In a candid interview with Vogue the multi talented Padma Lakhmi discusses about her book, Love, Loss and What We Ate, a memoir printed by Harper Collins (currently on New York Times best-seller list.) Padma, a supermodel, TV show host, cookbook author, chef, a mother bares all in her book with details of her life from her love for food, her family back in India, recounting the unfortunate incident of being molested as kid to her struggle growing up as a dark skinned girl. Ex-wife of Salman Rushdie, Padma even refers to her married life and the continuous spot light that it was subjected to. Some excerpts from the interview
On being asked about her connection with food and how she perceives it with Love and Loss (as the name of her memoir suggests) she replies, “Food is such a recurring theme in every aspect of our lives, transcending cultures and ages. Whether it’s Diwali, Christmas, a wedding or a bar mitzvah, food defines a lot of life’s pivotal moments. We eat to celebrate something and we eat to comfort ourselves in times of great sorrow. Food is definitely something that nurtures me, physically and emotionally.”
Padma has penned cookbooks before this, she is a chef herself, a food critic, and has been a part of the show Top Chef. Her take on what food should be introduced into the western subcontinent, “I’d say chaat. I think it’s such an amazing alchemy of different flavours—tangy, sweet, spicy and savoury. Whenever I visit India, it’s one of the things I enjoy eating, despite my family constantly warning me not to eat from street carts. They’re paranoid I’ll get sick, but I eat nonetheless. I always say that after being a judge on Top Chef, tasting the amount of food you do in one day, you develop a Teflon stomach. But yes, after chaat, I’d probably go with fish curry cooked in coconut milk and dosas.”
She claims to be a very private person, but still has bared it out in her memoir, to that she reasons, “My process was rather scattered, if there was one at all. Trust me, I had several meltdowns through the four-year writing period when I’d say, “What the F*&%# am I even doing here? Although all my cookbooks in the past had a personal narrative in some form, they were mostly recipes and pictures with prose that never really extended from one page to the end of next page. That to me was intense. The intention with Love, Loss and What We Ate was never to write a memoir. The book I was initially commissioned was actually one on healthy eating, citing my own philosophies on food and motherhood as examples. But I had trouble with the prescriptive part. At some point, I thought to myself, all right; let’s focus on the personal part of my journey. And as I started writing, I found myself diving deeper and deeper into the subject matter, needing to provide an extensive context to the topics I was addressing. It was sort of a labyrinth that I started to discover and eventually a narrative arc began to take shape. In retrospect, I’m glad I did this; it’s been an incredibly cathartic experience.”
Her book has given people a peek into her personal life including her marriage to Salman Rushdie and the reactions have been varied, from ‘Awe inspiring’ to ‘gold digger’. How she prepared herself for it all? “It’s not the first time I’ve been judged in the media. It’s been the same with this book releasing. All anyone’s ever wanted to do was to talk about my relationships, my personal life, and I get it—it’s juicy. To tell you the truth though, it’s actually been liberating. I’m 45 years old and I finally don’t care what anybody thinks of me. I did have an agenda with this book. It’s not like I’m talking about a very intimate part of my life or my ex-husband for no reason. I wanted to spread awareness about endometriosis, a medical condition that stifled my very being for so long. And as women, especially as Asian women, we are expected not to express discomfort over our bodies, rather, to grin and bear it. We’re told not to make noise, that it’s a part of being able to have children or part of being a woman. Except, it’s just not.
I couldn’t pay attention to my marriage as a result of my condition, the emotional and hormonal fluctuations that it caused were staggering. I spent eight years with Salman and there was so much love between us. My marriage with him failed as a result of my condition and my growing need for individuality. I wanted to talk about that in a real and compelling way. At the time, there was no real space in the media chatter to have a deep discussion about the truth, so I just kept my mouth shut. But when I got down to it, I just wanted to write an honest book, not something that was a fluff piece. All anyone ever saw of me was camera ready with perfect hair and makeup, in a beautiful dress. I’d also had a lot of mixed feelings about making a living for most of my twenties, after college, from my appearance. I think at some point of your life, you want more, intellectually, spiritually and practically. No one was going to hand me Diane Sawyer’s job. This book to me was a way of doing something deeper, something bigger than me, more meaningful—like my work with my foundation, The Endometriosis Foundation of America.
In her book Padma reveals that she was sexually abused as a kid, what does she expect her daughter to take away from the experience, when she reads the book? She replies, “It’s a conversation that I’ve already had with my daughter. In all earnestness, it wasn’t just from the perspective of being a part of the statistic of victims, but really cautioning her as any responsible parent would. My daughter is six years old, a year younger than how old I was when I was molested. I warned my daughter that if she were ever touched inappropriately by anyone, regardless of whether they are related to mommy or daddy, she should aggressively say “NO”, make a huge fuss. To me, in whatever way that a six year old can understand that, I think she does.”
At last, she sheds light on how her family reacted to her portrayal of them in the book and the bond that she has with them, “My family in India is so far removed from my life here in the US or at least, they don’t understand the enormity or the intensity of it. A while ago, I told them what I do on Top Chef, in a rather simplistic way and their reaction was priceless. They said, “That’s it? You taste food and you talk about it? But you do that here too.” I had to join in the joke saying, yes, but I do that for TV in much nicer clothes. As for the book goes, my mother has been very generous in letting me tell my story, ’cause it’s also her story. My mother is a conservative, 71-year-old Indian woman who didn’t ask for her personal life being public, but she said, it’s okay, go ahead. Ultimately, I’m very blessed to have a family that’s not only unconditionally supportive, but also very forgiving of my flaws and the mistakes I’ve made in my life.”
The memoir Love, Loss and What We Ate is releasing on April 11th in India. You can pre-order your copy online.