to see the ways in which people are dismissive of what has come out, but in general I am encouraged to see women and men coming forward about their experiences with sexual violence. And we’re starting to see at least some public reckoning. I don’t know that the justice system has caught up yet, because regrettably in the US there’s a statute of limitations. But it’s been a long time coming. It’s up to us to make sure that this conversation does not leave the public sphere any time soon. You’ve said there are Weinsteins in publishing. Have you seen this reckoning hit your field ?
No, we’ve got a long way to go in publishing- frankly, in all realms. With[ the allegations against] Junot Diaz, that door is starting to open and it’ll be interesting to see what more “re coming out”, if anything. I’m not even interested in this happening publicly. It only needs to happen. You recently tweeted about the so-called ” incels”, the internet subculture whose members refer to their inability to find a romantic or sexual partner as” involuntary celibacy “. Daughters are taught that humen will lay claim to their bodies. Why are we culturally resistant to teach sons that they don’t deserve sex ?
That’s just the way it is. We have to change that and we have to teach both young men and young women about enthusiastic permission. And that a woman can say ” no” at any time and it may suck, but you still have to listen to that “no”. Until we got to get, we’re gonna continue to see things like in Santa Fe, where a young lady rejected a man and he went to school and killed her and nine others. No one is guaranteed love or affection and I don’t say that callously, because I considered that love and affection and sexuality are important and that everyone should have their shooting. But the men that can’t get laid, there’s a reason. It’s because they’re sociopaths and nobody wishings them, and I’m not gonna cry for them. Who’s your literary hero ?
I love Zadie Smith. She’s incredible and the chances she takes in both her fiction and nonfiction are just superlative- especially NW . What’s on your bedside table ?
I’m reading The Stand by Stephen King and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy volume grounded in African tradition about three young people on a quest to restore magic to the nation of Orisha.

I’m in the middle of Family Trust by Kathy Wang, Ivy vs. Dogg: With a Cast of Thousands ! by Brian Leung, about this small town that elects a youth mayor and things run awry, and America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. Are there any genres you avoid ?
Oddly enough, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction or much self-help. There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s just not for me. You wrote an essay about getting weight-loss surgery to reduce the size of your stomach in January. How are you feeling ?
I feel fine. I’ve definitely settled into a routine. It’s been four months so I’m still learning a lot and there are still a lot of changes, but I have definitely adapted to those changes. Are they the changes you hoped for ?
I merely hope very much that a change. You often discuss the above pernicious influence of diet culture, which publishing perpetuates. Should there be more regulation on the messaging and medical integrity behind volumes about diets, food and bodies ?
Absolutely, but I couldn’t begin to know how to begin to implement that. The diet industry is predicated on the notion that fatness is unhealthy and that everybody’s fat. And these things are untrue. And I believe people need to recognise that a lot of the so-called ” medical studies” about fatness are actually paid for by diet companies and weight-loss drug manufacturers. We have to follow the money more carefully and look at context. Until we do that I believe a lot of people are going to continue to buy into these injury notions that are perpetuated by diet volumes and diet programmes.

* Hunger by Roxane Gay is published by Corsair( PS8. 99 ). To order a copy for PS6. 99 go to guardianbookshop.com or bellow 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of PS1. 99. Gay will induce her debut UK appearance in dialogue at the Southbank Centre on 10 December

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Roxane Gay:’ No one is guaranteed love or affection’

The author of Bad Feminist and Hunger has strong terms for incels, harassers in publishing and diet gurus

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1974, Roxane Gay is an author, essayist, New York Times sentiment novelist and associate prof of English at Indiana’s Purdue University. She has published a fiction, An Untamed State , two short story collects, Ayiti and Difficult Women , the New York Times bestseller Bad Feminist ( which Time magazine described as” a manual on how to be human “), and a memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of( My) Body ( Corsair, PS8. 99 ), released in paperback on 7 June. It deals with Gay’s rape at the age of 12 and the lifelong consequences of her decision to make her body as big as possible as a form of self-protection. She is also the author of Marvel’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda and will publish her first YA work, The Year I Learned Everything , later this year. She lives between Indiana and LA.

From your early forays on to internet messageboards to writing this book, it seems as though language was a key part of processing the trauma of your childhood rape. Did writing offer control ?
Definitely. I think writing always devotes us control over the things that we can’t actually control in our lives, so taking control of the narrative of my body as a public space was perfectly helpful in terms of thinking about my relationship to my body. Did you encounter personal revelations as you were writing ?
It started as a process of writing what I know to be true and it became a process of revelation. I was able to stimulate some realisations about myself that previously I hadn’t made and it really forced me to confront my relationship not only with my body, but with food. I mostly saw how unkind I had been to myself when my body has actually gotten me through a lot in life. And recognising that, in many ways, I was holding on to the weight for the incorrect reasons and the only one that was really hurting was myself. There is some difficult material in the book regarding the effect the attack had on your sex life, particularly when you write that you have to think about your attacker if you want to experience pleasure during sex. What kind of responses have you had to that segment ?
I actually haven’t heard anything about that specific portion. I wasn’t thinking about the reader when I was also expressed that. I was simply writing my truth. That revelation felt connected to the chapter about discontinuing Yale to move to Arizona, which alluded to some complicated sex encounters. Could that be the kernel for another memoir ?
No, that will not[ laughs ]. As long as my parents are around that will not become part of another memoir. I never believed I would write one memoir, so I can’t say I’m never gonna write another, but I have no plans to. I don’t know that I have anything more to say about myself. You do lots of different kinds of writing- fiction, memoir, essays, columns, graphic novels, television. Is there any you do and keep private ?
No. I think that sharing the work with the world brings close to the process of any dedicated book or piece. When you published Hunger in June 2017 , nobody could have foreseen the conversation about rape culture that would develop following the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Has that changed the tenor of discussion around the book ?
No- I toured this volume before all of that came out. I think it’s definitely going to shift the tenor when I tour the paperback in June, though. Have you been encouraged by these discussions ?
I have. It has been also frustrating to see the ways in which people are dismissive of what has come out, but in general I am encouraged to see women and men coming forward about their experiences with sexual violence. And we’re starting to see at least some public reckoning. I don’t know that the justice system has caught up yet, because unfortunately in the US there’s a ordinance of limitations. But it’s been a long time coming. It’s up to us to make sure that this conversation does not leave the public sphere any time soon. You’ve said there are Weinsteins in publishing. Have you seen this reckoning reach your field ?
No, we’ve got a long way to go in publishing- frankly, in all realms. With[ the allegations against] Junot Diaz, that doorway is starting to open and it’ll be interesting to see what more comes out, if anything. I’m not even interested in this happening publicly. It merely needs to happen. You recently tweeted about the so-called ” incels”, the internet subculture whose members refer to their inability to find a romantic or sex partner as” involuntary celibacy “. Girls are taught that humen will lay claim to their bodies. Why are we culturally resistant to teach sons that they don’t deserve sex ?
That’s just the way it is. We have to change that and we have to teach both young men and young women about enthusiastic permission. And that a woman can say ” no” at any time and it may suck, but you still have to listen to that “no”. Until we got to get, we’re gonna continue to see things like in Santa Fe, where a young lady rejected a man and he went to school and killed her and nine others. No one is guaranteed love or affection and I don’t say that callously, because I think that love and affection and sexuality are important and that everyone should have their shot. But the men that can’t get laid, there’s a reason. It’s because they’re sociopaths and nobody wants them, and I’m not gonna cry for them. Who’s your literary hero ?
I love Zadie Smith. She’s incredible and the opportunities she takes in both her fiction and nonfiction are just superlative- especially NW . What’s on your bedside table ?
I’m reading The Stand by Stephen King and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy volume grounded in African tradition about three young person on a quest to restore magic to the nation of Orisha.

I’m in the middle of Family Trust by Kathy Wang, Ivy vs. Dogg: With a Cast of Thousands ! by Brian Leung, about this small town that elects a youth mayor and things run awry, and America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. Are there any genres you avoid ?
Oddly enough, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction or much self-help. There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s just not for me. You wrote an essay about getting weight-loss surgery to reduce the size of your stomach in January. How are you feeling ?
I feel fine. I’ve definitely settled into a routine. It’s been four months so I’m still learning a lot and there are still a lot of changes, but I have definitely adapted to those changes. Are they the changes you hoped for ?
I only hoped for a change. You often discuss the above pernicious influence of diet culture, which publishing perpetuates. Should there be more regulation on the messaging and medical integrity behind books about diets, food and bodies ?
Absolutely, but I couldn’t begin to know how to begin to implement that. The diet industry is predicated on the notion that fatness is unhealthy and that everybody’s fat. And these things are untrue. And I guess people need to recognise that a lot of the so-called ” medical studies” about fatness are actually paid for by diet companies and weight-loss drug manufacturers. We have to follow the money more carefully and look at context. Until we do that I suppose a lot of people are going to continue to buy into these damaging notions that are perpetuated by diet volumes and diet programmes.

* Hunger by Roxane Gay is published by Corsair( PS8. 99 ). To order a transcript for PS6. 99 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of PS1. 99. Gay will stimulate her debut UK appearance in conversation at the Southbank Centre on 10 December

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Roxane Gay:’ No one is guaranteed love or affection’

The author of Bad Feminist and Hunger has strong words for incels, harassers in publishing and diet gurus

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1974, Roxane Gay is an author, essayist, New York Times sentiment writer and associate professor of English at Indiana’s Purdue University. She has published a novel, An Untamed State , two short story collectings, Ayiti and Difficult Women , the New York Times bestseller Bad Feminist ( which Time publication described as” a manual on how to be human “), and a memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of( My) Body ( Corsair, PS8. 99 ), released in paperback on 7 June. It deals with Gay’s rape at persons under the age of 12 and the lifelong consequences of her decision to make her body as big as possible as a form of self-protection. She is also the author of Marvel’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda and will publish her first YA work, The Year I Learned Everything , later this year. She lives between Indiana and LA.

From your early forays on to internet messageboards to writing this book, it seems as though language was a key part of processing the trauma of your childhood rape. Did writing offer control ?
Definitely. I suppose writing always dedicates us control over the things that we can’t actually control in our lives, so taking control of the narrative of my body as a public space was absolutely helpful in terms of thinking about my relationship to my body. Did you encounter personal revelations as you were writing ?
It started as a process of writing what I know to be true and it became a process of revelation. I was able to construct some realisations about myself that previously I hadn’t made and it truly forced me to confront my relationship not only with my body, but with food. I mostly saw how unkind I had been to myself when my body has actually gotten me through a lot in life. And recognising that, in many ways, I was holding on to the weight for the incorrect reasons and the only one that was really hurting was myself. There is some difficult material in the book regarding the effect the attack had on your sexuality life, particularly when you write that you have to think about your attacker if you want to experience pleasure during sexuality. What kind of responses have you had to that segment ?
I actually haven’t heard anything about that specific component. I wasn’t thinking about the reader when I was also expressed that. I was simply writing my truth. That revelation felt connected to the chapter about quitting Yale to move to Arizona, which alluded to some complicated sex encounters. Could that be the kernel for another memoir ?
No, that will not[ giggles ]. As long as my parents are around that will not become part of another memoir. I never believed I would write one memoir, so I can’t say I’m never gonna write another, but I have no plans to. I don’t know that I have anything more to say about myself. You do lots of different kinds of writing- fiction, memoir, essays, columns, graphic fictions, television. Is there any you do and keep private ?
No. I think that sharing the work with the world brings close to the process of any given book or piece. When you published Hunger in June 2017 , nobody could have foreseen the conversation about rape culture that would arise following the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Has that changed the tenor of discussion around the book ?
No- I toured this volume before all of that came out. I think it’s definitely going to shift the tenor when I tour the paperback in June, though. Have you been encouraged by this conversation ?
I have. It has been also frustrating to see the ways in which people are dismissive of what has come out, but in general I am encouraged to see women and men coming forward about their experiences with sexual violence. And we’re starting to see at least some public reckoning. I don’t know that the justice system has caught up yet, because regrettably in the US there’s a statute of limitations. But it’s been a long time coming. It’s up to us to make sure that this conversation does not leave the public sphere any time soon. You’ve said there are Weinsteins in publishing. Have you seen this reckoning make your field ?
No, we’ve got a long way to go in publishing- candidly, in all realms. With[ the allegations against] Junot Diaz, that doorway is starting to open and it’ll be interesting to see what more “re coming out”, if anything. I’m not even interested in this happening publicly. It just needs to happen. You recently tweeted about the so-called ” incels”, the internet subculture whose members refer to their inability to find a romantic or sexual partner as” involuntary celibacy “. Daughters are taught that humen will lay claim to their bodies. Why are we culturally resistant to teach boys that they don’t deserve sex ?
That’s just the way it is. We have to change that and we have to teach both young men and young women about enthusiastic consent. And that a woman can say ” no” at any time and it may suck, but you still have to listen to that “no”. Until we get there, we’re gonna continue to see things like in Santa Fe, where a young woman rejected a man and he went to school and killed her and nine others. No one is guaranteed love or affection and I don’t say that callously, because I think that love and affection and sex are important and that everyone should have their shoot. But the men that can’t get laid, there’s a reason. It’s because they’re sociopaths and nobody wants them, and I’m not gonna cry for them. Who’s your literary hero ?
I love Zadie Smith. She’s incredible and the chances she takes in both her fiction and nonfiction are just superlative- especially NW . What’s on your bedside table ?
I’m reading The Stand by Stephen King and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy book grounded in African tradition about three young people on a quest to restore magic to the nation of Orisha.

I’m in the middle of Family Trust by Kathy Wang, Ivy vs. Dogg: With a Cast of Thousands ! by Brian Leung, about this small town that elects a youth mayor and things run awry, and America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. Are there any genres you avoid ?
Oddly enough, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction or much self-help. There’s nothing incorrect with it – it’s just not for me. You wrote an essay about getting weight-loss surgery to reduce the size of your stomach in January. How are you feeling ?
I feel fine. I’ve definitely settled into a routine. It’s been four months so I’m still learning a lot and there are still a lot of changes, but I have definitely adapted to those changes. Are they the changes you hoped for ?
I merely hoped for a change. You often discuss the pernicious influence of diet culture, which publishing perpetuates. Should there be more regulation on the messaging and medical integrity behind books about diets, food and bodies ?
Absolutely, but I couldn’t begin to know how to begin to implement that. The diet industry is predicated on the notion that fatness is unhealthy and that everybody’s fat. And these things are untrue. And I think people need to recognise that a lot of the so-called ” medical studies” about fatness are actually paid for by diet companies and weight-loss drug manufacturers. We have to follow the money more carefully and look at context. Until we do that I suppose a lot of people are going to continue to buy into these damaging notions that are perpetuated by diet volumes and diet programmes.

* Hunger by Roxane Gay is published by Corsair( PS8. 99 ). To order a transcript for PS6. 99 go to guardianbookshop.com or bellow 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of PS1. 99. Gay will induce her debut UK appearance in dialogue at the Southbank Centre on 10 December

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Fran Lebowitz: ‘You do not know anyone as stupid as Donald Trump’

She loves to talk, detests to fly and wants to make it clear she takes no responsibility for the nation of US politics

Be grateful you didn’t sit next to Fran Lebowitz on the plane from New York to Melbourne. The trip-up was the longest flight she had taken, and therefore the longest time she managed to go without a cigarette. When I ask if it is her first time in Australia, she says:” That induces it sound as if there’s going to be a second day .” She amazed herself by not being taken off the flight in handcuffs for assaulting fellow( first-class) passengers or smoking in the toilets.

” I was like a child on the plane, asking the flight attendant,’ Are we there ?’ And she said,’ Are you nuts? We’ve only been flying for four hours .’ The only people who live in Australia are those who came to Australia and couldn’t face the trip back- I’m actually one of those people .”

Lebowitz has been invited to Australia several times but, as a longtime smoker, 30 hours on a flight without a cigarette was out of the question. But she was persuaded to perform depicts( which quickly sold out) at the recent All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House, and a Wheeler Centre talk in Melbourne. She got through the flight without being arrested by chewing lots of gum and being able to smoke during a brief stop in LA.

Before our meeting, I spot her standing on the footpath- smoking, naturally- in her sartorial uniform of Levi 501 s, a white shirt and custom-made dark blazer. She glances up the street, towards Melbourne’s Fawkner Park, as if she’s not quite sure where she is or how she got here.( She later asks me what day it is .)

Once we sit down to talk it’s immediately apparent that talking is what Lebowitz does best. That’s a big call, given the New Yorker is an author, social commentator, public speaker and even performer, is contained in presents such as Law and Order. She’s such a good talker that when I going to see a nearby eatery to do some work on my laptop after our interview is over, she sees me, sits next to me and talks for another hour. (” Let me know if I’m disturbing you ,” she offers politely ).

But first, during her interview with Guardian Australia, Lebowitz wants to make it clear that she takes no responsibility for the nation of American politics. She had just arrived in Melbourne and was having breakfast in her hotel when a human next to her consider she was reading the paper.” And this guy started talking to me, I was reading something about Trump, and he said,’ You elected him !’ And I said’ I did not !'”

Lebowitz becomes indignant.” I mean, I did not. It’s not my fault. I know you[ Australians] are very upset about it. But we are more upset. Even my friends- I have a lot of friends in New York who are not American- were blaming me. I expended a year of my life before the election, going around the country, talking about this stuff. It’s not my fault. I am blameless. I am not a perfect person. I am not blameless in life but I do not know one single person who voted for him .”

Fran
Fran Lebowitz at Diane von Furstenberg’s International Women’s Day celebration in March. Photograph: Angela Pham/ BFA/ REX/ Shutterstock

Echoing the reported opinion of former US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, Lebowitz believes the biggest danger of Trump is that he is a moron.” Everyone says he is crazy- which maybe he is- but the scarier thing about him is that he is stupid. You do not know anyone as stupid as Donald Trump. You only don’t .”

Lebowitz is still shocked that Trump won. Part of the shock is that she was living so fully in a liberal New York bubble.” I had zero notion he would win. I have never been so wrong in my life. And being right is something I cherish. It’s really important to me to be right .”

It’s one of three nights burned entirely into 67 -year-old Lebowitz’s memory- on a par with the Kennedy assassination and 9/11.” I remember every single second of the whole day- voting, everything- the whole day .”

She voted and went to lunch, and on the way home she felt like New York was getting ready to welcome its first female chairman. She walked past a party being set up, hosted by Harvey Weinstein. They said,” See you tonight, Ms Lebowitz !” But she didn’t attend that party, opting instead for the party of the then Vanity Fair editor, Graydon Carter.

” Everyone was in a great mood and there were these huge American flags draped everywhere. Everyone was drinking champagne .”

From time to time over the night, Lebowitz popped into the kitchen to look at the election map on TV and, with each visit, was increasingly nervous. The map was turning red.

A friend, the contributing editor at Vogue, Andre Leon Talley, who had been on a strict weight-loss regime all year, entered the room.” I had been with this guy in eateries all year and he was like,’ Fish, just a little salad , no dres !’ There were all these chocolates and cookies and stuff[ on the table] and he started eating them without even looking.

” Then I’m smoking as usual but at a certain point I realised I’m smoking two cigarettes and Andre had feed all the cookies. Graydon had in his hands two martinis and a waiter said’ You want another ?’ and he said’ Yes !’ He couldn’t even hold them. At a certain point[ another] friend of mine said,’ I’m going home, I can’t take this- I’m not tough enough. I’m going home to take narcotics .’ This is a man my age, a very distinguished man .”

Lebowitz went home to SoHo through neighbourhoods usually busy with nightlife.” But there was no one in the streets- it was nothing. It was like grief inside those houses. It was horrible. I felt that strongly affected emotionally for at least a month. My level of fury, always high, is now in fever pitch all the time .”

Lebowitz believes naked racism is behind Trump’s election.” He let people to express their racism and bigotry in a way that they haven’t been able to in quite a while and they actually love him for that. It’s a shocking thing to realise people love their hatred more than they care about their own actual lives. The hatred- what is that about? It’s a anxiety of your own weakness .”

The other hot button issue right now is guns. Lebowitz virtually chokes on her mineral water when I ask her if she has one.

Lebowitz
Fran Lebowitz:’ I had zero notion Trump would win. I have never been so wrong in my life .’ Photograph: Stewart Cook/ REX/ Shutterstock

” Of course I don’t have a gun !” She is scathing of handgun owners.” Who are these people that love handguns? These people who love Trump and they love handguns, these are the most frightened people I have ever seen in my life. Who’s after you? They live in the middle of nowhere. I live in New York city and I don’t have a gun. No one I know has a gun.

” In the early 70 s, when I was more vulnerable in every route, it was really dangerous. I could have gotten a firearm but I never got one. I was an 18 -year-old penniless girl in the middle of a dangerous city and I was never as afraid as these men in Texas, living in a state of terror .” Her voice drips with disdain.

What does she think of the teenaged activists taking on Congress over gun control?

” I do feel that this very young generation- people who are adolescents today and in their 20 s- are so much better than the generation right above, people who are in their 40 s. When I was in my 40 s and these people were coming up, attaining music and taking drugs, I supposed,’ These people are horrible .’ But when these new young person started coming up, I was pleasantly astonished. I entail- they read books. When I am on the metro and I find a person reading a book, they will be 24, and the person on the Kindle is 44 .”

Young people love her. Young men come up to her in Macy’s and tell her she has to change her positions about humen in shorts; others have created songs and memes about her.

While Lebowitz love to talk, she sees herself as a private person.

” Publicly, I don’t really talk about myself in a very personal way and I wish other people wouldn’t either. I entail, partially this is because people my age were raised that route. We were raised not to talk about ourselves. But I don’t really to be considered myself any more. It’s one of the upsides about getting old. I’ve lost interest .”

Today’s young people” have always lived in an environment where people asked them what they supposed”, she says.

” When I were children no one ever asked you a question- and I entail no one. Children were told what to do. From morning to night, instructions … No one ever asked about yourself, that is for sure. Unless you had a fever, and even then they took your temperature and told you how you felt.’ I don’t feel well .” Yes, you do .'”

Apart from taking part in the Trump resistance, Lebowitz says she has considered running for mayor of New York- except she doesn’t want to do any early starts.” I would consider being the night mayor and starting at 4pm ,” she says.

” You’re a nightmare already ,” I joke.

” Yeah, I don’t need to be elected to be a nightmare .”

She seems out to the quiet, leafy Melbourne street, contemplating the flight home to that city she embodies in so many ways.” You know what ,” she says.” I can’t do that trip-up again. It’s nice here. I’ll get someone to send my stuff .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Everybody lies: how Google search uncovers our darkest secrets

What can we learn about ourselves from the things we ask online? Seth StephensDavidowitz analysed anonymous Google search data, uncovering disturbing truths about our desires, faiths and prejudices

Everybody lies. People lie about how many beverages they had on the way home. They lie about how often they go to the gym, how much those new shoes cost, whether they read that book. They call in sick when theyre not. They say theyll be in touch when they wont. They say its not about you when it is. They say they love you when they dont. They say theyre happy while in the dumps. They say they like women when they really like men. People lie to friends. They lie to boss. They lie to kids. They lie to parents. They lie to doctors. They lie to spouses. They lie to spouses. They lie to themselves. And they damn sure lie to surveys. Heres my brief survey for you 😛 TAGEND

Have you ever cheated in an exam?

Have you ever fantasised about killing someone?

Were you tempted to lie?

Many people underreport embarrassing behaviours and thoughts on surveys. They want to look good, even though most surveys are anonymous. This is called social desirability bias. An important paper in 1950 provided powerful evidence of how surveys can fall victim to such bias. Researchers collected data, from official sources, on the residents of Denver: what percentage of them voted, dedicated to charity, and owned a library card. They then surveyed the residents to see if the percentages would match. The results were, at the time, shocking. What the residents reported to the surveys was very different from the data the researchers had met. Even though nobody dedicated their names, people, in large numbers, exaggerated their voter registration status, voting behaviour, and charitable giving.

Has anything changed in 65 years? In the age of the internet , not owning a library card is no longer embarrassing. But, while whats embarrassing or desirable may have changed, people tendency to delude pollsters remains strong. A recent survey asked University of Maryland graduates various questions about their college experience. The answers were compared with official records. People consistently dedicated incorrect datum, in ways that constructed them seem good. Fewer than 2% reported that they graduated with lower than a 2.5 GPA( grade point average ). In reality, about 11% did. And 44% said they had donated to the university in the past year. In reality, about 28% did.

Then theres that odd habit we sometimes have of lying to ourselves. Lying to oneself may explain why so many people say they are above average. How big is this problem? More than 40% of one companys technologists said they are in the top 5 %. More than 90% of college professors say they do above-average work. One-quarter of high school seniors think they are in the top 1% in their ability to get along with other people. If you are deluding yourself, you cant be honest in a survey.

The more impersonal the conditions, the more honest people will be. For eliciting truthful answers, internet surveys are better than phone surveys, which are better than in-person surveys. People will acknowledge more if they are alone than if others are in the room with them. However, on sensitive topics, every survey method will elicit substantial misreporting. People have no incentive to tell surveys the truth.

How, hence, can we learn what our fellow humen are really thinking and doing? Big data. Certain online sources get people to admit things there is no way to admit anywhere else. They serve as a digital truth serum. Think of Google searches. Remember situations that induce people more honest. Online? Check. Alone? Check. No person administering a survey? Check.

The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else. Google was invented so that people could learn about the world , not so researchers could learn about people, but it turns out the trails we leave as we try knowledge on the internet are tremendously revealing.

I have spent the past four years analysing anonymous Google data. The revelations have maintained coming. Mental illness, human sexuality, abortion, religion, health. Not exactly small topics, and this dataset, which didnt exist a couple of decades ago, offered surprising new views on all of them. I am now convinced that Google searches are the most important dataset ever collected on the human rights psyche.

The Truth About Sex

How many American humen are gay? This is a regular question in sexuality research. Yet it has been among the toughest questions for social scientists to answer. Psychologists no longer believe Alfred Kinseys famous estimation based on surveys that oversampled prisoners and prostitutes that 10% of American humen are lesbian. Representative surveys now tell us about 2% to 3% are. But sexual preference has long been among the subjects upon which people have tended to lie. I think I can use big data to give a better answer to this question than we have ever had.

First, more on that survey data. Surveys are talking about there are far more gay men in tolerant states than intolerant nations. For example, according to a Gallup survey, the proportion of the population that is gay is almost twice as high in Rhode Island, the nation with the highest support for gay matrimony, than Mississippi, the state with the lowest is supportive of gay wedding. There are two likely explanations for this. First, homosexual men born in intolerant nations may move to tolerant nations. Second, gay humen in intolerant nations may not disclose that they are lesbian. Some insight into explanation number one lesbian mobility can be gleaned from another big data source: Facebook, which allows users to list what gender they are interested in. About 2.5% of male Facebook users who list a gender of interest say they are interested in men; that corresponds approximately with what the surveys indicate.

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How, hence, can we learn what our fellow humen are actually thinking and doing? Big data. Photo: Thomas M Scheer/ Getty Images/ EyeEm

And Facebook too depicts big differences in the lesbian population in states with high versus low tolerance: Facebook has the lesbian population more than twice as high in Rhode Island as in Mississippi. Facebook also can provide information on how people move around. I was able to code the home town of a sample of openly lesbian Facebook users. This allowed me to immediately calculate how many lesbian humen move out of intolerant states into more tolerant areas of the country. The answer? There is clearly some mobility from Oklahoma City to San Francisco, for example. But I estimate that humen moving to someplace more open-minded can explain less than half of the difference in the openly gay population in tolerant versus intolerant states.

If mobility cannot fully explain why some countries have so many more openly gay humen, the closet must be playing a big role. Which brings us back to Google, with which so many people have proved willing to share so much.

Countrywide, I estimate using data from Google searches and Google AdWords that about 5% of male porn searches are for gay-male porn. Overall, there are more lesbian porn searches in tolerant states compared with intolerant nations. In Mississippi, I estimate that 4.8% of male porn searches are for gay porn, far higher than the numbers suggested by either surveys or Facebook and reasonably close to the 5.2% of pornography searches that are for gay porn in Rhode Island.

So how many American men are gay? This measure of porn searches by humen roughly 5% are same-sex seems a reasonable estimation of the true size of the gay population in the United States. Five per cent of American men being gay is an estimate, of course. Some humen are bisexual; some especially when young are not sure what they are. Patently, you cant counting this as precisely as you might the number of people who vote or attend a movie. But one consequence of my estimation is clear: an awful lot of men in the United States, particularly in intolerant states, are still in the closet. They dont uncover their sexual preferences on Facebook. They dont acknowledge it on surveys. And, in many cases, they may even be married to women.

It turns out that spouses suspect their spouses of being lesbian instead frequently. They demonstrate that suspicion in the astonishingly common search: Is my husband gay? The term lesbian is 10% more likely to complete searches that begin Is my husband … than the second-place word, cheating. It is eight times more common than an alcoholic and 10 times more common than depressed.

Most tellingly perhaps, searches questioning a husbands sexuality are far more prevalent in the least tolerant regions. The nations with the highest percentage of women asking this question are South Carolina and Louisiana. In fact, in 21 of the 25 nations where this question is most frequently asked, is supportive of gay marriage is lower than the national average.

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What do our searches expose about us? Photo: Michael Gottschalk/ Photothek via Getty Images

Closets are not just repositories of fictions. When it comes to sexuality, people keep many secrets about how much they are having, for example. Americans report using far more condoms than are sold every year. You might therefore think this means they are just saying they use condoms more often during sex than they actually do. The evidence suggests they also exaggerate how often they are having sex embarking upon. About 11% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 say they are sexually active , not currently pregnant, and not using contraception. Even with relatively conservative hypothesis about how many times they are having sex, scientists would expect 10% of them to become pregnant every month. But this would already be more than the total number of pregnancies in the United States( which is one in 113 women of childbearing age ).

In our sex-obsessed culture it can be hard to admit that you are just not having that much. But if youre looking for understanding or advice, you have, once again, an incentive to tell Google. On Google, there are 16 times more complaints about a spouse not wanting sex than about a married partner not being willing to talk. There are five-and-a-half times more complaints about an unmarried partner not wanting sex than an unmarried partner refusing to text back.

And Google searches suggest a surprising culprit for many of these sexless relationships. There are twice as many complaints that a boyfriend wont have sex than that a girlfriend wont have sex. By far, the number 1 search objection about a boyfriend is My boyfriend wont have sex with me.( Google searches are not broken down by gender, but since the previous analysis said that 95% of men are straight, we are going to be able guess that not many boyfriend searches are coming from men .)

How should we interpret this? Does this really imply that boyfriends withhold sexuality more than girlfriends? Not necessarily. As mentioned earlier, Google searches can be biased in favour of stuff people are uptight talking about. Men may feel more comfortable telling their friends about their girlfriends lack of sexual interest than women are telling their friends about their boyfriends. Still, even if the Google data does not indicate that boyfriends are actually twice as likely to avoid sexuality as girlfriends, it does suggest that boyfriends avoiding sexuality is more common than people let on.

Google data also suggests a reason people may be avoiding sex so frequently: enormous nervousnes, with much of it misplaced. Start with mens anxieties. It isnt news that humen worry about how well endowed they are, but the degree of this fret is rather profound. Men Google more questions about their sexual organ than any other body portion: more than about their lungs, liver, feet, ears , nose, throat, and brain blended. Men conduct more searches for how to make their penises bigger than how to tune a guitar, make an omelette, or change a tyre. Mens top Googled concern about steroids isnt whether they may injury their health but whether taking them might diminish the size of their penis. Mens top Googled question related to how their body or intellect would change as they aged was whether their penis would get smaller.

Do women care about penis size? Rarely, according to Google searches. For every search females make about a partners phallus, men attain roughly 170 searches about their own. True, on the rare occasions females do express concerns about a partners penis, it is frequently about its sizing, but not necessarily that its small. More than 40% of complaints about a partners penis size say that its too big. Pain is the most Googled word used in searches with the phrase ___ during sexuality. Yet merely 1% of mens searches looking to change their penis sizing are trying information on how to make it smaller.

Mens second most common sexuality question is how to making such a sex encounters longer. Once again, the insecurities of men do not appear to match such concerns of women. There are roughly the same number of searches asking how to make a boyfriend climax more quickly as climax more slowly. In fact, the most common concern women have related to a boyfriends orgasm isnt about when it happened but why it isnt happening at all.

We dont often talk about body image issues when it comes to men. And while its true that overall interest in personal appearance skeweds female, its not as lopsided as stereotypes would suggest. According to my analysis of Google AdWords, which measures the websites people visit, interest in beauty and fitness is 42% male, weight loss is 33% male, and cosmetic surgery is 39% male. Among all searches with how to related to breasts, about 20% ask how to get rid of man breasts.

The Truth About Hate and Prejudice

Sex and romance are barely the only topics shawl in disgrace and, therefore , not the only topics about which people keep secrets. Many people are, for the right reasons, inclined to keep their racisms to themselves. I suppose you could call it progress that many people today feel they will be judged if they admit they judge other people based on their ethnicity, sex orientation, or religion. But many Americans still do. You can see this on Google, where users sometimes ask questions such as Why are black people rude? or Why are Jews evil?

A few patterns among these stereotypes stand out. For example, African Americans are the only group that faces a rude stereotype. Virtually every group is a victim of a stupid stereotype; the only two that are not: Jews and Muslims. The evil stereotype is applied to Jews, Muslims, and lesbian people but not black people, Mexicans, Asians, and Christians. Muslims are the only group stereotyped as terrorists. When a Muslim American plays into this stereotype, the response can be instantaneous and vicious. Google search data can give us a minute-by-minute peek into such eruptions of hate-fuelled rage.

Consider what happened shortly after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, on 2 December, 2015. That morning, Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik entered a meeting of Farooks co-workers armed with semi-automatic pistols and semi-automatic rifles and murdered 14 people. That evening, minutes after the media first reported one of the shooters Muslim-sounding names, a disturbing number of Californians decided what they wanted to do with Muslims: kill them. The top Google search in California with the word Muslims in it at the time was kill Muslims. And overall, Americans searched for the phrase kill Muslims with about the same frequency that they searched for martini recipe and migraine symptoms.

In the days following the San Bernardino attack, for every American concerned with Islamophobia, another was searching for kill Muslims. While hate searches were approximately 20% of all searches about Muslims before the attack, more than half of all search volume about Muslims became hateful in the hours that followed it. And this minute-by-minute search data can tell us how difficult it can be to calm this rage.

Four days after the shooting, President Obama dedicated a prime-time address to the country. He wanted to reassure Americans that the government could both stop terrorism and, perhaps more importantly, quiet this dangerous Islamophobia. Obama appealed to our better angels, speaking of the importance of inclusion and tolerance. The rhetoric was powerful and moving. The Los Angeles Times praised Obama for[ warning] against allowing fear to cloud our decision. The New York Times called the speech both tough and calming. The website ThinkProgress praised it as a necessary tool of good governance, geared towards saving the lives of Muslim Americans. Obamas speech, in other words, was judged a major success. But was it?

Google search data indicates otherwise. Together with Evan Soltas, then at Princeton, I examined the data. In his speech, the president said: It is the responsibility of all Americans of every religion to reject discrimination. But searches calling Muslims terrorists, bad, violent, and evil doubled during and shortly after the speech. President Obama also said: It is our responsibility to repudiate religious exams on who we acknowledge into this country. But negative searches about Syrian refugees, a mostly Muslim group then desperately go looking for a safe haven, rose 60%, while searches asking how to help Syrian refugees dropped 35%. Obama asked Americans to not forget that freedom is more powerful than anxiety. Yet searches for kill Muslims tripled during his speech. In fact, just about every negative search we could think to exam regarding Muslims shot up during and after Obamas speech, and just about every positive search we could think to exam declined.

In other words, Obama seemed to say all the right things. But new data from the internet, offering digital truth serum, suggested that the speech actually backfired in its main objectives. Instead of pacifying the angry mob, as everybody thought he was doing, the internet data tells us that Obama actually inflamed it. Sometimes we need internet data to correct our instinct to pat ourselves on the back.

So what should Obama have said to quell this particular kind of hatred currently so virulent in America? Well circle back to that later. First were going to take a look at an age-old vein of racism in the United States, the form of loathe that in fact stands out above the remainder, the one that has been the most destructive and the topic of the research that began this volume. In my work with Google search data, the single most telling fact I have found considering loathe on the internet is the popularity of the word nigger.

Either singular or in its plural form, the word is included in 7m American searches every year.( Again, the word used in rap sungs is almost always nigga , not nigger, so theres no significant impact from hip-hop lyrics to account for .) Searches for nigger jokes are 17 times more common than searches for kike jokes, gook jokes, spic jokes, chink jokes, and fag jokes blended. When are these searches most common? Whenever African Americans are in the news. Among the periods when such searches were highest was the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when television and newspapers presented images of desperate black people in New Orleans struggling for their survival. They also shot up during Obamas first election. And searches rose on average about 30% on Martin Luther King Jr Day.

The frightening ubiquity of this racial slur hurls into doubt some current understandings of racism. Any theory of racism has to explain a big puzzle in America. On the one hand, the overwhelming majority of black Americans think they suffer from prejudice and they have ample evidence of discrimination in police stops, scheduled interview, and jury decisions. On the other hand, very few white Americans will admit to being racist. The dominant explanation among political scientists recently has been that this is due, in big part, to widespread implicit prejudice. White Americans may mean well, this theory runs, but they have a subconscious bias, which influences their therapy of black Americans.

Academics fabricated an ingenious route to test for such a bias. It is called the implicit association test. The exams have consistently shown that it takes most people milliseconds longer to associate black faces with positive terms, such as good, than with negative terms, such as awful. For white faces, the specific characteristics is reversed. The extra day it takes is evidence of someones implicit racism a racism the person or persons may not even be aware of.

There is, though, an alternative explanation for the discrimination that African Americans feel and whites deny: hidden explicit racism. Suppose there is a reasonably widespread conscious racism of which people are very much aware but to which they wont confess surely not in a survey. Thats what the search data seems to be saying. There is nothing implicit about searching for nigger jokes. And its hard to imagine that Americans are Googling the word nigger with the same frequency as migraine and economist without explicit racism having a major impact on African Americans. Prior to the Google data, we didnt have a persuading measure of this virulent animus. Now we do. We are, therefore, in a position to see what it explains. It explains why Obamas vote totals in 2008 and 2012 were depressed in many regions. It also correlates with the black-white wage gap, as a team of economists recently reported. The areas that I had seen make the most racist searches underpay black people.

And then there is the phenomenon of Donald Trumps candidacy. When Nate Silver, the polling guru, looked for the geographic variable that correlated most strongly with subsistence in the 2016 Republican primary for Trump, he found it in the map of racism I had developed. To be provocative and to promote more research in this area, let me are set forth the following hypothesi, ready to be tested by intellectuals across a range of fields. The primary rationale for discrimination against African Americans today is not the fact that the ones who agree to participate in lab experiments attain subconscious associations between negative words and black people; it is the fact that millions of white Americans continue to do things like search for nigger jokes.

The Truth About Girls

The discrimination black people regularly experience in the United States appears to be fuelled more widely by explicit, if concealed, aggression. But, for other groups, subconscious prejudice may have a most fundamental impact. For example, I was able to use Google searches to find evidence of implicit racism against another segment of the population: young girl. And who, might you ask, “wouldve been” harbouring bias against girls? Their parents.

Its scarcely surprising that parents of young children are often excited by the thought that their kids might be gifted. In fact, of all Google searches starting Is my two-year-old, the most common next word is gifted. But this question is not asked equally about boys and girls. Parents are two-and-a-half times more likely to ask Is my son gifted? than Is my daughter gifted? Parents present a similar bias when using other phrases related to intelligence that they may shy away from saying aloud, like Is my son a genius?

Are mothers picking up on legitimate differences between young girls and boys? Perhaps young sons are more likely than young girls to use big words or prove objective signs of giftedness? Nope. If anything, its the opposite. At young ages, girls have consistently been shown to have larger vocabularies and use more complex sentences. In American schools, girls are 9% more likely than boys to be in gifted programs. Despite all this, parents looking around the dinner table appear to see more gifted sons than daughters. In fact, on every search term related to intelligence I tested, including those indicating its absence, mothers were more likely to be inquiring about their sons rather than their daughters. There are also more searches for is my son behind or stupid than comparable searches for daughters. But searches with negative terms like behind and stupid are less specifically skewed toward sons than searches with positive terms, such as gifted or genius.

What then are mothers overruling fears regarding their daughters? Primarily, anything related to appearance. Consider questions about a childs weight. Mothers Google Is my daughter overweight? approximately twice as frequently as they Google Is my son overweight? Parents are about twice as likely to ask how to get their daughters to lose weight as they are to ask how to get their sons to do the same. Just as with giftedness, this gender bias is not grounded in reality. About 28% of daughters are overweight, while 35% of sons are. Even though scales measure more overweight sons than daughters, mothers consider or worry about overweight girls much more frequently than overweight sons. Mothers are also one-and-a-half times more likely to ask whether their daughter is beautiful than whether their son is handsome.

Liberal readers may imagine that these biases are more common in conservative parts of the country, but I didnt find any evidence of that. In fact, I did not find a significant relationship between any of these biases and the political or culture makeup of a state. It would seem this bias against girls is more widespread and deeply ingrained than wed care to believe.

Can We Handle the Truth?

I cant feign there isnt a darkness in some of this data. It has disclosed the continued existence of millions of closeted gay humen; widespread animus against African Americans; and an outbreak of violent Islamophobic rage that only got worse when the president appealed for tolerance. Not precisely cheery stuff. If people consistently tell us what they think we want to hear, we will generally be told things that are more comforting than the truth. Digital truth serum, on average, will show us that the world is worse than we have thought.

But there are at least three ways this knowledge can improve our lives. First, there can be convenience in knowing you are not alone in your insecurities and embarrassing behaviour. Google searches can help demonstrate you are not alone. When you were young, a teacher may have told you that if you have a question you are able to raise your hand and ask it, because if youre confounded, others are too. If you were anything like me, you ignored your educator and sat there mutely, afraid to open your mouth. Your questions were too dumb, you thought; everyone elses were more profound. The anonymous, aggregate Google data can tell us once and for all how right our teachers were. Plenty of basic, sub-profound questions lurk in other minds, too.

The second benefit of digital truth serum is that it alerts us to people who are suffering. The Human Rights Campaign asks me to work with them in helping educate humen in certain nations about the possibility of coming out of the closet. They are looking to use the anonymous and aggregate Google search data to help them choose where best to target their resources.

The final and, I guess, most powerful value in this data is its ability to lead us from problems to answers. With more understanding, we might find ways to reduce the worlds supply of nasty attitudes. Lets return to Obamas speech about Islamophobia. Recall that every time he argued that people should respect Muslims more, the people he was trying to reach became more enraged. Google searches, however, reveal that there was one line that did trigger the type of response Obama might have wanted. He said: Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbours, our co-workers, our sports heroes and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform, who are willing to die in defence of our country.

After this line, for the first time in more than a year, the top Googled noun after Muslim was not terrorists, radicals, or refugees. It was athletes, followed by soldiers. And, in fact, athletes maintained the top spot for a full day afterwards. When we lecture angry people, the search data implies that their ferocity can grow. But subtly provoking people curiosity, devoting new information, and offering new images of the group that is stoking their rage may turn their supposes in different, more positive directions.

Two months after that speech, Obama devoted another broadcasted speech on Islamophobia, this time at a mosque. Perhaps someone in the presidents office had read Soltass and my Times column, which discussed what had worked and what hadnt, for the contents of this speech was noticeably different.

Obama spent little time insisting on the value of tolerance. Instead, he focused overwhelmingly on eliciting peoples curiosity and changing their perceptions of Muslim Americans. Many of the slaves from Africa were Muslim, Obama told us; Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran; a Muslim American designed skyscrapers in Chicago. Obama again spoke of Muslim athletes and armed service members, but also talked of Muslim police officer and firefighters, teachers and doctors. And my analysis of the Google searches indicates this speech was more successful than the previous one. Many of the hateful, rageful searches against Muslims dropped in the hours afterwards.

There are other potential ways to use search data to learn what causes, or reduces, hate. For example, we might look at how racist searches change after a black quarterback is drafted in a city, or how sexist searches change after a woman is elected to office. Learning of our subconscious prejudices can also be useful. We might all make an extra great efforts to delight in little girls minds and demonstrate less concern with their appearance. Google search data and other wellsprings of truth on the internet dedicate us an unprecedented look into the darkest corners of the human rights subconsciou. This is at times, I admit, difficult to face. But it can also be empowering. We can use the data to fight the darkness. Collecting rich data on the worlds problems is the first step toward fixing them.

Extracted from: Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, published by Bloomsbury, 20. To order for 17 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846 Free UK p& p over 10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of 1.99.. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz will be speaking in London at the Royal Society of Arts on Tuesday and at Second Home on Wednesday

Q& A with Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Seth
The degree to which people are self-absorbed is pretty shocking: Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Photo: Christopher Lane for the Observer

Whats your background ?
Id describe myself as a data scientist, but my PhD is in economics. When I was doing my PhD, in 2012, I detected this tool called
Google Trends that tells you what people are searching, and where, and I became obsessed with it. I know that when people first consider Google data, they say Oh this is weird, this isnt perfect data, but I knew that perfect data didnt exist. The traditional data sets left a lot to be desired. What would your search records disclose about you ?
They could definitely tell Im a hypochondriac because Im waking up in the middle of the night doing Google searches about my health. There are definitely things about me that you could figure out. When stimulating claims about a topic, its better to do it on aggregate, but I think you can figure out a lot, if not everything, about an individual by what theyre searching on Google. You ran at Google ?
For about a year and a half. I was on the economics team and also the quantitative marketing team. Some was analysis of ad, which I get bored of, which is one of the reasons I stopped working there. Did working there give you an understanding that helped this book ?
Yeah, I think it did. All this data Im talking about is public. But from gratifying the people who know more about this data than anyone in the world, Im much more confident that it means what I think it means. Does it change your view of human nature? Are we darker and stranger beasts than you realised ?
Yeah. I guess I had a dark view of human nature embarking upon, and I suppose now its gotten even darker. I guess the degree to which people are self-absorbed is pretty shocking.

When Trump became president, all my friends said how anxious the latter are, they couldnt sleep because theyre so concerned about immigrants and the Muslim ban. But from the data you can see that in liberal areas of the country there wasnt a rise in nervousnes when Trump was elected. When people were waking up at 3am in a cold sweat, their searches were about their undertaking, their health, their relationship theyre not concerned about the Muslim ban or global warming.

Was the Google search data telling you that Trump was going to win ?
I did see that Trump was going to win. You watched clearly that African American turnout was going to be way down, because in cities with 95% black people there was a collapse in searches for voting info. That was a big reason Hillary Clinton did so much worse than the polls suggested. Whats next ?
I want to keep on exploring this, whether in academia, journalism or more books. Its such an exciting region: what people are really like, how the world truly works. I may just research sex for the next few months. One thing Ive learned from this book, people are more interested in sex than I thought they were.

Interview by Killian Fox

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Starvation by Roxane Gay review- how the world treats fat people

A catalogue of horrors and public dishonours, Gays memoir responds to societys condescension and disgust about her body size

This is a book its author Roxane Gay has, over many years, earned the right not to publish. Even though she has procured great success as an essayist, writer of fiction and university teacher, and attracted a large, passionate online following, its clear from her account that her weight is still the first thing strangers notice about her, and that she must expend much of her hour dealing with their unsolicited responses to it. These scope from rude to abusive, encompassing all sorts of casual mockery, faux concern and outright aggression along the way.

Shopping for clothes or food, visiting a restaurant or getting on an aircraft often involve a humiliating ordeal. Physicians not only patronise her but routinely refuse her basic care. Simply leaving the house means navigating a physical and emotional constraints and obstacles. No doubt Gay is exhaustively sick of being reduced to her body and of enduring constant inquiries, prejudices and criticism, and she has evidently worked hard to induce space for herself to talk and write about other things. People asking those kinds of questions dont deserve an answer, and yet here Gay has decided to give them one.

Hunger comprises at the least two narratives: a partial but more or less linear telling of Gays life so far, and a more halting, spiralling description of her everyday experience as a fat girl. The first of these hinges on the horrifying rape visited on her as a 12 -year-old by her boyfriend and several of his friends. Gay blames herself, and her suffering is compounded when the boys report their version of events to their peers at school; she keeps hers quiet, unable to say anything about it to their own families. The brief evocation of her childhood before this point conjures an nearly fairytale-like atmosphere of love and optimism, peopled with adoring parents and siblings. I fell asleep most nights, Gay writes, flush with the pleasure of knowing I belonged to these people and they belonged to me.

Afterwards, everything changes: she begins to overeat and her weight gain is swift and dramatic, to her familys discouragement. Various attempts to reversal it, some undertaken willingly, others under parental pressure, never last long, and both the traumatic event and her highly visible response to it overshadows everything else that happens to her. Gays mom and parent are well-to-do Haitian Americans who clearly have high expectations of their children. Gay, who attends an upper-class boarding school followed by Yale, drops out and moves to another state without letting anyone know where she is. She eventually completes a PhD and garners acclaim as a novelist, but this book is still a catalogue of horrors large and small: there are abusive relationships and public dishonours. Especially striking are the depictions of what its like for Gay to go to the gym or on a date. Unable to fit on a restaurant chair and denied a more comfy kiosk, she spends an entire snack holding herself up in an excruciating squat. At the supermarket, random people entitle themselves to remove foods they deem unsuitable from her cart.

Gays tone shiftings between a breezy, conversational style and something harsher, and she recounts painful events in short, almost incantatory sentences: There was a boy. I loved him. His name was Christopher. Thats not really his name. You know that. She occasionally makes sun of the cliches that surround public discussion of weight loss( though she herself cant avoid some of these ). Scoffing at Oprah Winfreys metaphor of the cheerful, skinny alter ego lurking inside every fat person, she notes, I feed that thin girl, and she was delicious but unsatisfying.

But in general theres not much to giggle about. Gay alludes to or summarises difficult conversations, but rarely recounts them in full, and the overall effect is often one of claustrophobic intensity, as if the reader is trapped inside her head much the style she describes feeling caged in her flesh. Some of the books repeats may be due to its origin in shorter pieces written for various publications, but most reflect the near-constant frustrations of living in a body the world both fixates on and refuses to accommodate. One of the few scenes rendered in detail is the gruesome early description of her parent taking her to a group consultation with a doctor who performs gastric bypass surgeries. They must watch a video of patients steamy red and pink and yellow insides being carved up in an exorbitantly expensive and devastating procedure that even in the best example scenario will leave them permanently malnourished.

Though Gay does not owe anyone a single explanation of her size, she devotes her readers an abundance of them. If some can seem a little too neat and familiar, that effect is complicated by how many amas, often immediately contradicting each other. She characterises her initial weight gain as an attempt to take over more space, growing bigger and more powerful, but also as an effort to disappear and avoid ever attracting male attention again. She purposely fees to create a protective shield of flesh, or simply cannot defy utilizing food to soothe unbearable emotions. Gays mixed feelings often feel inevitable, though, in a culture that gives fat females no safe place to stand: you must feel bad about your sizing, but not enough to make anyone else uncomfortable; you must feel good about yourself as you are, but not too good. I am a product of my environment, she writes, explaining why her feminist sentences cant protect her from the cycle of selfblame, from longing to be thinner and accusing herself of weakness or lack of discipline when her body doesnt change.

Elna
Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss sheds light on Hunger.

Most of what Gay suffers is neither her flaw nor within her control, but since she believes society will not change fast enough, if at all, she makes no apology for hankering to adjust herself to it. And of course, much of the more or less veiled dread and disgust expressed by others is a self-fulfilling reaction to their own conditioning: People know how they watch and treat and think about fat people and dont want such a fate to befall them. The book is crammed with agonising ironies, some more strongly emphasised than others. Gay gains weight as an outward expres of her unhappiness, but those around her dont get the message, and merely attain her more miserable in their reactions to her changing body. In trying to develop a defence mechanism after her rape, she unknowingly invites half a lifetime of invasive threats to her physical freedom and violations of her consent. When her parents want her to go on a liquid diet or to a fat camp, she agrees because I had learned that saying no meant nothing.

As she has before, in her reach essay collection Bad Feminist , Gay proclaims her refusal to represent anyone but herself. Among other things, that entails she isnt interested in trying to make anyone feel better including other people of size who would rather not hear that she hates her body and blames herself for her inability to change it. This is not, as she notes repeatedly, a narrative of triumph neither of triumphant weight loss nor triumphant self-acceptance.

Stories that skirt those two potentials are far rarer than they should be, and the exceptions, whatever their individual failings, stick in the mind. Reading Hunger reminded me of radio producer Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss and its aftermath, which in some ways holds up a funhouse mirror to Gays experience. Its merely after losing a huge amount of weight that Baker fully discovers the miseries the world inflicts on fat people. As a thin woman, she determines her love life, job prospects and everyday existence abruptly transformed. And she encounters head-on the stubborn refusal that enables other people to enforce sadistic norms: when Baker insists to her husband that hed never have fallen for her at her previous weight, he tries to weasel out of it, suggesting that all the benefits Baker derives from being thin are simply due to how much happier and more confident she must now feel. But that isnt true, she says she was fine before, whereas now she must live with the knowledge that her new life and relationship require her to keep up an unnatural( and unhealthy) struggle with her weight for ever. Bakers story helps shed light on one of the most intractable knots in Hunger . Gay knows that losing the weight would not solve everything or award her happiness, and yet she longs for the entirely different, less painful life she imagines she could have had without it.

Early in the book, Gay characterises it as a confession, that term so often flung as an insult at women who write about themselves. These, she writes, are the ugliest, weakest, barest parts of me. Its more a provocation than a promise. There are certainly flashes of confession, passages in which Gay lays out, say, the precise impacts her rape has had on the formation of her sexual desire. But mostly she is not prepared to be so bare and weak as all that. Its the world around her that comes off as out of control in its cravings hate-filled, obsessed with womens body parts, eager to punish what it helps create.

Hunger is published by Harper. To order a copy for 11.89( RRP 13.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders only. Telephone orders min p& p of 1.99.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Thirst by Roxane Gay review- how the world treats fat people

A catalogue of horrors and public mortifications, Gays memoir responds to societys condescension and disgust about her body size

This is a book its writer Roxane Gay has, over many years, earned the right not to publish. Even though she has detected great success as an essayist, novelist of fiction and university teacher, and attracted a large, passionate online following, its clear from her account that her weight remains the first thing strangers notice about her, and that she must spend much of her period dealing with their unsolicited responses to it. These range from rude to abusive, encompassing all sorts of casual mock, faux fear and outright aggressivenes along the way.

Shopping for clothes or food, visiting a eatery or getting on a plane often involve a humiliating ordeal. Doctors not only patronise her but routinely reject her basic care. Simply leaving the house means navigating a physical and emotional constraints and obstacles. No doubt Gay is thoroughly sick of being reduced to her body and of enduring constant investigations, prejudices and criticism, and she has evidently worked hard to make space for herself to talk and write of other things. People asking those kinds of questions dont deserve an answer, and yet here Gay has decided to give them one.

Hunger comprises at least two narratives: a partial but more or less linear tell of Gays life so far, and a more halting, spiralling description of her everyday experience as a fat girl. The first of these hinges on the horrifying rape visited on her as a 12 -year-old by her boyfriend and several of his friends. Gay blames herself, and her agony is compounded when the boys report their version of events to their peers at school; she maintains hers quiet, unable to say anything about it to their own families. The brief evocation of her childhood before this phase conjures an nearly fairytale-like atmosphere of love and optimism, peopled with adoring parents and siblings. I fell asleep most nights, Gay writes, flush with the joy of knowing I belonged to these people and they belonged to me.

Afterwards, everything changes: she begins to overeat and her weight gain is swift and dramatic, to her familys consternation. Various attempts to reverse it, some undertaken willingly, others under parental pressure, never last long, and both the traumatic event and her highly visible response to it overshadow everything else that happens to her. Gays mother and father are well-to-do Haitian Americans who clearly have high expectations of their children. Gay, who attends an upper-class boarding school followed by Yale, drops out and moves to another state without letting anyone know where she is. She eventually completes a PhD and garners acclaim as a writer, but this volume is still a catalogue of horrors large and small: there are abusive relationships and public shames. Especially striking are the depictions of what its like for Gay to go to the gym or on a date. Unable to fit on a eatery chair and denied a more comfortable kiosk, she expends an entire snack holding herself up in an excruciating squatting. At the supermarket, random people entitle themselves to remove foods they deem unsuitable from her cart.

Gays tone switchings between a breezy, conversational style and something harsher, and she recounts painful events in short, nearly incantatory sentences: There was a boy. I loved him. His name was Christopher. Thats not really his name. You know that. She occasionally constructs light of the cliches that surround public discussion of weight loss( though she herself cant avoided some of these ). Scoffing at Oprah Winfreys metaphor of the cheerful, skinny alter ego lurking inside every fat person, she notes, I eat that thin woman, and she was delicious but unsatisfying.

But in general theres not much to chuckle about. Gay alludes to or summarises difficult conversations, but rarely recounts them in full, and the overall impact is often one of claustrophobic intensity, as if the reader is trapped inside her head much the route she describes feeling caged in her flesh. Some of the books repeatings may be due to its origin in shorter pieces written for various publications, but most reflect the near-constant frustrations of living in a body the world both fixates on and refuses to accommodate. One of the few scenes rendered in detail is the gruesome early description of her father taking her to a group consultation with a doctor who performs gastric bypass surgeries. They must watch a video of patients steamy red and pink and yellow insides being engraved up in an exorbitantly expensive and devastating procedure that even in the best suit scenario will leave them permanently malnourished.

Though Gay does not owe anyone a single explanation of her size, she devotes her readers an abundance of them. If some can seem a little too neat and familiar, that impact is complicated by how many accumulate, often immediately contradicting one another. She characterises her initial weight gain as an attempt to take over more space, growing bigger and more powerful, but also as an effort to disappear and avoid ever attracting male attention again. She intentionally fees to create a protective shield of flesh, or simply cannot defy use food to soothe unbearable emotions. Gays mixed feelings often feel inevitable, though, in a culture that dedicates fat females no safe place to stand: you must feel bad about your size, but not enough to make anyone else uncomfortable; you must feel good about yourself as you are, but not too good. I am a product of my environment, she writes, explaining why her feminist convictions cant protect her from the cycle of selfblame, from longing to be thinner and accusing herself of weakness or lack of discipline when her body doesnt change.

Elna
Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss sheds light on Hunger.

Most of what Gay suffers is neither her fault nor within her control, but since she believes society will not change fast enough, if at all, she makes no apology for yearning to adjust herself to it. And of course, much of the more or less veiled fear and abhorrence expressed by others is a self-fulfilling reaction to their own conditioning: People know how they see and treat and think about fat people and dont want such a fate to befall them. The book is crammed with agonising ironies, some more strongly emphasised than others. Gay gains weight as an outward expres of her unhappiness, but those around her dont get the message, and only attain her more miserable in their reactions to her changing body. In trying to develop a defence mechanism after her rape, she inadvertently invites half a lifetime of invasive threats to her physical freedom and violations of her permission. When her parents want her to go on a liquid diet or to a fat camp, she concurs because I had learned that saying no meant nothing.

As she has before, in her hitting essay collecting Bad Feminist , Gay proclaims her refusal to represent anyone but herself. Among other things, that entails she isnt interested in trying to make anyone feel better including other people of sizing who would rather not hear that she dislikes her body and blames herself for her inability to change it. This is not, as she notes repeatedly, a narrative of victory neither of triumphant weight loss nor triumphant self-acceptance.

Stories that skirt those two potentials are far rarer than they should be, and the exceptions, whatever their individual failings, stick in the mind. Reading Hunger reminded me of radio producer Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss and its aftermath, which in some ways holds up a funhouse mirror to Gays experience. Its only after losing a huge amount of weight that Baker fully discovers the miseries the world inflicts on fat people. As a thin girl, she sees her love life, job prospects and everyday existence abruptly transformed. And she encounters head-on the stubborn denial that enables other people to enforce sadistic norms: when Baker insists to her husband that hed never have fallen for her at her previous weight, he tries to weasel out of it, suggesting that all the benefits Baker derives from being thin are simply due to how much happier and more confident she must now feel. But that isnt true, she says she was fine before, whereas now she must live with the knowledge that her new life and relationship involve her to keep up an unnatural( and unhealthy) struggle with her weight for ever. Bakers story helps shed light on one of the most intractable knots in Hunger . Gay knows that losing the weight would not solve everything or grant her happiness, and yet she longs for the entirely different, less painful life she imagines she could have had without it.

Early in the book, Gay characterises it as a confession, that term so often flung as an insult at women who write about themselves. These, she writes, are the ugliest, weakest, barest parts of me. Its more a provocation than a promise. There are certainly flashes of confession, passages in which Gay lays out, say, the precise consequences her rape has had on the formation of her sexual desires. But largely she is not prepared to be so bare and weak as all that. Its the world around her that comes off as out of control in its appetites hate-filled, obsessed with womens body parts, eager to punish what it helps create.

Hunger is published by Harper. To order a transcript for 11.89( RRP 13.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of 1.99.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Why we fell for clean eating

The long read: The oh-so-Instagrammable food movement has been thoroughly debunked but it shows no signs of going away. The real question is why we were so desperate to believe it

In the spring of 2014, Jordan Younger “ve noticed that” her hair was falling out in clumps.” Not cool” was her reaction. At the time, Younger, 23, believed herself to be eating the healthiest of all possible diets. She was a” gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, grain-free, legume-free, plant-based raw vegan “. As The Blonde Vegan, Younger was a “wellness” blogger in New York City, one of thousands on Instagram( where she had 70,000 followers) rallying under the hashtag #eatclean. Although she had no qualifications as a nutritionist, Younger had sold more than 40,000 copies of her own $25, five-day “cleanse” programme– a formula for an all-raw, plant-based diet majoring on green juice.

But the “clean” diet that Younger was selling as the route to health was making its inventor sick. Far from being super-healthy, she was suffering from a serious eating disorder: orthorexia, an preoccupation with ingesting merely foods the hell is pure and perfect. Younger’s raw vegan diet had caused her periods to stop and devoted her skin an orange tinge from all the sweet potato and carrots she ingested( the only carbohydrates she permitted herself ). Eventually, she tried psychological assistance, and began to slowly widen the repertoire of foods she would allow herself to feed, beginning with the fish. She recognised that their own problems was not her veganism, per se, but the particularly rigid and restrictive diet regime she had imposed under herself.

As Younger slowly recovered from her eating disorder, she faced a new dilemma.” What would people believe”, she agonised,” if they knew the Blonde Vegan was feeing fish ?” She levelled with her adherents in a blogpost entitled Why I’m Transitioning Away from Veganism. Within hours of announcing her new diet, Younger was receiving irate messages from vegans demanding fund back from the cleanse programmes and T-shirts they had bought from her site( featuring slogans such as” OH KALE YES “).

She lost followers “by the thousands” and received a daily raft of angry messages, including death threats. Some responded to her confession that she was suffering from an eating disorder by accusing her of being a” fat piece of lard” who didn’t have the discipline to be truly “clean”.

For as long as people have feed food, there have been diets and quack remedies. But previously, these existed, like conspiracy hypothesis, on the fringes of food culture.” Clean feeing” was different, because it established based as significant challenges to mainstream ways of eating, and its wild popularity over the past five years has enabled it to move far beyond the fringes. Powered by social media, it has been more absolutist in its claims and more popular in its reaching than any previous school of modern nutrition advice.

At its simplest, clean feeing is about ingesting nothing but “whole” or “unprocessed” foods( whatever is meant by these deep equivocal terms ). Some versions of clean eating have been vegan, while others espouse various meats( preferably wild) and something mysteriously called ” bone broth“( stock, to you and me ). At first, clean eating sounded modest and even homespuns: rather than counting calories, you would eat as many nutritious home-cooked substances as possible.

But it quickly became clear that” clean eating” was more than a diet; it was a belief system, which propagated the idea that the way most people feed is not simply fattening, but impure. Seemingly out of nowhere, a whole cosmo of coconut oil, dubious promises and spiralised courgettes has emerged. Back in the remote mists of 2009, James Duigan, owned of The Bodyism gym in London and sometime personal trainer to the model Elle MacPherson, published his first Clean and Lean book. As an early adopter of #eatclean, Duigan notes that he “battled” with his publisher” to include ingredients like kale and quinoa, because no one had ever heard of them “. Now quinoa is in every supermarket and kale has become as normal as lettuce.” I long for the working day when clean eating entailed not getting too much down your front ,” the novelist Susie Boyt joked recently.

Jordan
Jordan Younger, AKA The Balanced Blonde, formerly The Blonde Vegan. Photograph: Whitford/ BFA/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Almost as soon as it became ubiquitous, clean eating triggered a backlash. By 2015, Nigella Lawson was speaking for many when she expressed “disgust” at clean feeing as a judgmental sort of body fascism.” Food is not dirty”, Lawson wrote. Clean eating has been attacked by critics such as the baker and cookbook writer Ruby Tandoh( who wrote a much-shared article on the subject in Vice magazine in May 2016) for being an provocation to eating disorders.

Others have pointed out that, as a method of healthy eating, it’s founded on bad science. In June, the American Heart Association suggested that the coconut petroleum beloved as a panacea by clean eaters actually had” no known offsetting favourable effects”, and that eating it could result in higher LDL cholesterol. A few weeks later, Anthony Warner- a food consultant with a background in science who blogs as The Angry Chef- published a book-length assault on the science of clean eating, calling it a world of” quinoa bowl” and “nutribollocks” fuelled by the modern info age.

When Dr Giles Yeo, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, presented an episode of the BBC’s Horizon this year that examined the scientific evidence for different schools of clean eating, he found everything from innocuous recipes to serious malpractice.

He reported on the” alkaline diet” of Dr Robert O Young, who peddled the idea that disease is caused by eating “acidic” foods. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer in her 20 s, Naima Houder-Mohammed, an officer in the British army, paid Young more than $77,000 for treatment( including meals of avocado, which Young calls” God’s butter “) at his” pH miracle” ranch in the US in 2012. She died subsequently that year. Separately, Young was incarcerated in June this year after being convicted of charges including practising medicine without a licence. While he may represent an extreme case, it is clear that many wellness gurus, as Yeo’s programme concluded, tell a” troubling narrative” founded on falsehoods.

As the negative press for clean feeing has intensified over the past year, many of the early goddesses of #eatclean have tried to rebrand- declaring they no longer use the word “clean” to describe the recipes that have sold them millions of books. Ella Mills- AKA Deliciously Ella, the food writer and entrepreneur whose coconut-and-oat energy balls sell for PS1. 79 apiece in British supermarkets- said on Yeo’s Horizon programme that she felt that the word “clean” as applied to eating originally entailed nothing but natural, real, unprocessed food.” Now, it means diet, it entails fad ,” she complained.

But however much the concept of clean eating has been logically refuted and publicly vilified, the thing itself shows few signs of dying. Step into the cookbook section of any volume store and you will see how many recipe writers continue to promise us inner purity and outer beauty. Even if you have never knowingly tried to” feed clean “, it’s impossible to avoid the trend wholly, because it changed the foods available to all of us, and the style they are spoken of.

Avocados now outsell oranges in the UK. Susi Richards, head of product development at Sainsbury’s supermarkets, told me earlier this year that “shes been” taken aback by the pace at which demand for products fitting with the clean eating lifestyle have grown in the UK. Families who would once have eaten potato waffles are now experimenting with lower carb butternut “squaffles”( slicings of butternut squash cut to resemble a waffle ). Nutribullets– a brand of compact blenders designed for building supposedly radiance-bestowing juices and smoothies- are now mentioned in some circles as casually as wooden spoons.

Why has clean eating demonstrated so difficult to kill off? Hadley Freeman, in this paper, identified clean eating as part of a post-truth culture, whose adherents are impervious, or even hostile, to facts and experts. But to understand how clean eating took hold with such perseverance, it’s necessary first to consider just what a terrifying thing food has become for millions of people in the modern world. The interesting question is not whether clean feeing is nonsense, but why so many intelligent people decided to put their religion in it.


We are not the only generation to have appeared in disgust at an unhealthy food surrounding and wished that we could replace it with nutrients that were perfectly safe to feed. In the 1850 s, a British chemist called Arthur Hill Hassall became convinced that the whole food supply of London was riddled with toxins and fakery. What’s more, he was right. Hassall had done a series of investigations for the medical periodical the Lancet, and found that much of what was for sale as food and drink was not what it seemed: “coffee” made from burnt sugar and chicory; pickles dyed green with poison copper colourings.

Years of exposing the toxic deceptions all around him seems to have driven Hassall to a country of paranoia. He started to see poison everywhere, and decided that the answer was to create a define of totally uncontaminated food products. In 1881, he set up his own firm, The Pure Food Company, which would only use ingredients of unimpeachable quality. Hassall took water that was ” softened and purified” and combined it with the finest Smithfield beef to attain the purest beef jelly and disgusting-sounding” fibrinous meat lozenges”- the energy balls of Victorian England. The Pure Food Company of 1881 sounds just like a hundred wellness food businesses today- except for the fact that it collapsed within a year due to lack of sales.

We are once again living in an environment where ordinary food, which should be something dependable and sustaining, has come to feel noxious. Unlike the Victorian, we do not fear that our coffee is fake so much as that our entire pattern of eating may be bad for us, in ways that we can’t fully identify. One of the things that constructs the new wave of wellness cookbooks so appealing is that they assure the reader that they offer a new way of feeing that comes without any anxiety or guilt.

The founding principle of these modern wellness regimes is that our current style of feeing is slowly poisoning us.” Much of the food on offer to us today is nutritionally substandard ,” write the Hemsley sisters, best-selling champs of “nutrient-dense” food. It’s hard to disagree with the proposition that modern diets are generally “substandard”, even if you don’t share the Hemsleys’ solution of running “grain-free”. ” All of these diets have a kernel of truth that is spun out into some bigger fantasy ,” Giles Yeo says- hence their huge appeal.

Melissa
Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley. Photo: Nick Hopper

Clean eating- whether it is called that or not- is perhaps best seen as a dysfunctional response to a still better dysfunctional food supply: a dream of purity in a toxic world. To walk into a modern western supermarket is to be assailed by aisle upon aisle of salty, oily snacks and sugary cereals, of “bread” that has been neither demonstrated nor fermented, of inexpensive, sweetened drinks and meat from animals kept in inhumane conditions.

In the postwar decades, most countries in the world underwent what the prof of nutrition Barry Popkin calls a” nutrition transition” to a westernised diet high in sugar, meat, fat, salt, refined petroleum and ultra-processed concoctions, and low in veggies. Affluence and multi-national food companies replaced the thirst of earlier generations with an unwholesome banquet of sweet beverages and convenience foods that teach us from a young age to crave more of the same. Wherever this pattern of feeing travelled, it brought with it dramatic rises in ill health, from allergies to cancer.

In prosperous countries, large numbers of people- whether they wanted to lose weight or not- became understandably scared of the modern food supply and what it was doing to our bodies: type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease , not to mention a host of other complaints that are influenced by diet, ranging from Alzheimer’s to gout. When mainstream diets start to sicken people, it is unsurprising that many of us should seek other ways of eating to keep ourselves safe from harm. Our collective anxiety around diet was exacerbated by a general impression that mainstream scientific advice on diet- inflated by newspaper headlines- could not be trusted. First these so-called experts tell us to avoid fat, then sugar, and all the while people get less and less healthy. What will these “experts” say next, and why should we believe them?

Into this atmosphere of nervousnes and disarray stepped a series of guru offering messages of wonderful simplicity and reassurance: feed this style and I will attain you fresh and healthy again. It is very hard to pinpoint the exact moment when” clean eating” started, because it is not so much as a single diet as a portmanteau word that has borrowed notions from numerous pre-existing diets: a bit of Paleo here, some Atkins there, with a few remnants of 1960 s macrobiotics thrown in for good measure.

But some time in the early 2000 s, two distincts but interrelated versions of clean eating became popular in the US- one on the basis of the creed of “real” food, and the other on the idea of “detox”. Once the concept of cleanliness had entered the realm of eating, it was only a matter of time before the basic notion spread contagiously across Instagram, where fans of #eatclean could share their artfully photographed green juices and rainbow salad bowls.

The first and more moderate version of “clean” food started in 2007, when Tosca Reno, a Canadian fitness model, published a book called The Eat-Clean Diet. In it, Reno described how “shes lost” 34 kg( 75 lb) and transformed her health by avoiding all over-refined and “processed foods”, especially white flour and sugar. A typical Reno eat-clean meal might be stir-fried chicken and vegetables over brown rice; or almond-date biscotti with a cup of tea. In many styles The Eat-Clean Diet was like any number of diet volumes that had come before, advising plenty of vegetables and modestly portioned, home-cooked meals. The difference, which Anthony Warner calls a piece of “genius” on Reno’s part, was that she presented it, above all, as a holistic route of living.

Meanwhile, a second version of clean eating was spearheaded by a former cardiologist from Uruguay called Alejandro Junger, the author of Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Mend Itself, which was published in 2009 after Junger’s clean detox system had been praised by Gwyneth Paltrow on her Goop website. Junger’s system was far more stringent than Reno’s, requiring, for a few weeks, a revolutionary elimination diet based on liquid meals and a total exclusion of caffeine, alcohol, dairy and eggs, sugar, all veggies in the” nightshade family”( tomatoes, aubergines and so on ), red meat( which, according to Junger, makes an acidic” inner surrounding “), among other foods. During this stage, Junger advised a largely liquid diet either composed of home-made juices and soups, or of his own special pulverized shakes. After the detox period, Junger advised very cautiously reintroducing” toxic triggers” such as wheat (” a classic trigger of allergic responses “) and dairy (” an acid-forming food “).

Woman
Photograph: Alexandra Iakovleva/ Getty

To read Junger’s book is to feel that everything edible in our world is potentially toxic. Yet, as with Arthur Hassall, many of Junger’s dreads may be justified. Junger writes as a doctor with first-hand knowledge of diet-related epidemics of” cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and autoimmune cancer “. The volume is full of case examines of individuals who follow Junger’s detox and emerge lighter, leaner and happier.” Who is the candidate for using this programme ?” Junger asks, responding:” Everyone who lives a modern life, fees a modern diet and occupies the modern world .”

To my surprise, I discovered myself compelled by the messianic tone of Junger’s Clean- though not quite obliged enough to pay $475 for his 21 -day programme( which, in any case, doesn’t ship outside of North America ), or to give up my daily breakfast of inflammatory coffee, gut-irritating sourdough toast and acid-forming butter, on which I feel amazingly well. When I told Giles Yeo how seductive I found Junger’s terms, virtually despite myself, he said:” This is their magic! They are all charismatic human beings. I do think the clean-eating guru believes in it themselves. They drink the Koolaid .”


Over the past 50 years, mainstream healthcare in the west has been inexplicably blind to the role that diet plays in preventing and alleviating ill health. When it started, #eatclean spoke to growing number of people who felt that their existing style of eating was causing them problems, from weight gain to headaches to stress, and that conventional medicine could not assistance. In the absence of nutrition guidance from doctors, it was a natural step for individuals to start experimenting with cutting out this food or that.

From 2009 to 2014, the number of Americans who actively avoided gluten, despite not suffering from coeliac illnes, more than tripled. It also became fashionable to drink a whole pantheon of non-dairy milks, ranging from oat milk to almond milk. I have lactose-intolerant and vegan friends who say that #eatclean has made it far easier for them to buy ingredients that they once had to go to specialist health-food stores to find. What isn’t so easy now is to find dependable information on special diets in the sea of half-truths and bunkum.

Someone who find how quickly and radically #eatclean changed the market for health-food volumes is Anne Dolamore, a publisher at the independent food publishers Grub Street, based in London. Dolamore has been publishing health-related food books since 1995, a day when “free-from” cooking was a tiny subculture. In the days before Google, Dolamore- who has long believed that” food is medicine”- felt that books on special diets by authors with” proper credentials” could serve a useful intent. In 1995, Grub Street published The Everyday Diabetic Cookbook, which has now been sold over 100,000 copies in the UK. Other successful books followed, including The Everyday Wheat-Free and Gluten-Free Cookbook by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, published in 1998.

In 2012, the market for “wellness” cookbooks in the UK abruptly changed, starting with the surprise success of Honestly Healthy by Natasha Corrett and Vicki Edgson, which sold around 80,000 transcripts. Louise Haines, a publisher at 4th Estate, recalls that the previous big tendency in British food publishing had been cooking, but the baking boom” died overnight, virtually, and a number of sugar-free books came through “.

At Grub Street, Anne Dolamore watched aghast as bestselling cookbooks piled up from a” never-ending stream of blonde, willowy’ authorities ‘, many of whom seemed to be devising diets based on little but their own limited experience “. If Junger and Reno laid the groundwork for” feed clean” to become a vast worldwide trend, it was social media and the internet that did the remainder. Almost all of the authors of the British clean feeing bestsellers started off as bloggers or Instagrammers, many of them beautiful women in their early 20 s who were genuinely convinced that the diets they had devised had cured them of various chronic ailments.

Keep your chia seed smoothies off my Instagram feed

Every wellness guru worth her Himalayan pink salt has a tale of how changing what you eat can change your life.” Food has the power to build or break you ,” wrote Amelia Freer in her 2014 bestseller Eat. Nourish. Glow.( which has sold more than 200,000 copies ). Freer was leading a busy life as a personal assistant to the Prince of Wales when she realised that her belly” appeared and felt as if it had a football in it” from too many snatched dinners of cheese on toast or” factory-made food “. By giving up “processed” and convenience food (” margarine, yuck !”) along with gluten and sugar, Freer claimed to have found the secrets to” appearing younger and feeling healthier “.

Perhaps the best-known diet-transformation tale of all is that of Ella Mills- possessor of more than a million Instagram followers. In 2011, Mills was diagnosed with postural tachycardia disorder, a condition characterised by dizziness and extreme wearines. Mills began blogging about food after discovering that her symptoms radically improved when she swapped her sugar-laden diet for” plant-based, natural foods “. Mills- who used to be a model- stimulated following a “free-from” diet seem not drab or deprived, but profoundly aspirational. By the time her first volume appeared in January 2015, her vast following on social media helped her to sell 32,000 transcripts in the first week alone.

Amelia
Amelia Freer. Photograph: S Meddle/ ITV/ Rex/ Shutterstock

There was something paradoxical about the route these books were marketed. What they were selling purported to be an alternative to a sordidly commercial food industry.” If it’s got a barcode or a’ promise ‘, don’t buy it ,” wrote Freer. Yet clean eating is itself a wildly profitable commercial enterprise, promoted employing photogenic young bloggers on a multi-billion-dollar tech platform. Literary agent Zoe Ross tells me that around 2015 she began to be pointed out that” the market was scouring Instagram for copycat acts- specifically really pretty, very young girls pushing curated food and lifestyle “.

After years on the margins, health-based cooking was finally getting a mass audience. In 2016, 18 out the 20 top sellers in Amazon UK’s food and drink volume category had a focus on healthy eating and dieting. The irony, however, was that the kind of well-researched books Dolamore and others once published no longer tended to sell so well, because health publishing was now dominated by social media celebrities. Bookshops were heaving with so many of these “clean” books that even the authors themselves started to feel that there were too many of them. Alice Liveing, a 23 -year-old personal trainer who writes as Clean Eating Alice, argued in her 2016 book Eat Well Every Day that she was ” championing what I feel is a much-needed breath of fresh air in what I think is an incredibly saturated marketplace “. To my untrained eye, browsing through her book, Alice’s fresh approach to diet appeared very similar to countless others: date and almond energy balls, kale chips, beetroot and feta burgers.

Then again, shouldn’t we devote clean eating due credit for achieving the miracle of turning beetroot and kale into objects of desire? Data from analysts Kantar Worldpanel show that UK sales of fresh beetroot have risen dramatically from PS42. 8m in 2013 to PS50. 5m in 2015. Some would argue that, in developed nations where most people eat shockingly poor diets, low in greens and high in sugar, this new union of health and food has done a modicum of good. Giles Yeo- who expended some time cooking a spicy sweet-potato dish with Ella Mills for his BBC programme- agrees that many of the clean eating recipes he tried are actually” a tasty and cool route to cook veggies “. But why, Yeo asks, do these authors not simply say ” I am publishing a very good vegetarian cookbook” and be brought to an end, instead of constructing larger claims about the power of veggies to beautify or avoid disease?” The poison comes from the fact that they are wrapping the whole thing up in pseudoscience ,” Yeo says.” If you base something on misrepresentations, it empowers people to take extreme actions, and this is where the damage begins .”


You can’t discovered a new religion system with the words” I am publishing a very good vegetarian cookbook “. For this, you need something stronger. You need the assurance of make-believe, whispered sweetly. Grind this cauliflower into tiny pieces and you are able to make a special kind of no-carb rice! Avoid all sugar and your skin will shimmer! Among other things, clean eating corroborates how vulnerable and lost tens of thousands of us feel about diet- that is actually means how lost we feel about our own bodies. We are so unmoored that we will set our faith in any master who promises us that we, too, can become pure and good.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that my own feelings about clean feeing changed from ambivalence to outright dislike. I was on stage at the Cheltenham literary festival with dietician Renee McGregor( who works both with Olympic athletes and eating disorder sufferers) when a crowd of around 300 clean-eating fans started jeering and wailing at us. We were supposedly taking part in a clean-eating debate with “nutritionist” Madeleine Shaw, author of Get the Glow and Ready Steady Glow.

Before that week, I had never read any of Shaw’s work. As I flicked through Ready Steady Glow, I was reasonably endeared by the upbeat tone (” stop depriving yourself and start living “) and bright photographs of a beaming Shaw.” I often surprise myself by receiving new things to spiralise” she writes, introducing a” sweet potato noodle” salad. Cauliflower pizza, in her position, is” quite simply: the best invention ever “.

But underneath the brightness there were notes of restriction that I found both worrying and confused.” As ever, all my recipes are sugar-and-wheat free”, Shaw announces, only to devote a recipe for “gluten-free” brownies that contains 200 g of coconut sugar, a substance that costs a lot more than your average white granulated sugar, but is metabolised by the body in the same way. I was still more alarmed by step four in Shaw’s nine-point food ” doctrine”, which says that all bread and pasta should be avoided: they are” beige foods”, which are” full of chemicals, preservatives and genetically manipulated wheat”, and” not whole foods “. Shaw’s book makes no distinction between a loaf of, say, bleached sliced white, and a homemade wholemeal sourdough.

When we satisfied on stage in Cheltenham, I asked Shaw why she told people to cut out all bread, and was startled when she denied she had said any such thing( rye bread was her favourite, she added ). McGregor asked Shaw what she entailed when she wrote that people should try to eat only” clean proteins “; meat that was ” not deep-fried” was her instead baffling respond. McGregor’s main concern about clean eating, she added, was that as a professional treating young person with eating disorders, she had watched first-hand how the rules and restrictions of clean feeing often segued into debilitating anorexia or orthorexia.

Madeleine
Madeleine Shaw promoting her volume Get the Glow. Photo: Joe Pepler/ REX/ Shutterstock

” But I only find the positive”, said Shaw , now wiping away tears. It was at this point that the audience, who were already restless whenever McGregor or I spoke, descended into outright hatred, shouting and hissing for us to get off stage. In a volume shop after the event, as fans came up to Shaw to thank her for giving them” the glow”, I too burst into tears when person or persons jabbed her thumbs at me and said I should be ashamed, as an” older females”( I am 43 ), to have criticised a younger one. On Twitter that night, some Shaw fans constructed derogatory remarks about how McGregor and I appeared, under the hashtag #youarewhatyoueat. The implication was that, if we were less photogenic than Shaw, we clearly had nothing of any value to say about food( never mind the fact that McGregor has degrees in biochemistry and nutrition ).

Thinking about the event on the develop home, I realised that the crowd were angry with us not because they disagreed with the details( it’s pretty clear that you can’t have sugar in “sugar-free” recipes ), but because they detested the fact that we were arguing at all. To insist on the facts of the case made us come across as cruelly negative. We had punctured the happy belief-bubble of glowiness that they had come to imbibe from Shaw. It’s striking that in many of the wellness cookbooks, mainstream scientific proof on diet is seen as more or less irrelevant , not least because the gurus watch the complacency of science as part of what built our diets so bad in the first place.

Amelia Freer, in Eat. Nourish. Glow, admits that” we can’t prove that dairy is the cause” of ailments ranging from IBS to joint pain, but concludes that it’s” surely worth” cutting dairy out anyway, just as a precaution. In another context, Freer writes that” I’m told it takes 17 years for scientific knowledge to filter down” to become general knowledge, while advising that gluten should be avoided. Once we enter the territory where all authority and expertise are automatically suspect, you can start to claim almost anything- and many #eatclean authorities do.

That night in Cheltenham, I find that clean feeing- or whatever name it now runs under- had elements of a post-truth cult. As with any cult, it could be something dark and divisive if you got on the wrong side of it. After Giles Yeo’s BBC programme was aired, he told me he was startled to find himself subjected to relentless online trolling.” They said I was funded by big pharma, and therefore obviously wouldn’t see the benefits of a healthy diet over medication. These were outright lies .”( Yeo is employed by the University of Cambridge, and funded by the Medical Research Council .)

It’s increasingly clear that clean eating, for all its good aims, can cause real harm, both to truth and to human beings. Over the past 18 months, McGregor says,” every single client with an eating disorder who strolls into my clinic doors is either following or wants to follow a’ clean’ way of eating “.

In her new book, Orthorexia, McGregor observes that while eating disorder long predate the #eatclean trend,” food regulations”( such as eating no dairy or avoiding all grains) easily become” a guise for restricting food uptake “. Moreover, they are not even good rules, based as “theyre on”” unsubstantiated, unscientific asserts “. Take almond milk, which is widely touted as a superior alternative to cow’s milk. McGregor considers it as little better than” expensive water “, containing just 0.1 g protein per 100 ml, compared with 3.2 g per 100 ml in cow’s milk. But she often discovers it very difficult to convince her clients that restricting themselves to these “clean” foods is in the long run worse for their health than what she calls” unrestrained feeing”- balanced and varied meals, but no anxiety about the odd ice cream or chocolate bar.

Clearly , not everyone who bought a clean-eating book has developed an eating disorder. But a motion whose premise is that normal food is unhealthy has already had muddied the water of” healthy eating” for everyone else, by planting the idea that a good diet is one founded on absolutes.


The true calamity of clean eating is not that it is entirely false. It is that it contains” a kernel of truth”, as Giles Yeo puts it.” When you strip down all the pseudo gibberish, they are absolutely right to say that we should feed more vegetables, less refined sugar and less meat ,” Yeo said, sipping a black coffee in his office at the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge, where he spends his days researching the causes of obesity. Yeo agreed to that clean eaters that our environment of inexpensive, plentiful, sugary, fatty food is a recipe for widespread obesity and ill health. The problem is it’s near impossible to pick out the sensible bits of” clean feeing” and ignore the rest. #Eatclean built healthy eating seem like something” expensive, exclusive and difficult to achieve”, as Anthony Warner writes. Whether the term “clean” is use or not, there is a new puritanism about food that has taken root very widely.

A few weeks ago, I overheard a fit, middle-aged human at the gym castigating a friend for not feeing a better diet- a conversation that would once have been unimaginable among men. The first human was telling the second that the” skinny burgers” he preferred were nothing but” shitty mince and marketing”- and arguing that he was able to get almost everything he needed from a diet of veggies, cooked with no petroleum.” Fat is fat, at the end of the working day ,” he concluded, before bemoaning the “idiots” who tried to eat something wholesome like a salad, then ruined everything by adding salt.” If you have one bad diet day a week, you undo all your good work .”

The real question is how to fight this kind of diet absolutism without bouncing back to a mindless festivity of the modern food environment that is demonstrably stimulating so many people sick. In 2016, more than 600 children in the UK were get registered as living with kind 2 diabetes; before 2002, there were no reported cases of children suffering from the condition, whose causes are diet-related.

Our food system is in desperate need of reform. There’s a threat that, in fighting the nonsense of clean eating, we end up looking like apologists for a commercial food supply that is failing in its basic undertaking of nourishing us. Former orthorexia sufferer Edward L Yuen has argued- in his 2014 book, Beating Orthorexia- that the old advice of” everything in moderation” no longer works in a food environment where eating in the “middle ground” may still leave you with chronic diseases. When sections are supersized and Snickers bars are sold by the metre( something I find in my local Tesco recently ), eating “normally” is not necessarily a balanced alternative. The answer isn’t yet another perfect diet, but a shift in our idea of what constitutes normal food.

Sales of courgettes in the UK rose 20% from 2014 to 2015, fuelled by the rise of the spiraliser. But overall consumption of vegetables, both in the UK and worldwide, is still vanishingly small( with 74% of the adult UK population not managing to feed five a day ). That is much lower than it was in the 1950 s, when freshly cooked daily snacks were still something that most people took for granted.

Among the affluent classes who already feed a healthier-than-average diet, the Instagram goddesses generated a new model of dietary perfection to aim for. For the rest of the population, however, it simply placed the ideal of healthy food ever further out of reach. Behind the shiny covers of the clean-eating volumes, there is a harsh form of economic exclusion that says that someone who can’t afford wheatgrass or spi

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Thirst by Roxane Gay review- how the world treats fat people

A catalogue of horrors and public shames, Gays memoir responds to societys condescension and disgust about her body size

This is a book its author Roxane Gay has, over many years, earned the right not to publish. Even though she has found great success as an essayist, novelist of fiction and university educator, and attracted a large, passionate online following, its clear from her account that her weight is still the first thing strangers notice about her, and that she must spend much of her hour dealing with their unsolicited responses to it. These range from rude to abusive, encompassing all sorts of casual mockery, faux concern and outright aggressivenes along the way.

Shopping for clothes or food, visiting a eatery or get the hell out of there a plane often involve a humiliating ordeal. Physicians not only patronise her but routinely refuse her basic care. Simply leaving the house means navigating a physical and emotional constraints and obstacles. No doubt Gay is exhaustively sick of being reduced to her body and of suffering constant inquiries, prejudices and criticism, and she has evidently worked hard to construct space for herself to talk and write about other things. People asking those kinds of questions dont deserve an answer, and yet here Gay has decided to give them one.

Hunger comprises at the least two narratives: a partial but more or less linear telling of Gays life so far, and a more stop, spiralling description of her everyday experience as a fat girl. The first of these hinges on the horrifying rape visited on her as a 12 -year-old by her boyfriend and several of his friends. Gay blames herself, and her agony is compounded when the boys report their version of events to their peers at school; she keeps hers quiet, unable to say anything about it to her family. The brief evocation of her childhood before this phase conjures an almost fairytale-like ambiance of love and optimism, peopled with adoring parents and siblings. I fell asleep most nights, Gay writes, flush with the joy of knowing I belonged to these people and they belonged to me.

Afterwards, everything changes: she begins to overeat and her weight gain is swift and dramatic, to her familys discouragement. Various attempts to reversal it, some undertaken willingly, others under parental pressure, never last long, and both the traumatic event and her highly visible response to it overshadows everything else that happens to her. Gays mother and father are well-to-do Haitian Americans who clearly have high expectations of their children. Gay, who attends an upper-class boarding school followed by Yale, falls out and moves to another state without letting anyone know where she is. She eventually completes a PhD and garners acclaim as a novelist, but this book is still a catalogue of horrors large and small: there are abusive relationships and public dishonours. Particularly striking are the depictions of what its like for Gay to go to the gym or on a date. Unable to fit on a restaurant chair and denied a more comfy kiosk, she spends an entire snack holding herself up in an excruciating squat. At the supermarket, random people entitle themselves to remove foods they deem unsuitable from her cart.

Gays tone shiftings between a breezy, conversational style and something harsher, and she recounts painful events in short, virtually incantatory sentences: There was a boy. I loved him. His name was Christopher. Thats not really his name. You know that. She occasionally builds illuminate of the cliches that surround public discussion of weight loss( though she herself cant avoided some of these ). Scoffing at Oprah Winfreys metaphor of the cheerful, skinny alter ego lurking inside every fat person, she notes, I feed that thin woman, and she was delicious but unsatisfying.

But in general theres not much to giggle about. Gay alludes to or summarises difficult dialogues, but rarely recounts them in full, and the overall effect is often one of claustrophobic intensity, as if the reader is trapped inside her head much the route she describes feeling caged in her flesh. Some of the books repeats may be due to its origin in shorter pieces written for various publications, but most reflect the near-constant frustrations of living in a body the world both fixates on and refuses to accommodate. One of the few scenes rendered in detail is the gruesome early description of her parent taking her to a group consultation with a doctor who performs gastric bypass surgeries. They must watch a video of patients steamy red and pink and yellow insides being engraved up in an exorbitantly expensive and devastating procedure that even in the best lawsuit scenario will leave them permanently malnourished.

Though Gay does not owe anyone a single the purpose of explaining her size, she gives her readers an abundance of them. If some can seem a little too neat and familiar, that consequence is complicated by how many accumulate, often immediately contradicting each other. She characterises her initial weight gain as an attempt to take over more space, growing bigger and more powerful, but also as an effort to disappear and avoid ever attracting male attention again. She purposely fees to create a protective shield of flesh, or simply cannot resist employing food to soothe unbearable emotions. Gays mixed impressions often feel inevitable, though, in a culture that dedicates fat girls no safe place to stand: you must feel bad about your sizing, but not enough to make anyone else uncomfortable; you must feel good about yourself as you are, but not too good. I am a product of my environment, she writes, explaining why her feminist convictions cant protect her from the cycle of selfblame, from longing to be thinner and accusing herself of weakness or absence of discipline when her body doesnt change.

Elna
Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss sheds light on Hunger.

Most of what Gay suffers is neither her flaw nor within her control, but since she believes society will not change fast enough, if at all, she makes no apology for hankering to adjust herself to it. And of course, much of the more or less veiled fear and abhorrence expressed by others is a self-fulfilling reaction to their own conditioning: People know how they assure and treat and think about fat people and dont want such a fate to befall them. The book is crammed with agonising ironies, some more strongly emphasised than others. Gay gains weight as an outward expres of her unhappiness, but those around her dont get the message, and merely induce her more miserable in their reactions to her changing body. In trying to develop a defence mechanism after her rape, she unwittingly invites half a lifetime of invasive threats to her physical independence and violations of her permission. When her parents want her to go on a liquid diet or to a fat camp, she agrees because I had learned that saying no meant nothing.

As she has before, in her hit essay collection Bad Feminist , Gay extol her refusal to represent anyone but herself. Among other things, that means she isnt interested in trying to make anyone feel better including other people of size who would rather not hear that she hates her body and blames herself for her inability to change it. This is not, as she notes repeatedly, a story of victory neither of triumphant weight loss nor triumphant self-acceptance.

Stories that skirt those two prospects are far rarer than they should be, and the exceptions, whatever their individual fails, stick in the mind. Reading Hunger reminded me of radio producer Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss and its aftermath, which in some ways holds up a funhouse mirror to Gays experience. Its only after losing a huge amount of weight that Baker fully detects the miseries the world inflicts on fat people. As a thin girl, she determines her love life, job prospects and everyday existence suddenly transformed. And she encounters head-on the stubborn refusal that enables other people to enforce sadistic norms: when Baker insists to her husband that hed never have fallen for her at her previous weight, he tries to weasel out of it, suggesting that all the benefits Baker derives from being thin are simply due to how much happier and more confident she must now feeling. But that isnt true, she tells she was fine before, whereas now she must live with the knowledge that her new life and relationship involve her to keep up an unnatural( and unhealthy) struggle with her weight for ever. Bakers story helps shed light on one of the most intractable knots in Hunger . Gay knows that losing the weight would not solve everything or award her happiness, and yet she longs for the entirely different, less painful life she imagines she could have had without it.

Early in the book, Gay characterises it as a confession, that term so often flung as an insult at women who write about themselves. These, she writes, are the ugliest, weakest, barest parts of me. Its more a provocation than a promise. There are certainly flashes of confession, passages in which Gay lays out, say, the precise impacts her rape has had on the formation of her sexual desires. But mostly she is not prepared to be so bare and weak as all that. Its the world around her that comes off as out of control in its cravings hate-filled, obsessed with womens body parts, eager to punish what it helps create.

Hunger is published by Harper. To order a transcript for 11.89( RRP 13.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders only. Telephone orders min p& p of 1.99.

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Pablo Neruda: experts say official cause of death ‘does not reflect reality’

Panel of 16 experts says that when the Nobel prize-winning poet died in 1973, there was no indication of the cancer that was supposed to have killed him

A team of international scientists say they are” 100% persuaded” that Chile’s celebrated Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda did not succumb from prostate cancer, his official cause of death.

Neruda succumbed aged 69 at the Santa Maria Clinic in Santiago, on 23 September 1973- 12 days after Augusto Pinochet’s military coup toppled the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende. In 2013, Chilean judge Mario Carroza ordered the exhumation of Neruda’s remains after his chauffeur, Manuel Araya, told the Mexican magazine Proceso that the poet had called him in desperation from the hospital to say that he had been injected in the belly while he was asleep.

Samples of Neruda’s remains were sent to forensic genetics laboratories in four countries for analysis and in 2015 the Chilean government said that it was ” highly probable that a third party” was responsible for his death. Neruda was reburied at his Pacific coast home at Isla Negra last year, but the tests on the samples continued.

On Friday, 16 scientists unanimously rejected the cause of death noted on Neruda’s death certificate, cancer cachexia, which involves significant weight loss.” That cannot be correct ,” said Dr Niels Morling of the University of Copenhagen’s department of forensic medicine, who took part in the analysis.” There was no indication of cachexia. He was an obese man at the time of death. All other circumstances in his last phase of life pointed to some kind of infection .”

Another of the experts, Aurelio Luna from the University of Murcia in Spain, told reporters that the team were fully convinced that the demise certificate” does not reflect current realities of the death “. He added that the team had detected something that could be laboratory cultivated bacteria. These bacteria will be analysed, with research results expected within a year. According to the scientists, the bacteria could have oozed into Neruda’s remains from the burial site or been derived from the rotting process.

Debi Poinar, of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, said:” We can’t corroborate how the bacteria got there. We have to be very careful because there are a lot of bacteria that have their origin in the soil and some of those bacteria are the most pathogenic. We have some indications that it’s old bacteria , not a modern or laboratory contaminant .”

There are conflicting eyewitness reports about how ill Neruda was in hospital in the last days of their own lives. Some visitors reported that he was virtually comatose, while other claim he was dictating his memoirs to his secretary, Homero Arce.

The day before the poet’s death, the then Mexican ambassador to Chile, Gonzalo Martinez Corbala, visited the poet in hospital and told him there was a plane waiting on the runway at Santiago airport to fly him to safety in Mexico, where he would receive the best available therapy for his cancer. Neruda hesitated, saying he would prefer to wait two days, but succumbed the next day. Supporters of the poisoning hypothesis maintain that, as a prominent communist, Neruda would have been an influential voice of opposition to the military junta from exile and that he was murdered to prevent him from leaving Chile.

Neruda’s surviving family members are divided on the hypothesi. One nephew, Rodolfo Reyes, is convinced that the poet was poisoned, while another nephew, Bernardo Reyes, condemns the claims as sensationalist.

In 2009, six men were arrested in connection with the 1982 death of the former chairwoman of Chile, Eduardo Frei Montalva. He had stayed in the same room in the same hospital. Frei Montalva had expressed opposition to the military tyranny. The official cause of his death was septic shock after a routine hernia operation, but the six suspects were accused of involvement in his murder with low dosages of thallium and mustard gas. The lawsuit was initially hurled out, but the same six humen were rearrested in August this year.

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