Women suffer the consequences of their reproductive place in the world


Interview/ Padma Lakshmi, writer, TV personality

In your memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate, you write that foods are like men: “Some are good, some are bad and some are okay only in small doses. But most should be tried at least once.” Which of the two prompts more regret when you’ve made a bad choice?

I don’t have any regrets, thankfully. I don’t even regret trying tripe. But I think human beings do way more damage to each other than anything you can cook in a pot.

The book is about food, but what surprised me is that it’s also about feminism. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Absolutely. I would say that I come from a long line of feminists. Maybe my grandmother wouldn’t call herself one—just because she didn’t know to—but if she started describing her philosophies, they would be in line with the notion that men and women are equal. I don’t think I would date somebody who didn’t consider himself a feminist, frankly.

But you had a very lovely relationship with a Republican, Teddy Forstmann.

You’re assuming that a Republican is not a feminist.

So you think he was?

I think more people are feminists than they let on.

You write a lot about your struggles with endometriosis—a painful disorder where the uterine lining grows outside the uterus—and I found that had an explicitly feminist tone to it, too.

Absolutely. I mean, if I had prostate cancer, I would have many more options at my disposal. If I couldn’t get an erection, I’d have a lot more options at my disposal.

You were told by your mother, who was told by her mother: “This is just something you have to deal with. The pain is just part of being who you are.”

Yes, part of being a woman.

Do you think that it’s a metaphor for being a woman—you have this pain, and you just have to deal with it?

I find it interesting—interesting being a euphemism—that women are often discriminated against for their gynaecology. We suffer the consequences of our reproductive place in the world, but we don’t even get enough paid maternity leave.

You also write about consuming your daughter’s placenta in dried, powdered form. You characterise that as a difficult decision to make. Was there some cultural taboo that was holding you back?

No! I was just grossed out. I mean, look, you’re talking to a girl who grew up as a Brahmin Hindu and was a vegetarian for her formative years, so the idea of eating any meat, let alone your own, took some time for me to get used to. I think making that final leap to eating my own flesh, in whatever form, was a little difficult. I wanted to write about it because I never had the chance to talk about that sort of thing on Top Chef [which she anchors].

When Bravo [TV channel] first approached you for that show, you said you were sceptical because you tended to watch Public Broadcasting Service and the History Channel. Is that still the case?

I still watch programming that probably nobody else watches. If Ken Burns [American filmmaker] filmed his kids, I’d watch that. I had no idea what Top Chef would become. I have 13-year-olds who come up to me, telling me that they had an amuse-bouche party at their sleepover.

Is it true that the writer Mary Karr introduced you to boxing?

Yes. For my 30th birthday, she bought me a boxing lesson. She said, “This will change your life.” And she was right.

That’s a strange gift.

She boxes! I got hooked because of what it did for me mentally. When someone’s swinging at you, it’s hard to be daydreaming. Any martial artist will tell you that the person they are most afraid of fighting, out of all the disciplines, is a boxer.

Why is that?

Because a boxer is trained to sustain pain, to absorb it, to let it happen and let it go. And that’s a very important skill to have in life. Because you will get hit.

Age: 45
Occupation: Writer, TV personality
Hometown: Chennai
Lakshmi’s memoir, 'Love, Loss, and What We Ate', was published by Ecco Books this March.

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