“The Assumption is I’m to Blame for How She Looks.”
On increasing representation, encouraging food joy, and the pressures of parenting a child in a bigger body in public, with Emiko Davies
You’re listening to Burnt Toast. This is the podcast where we talk about diet culture, fatphobia, parenting, and health. I’m Virginia Sole-Smith, I also write the Burnt Toast newsletter.
Today I am chatting with Emiko Davies, an award winning Australian-Japanese food writer, photographer, and cookbook author based in Italy.
Emiko grew up in a diplomatic family and spent most of her life living in countries other than her own, from China to the United States. After graduating from art school, she ended up in Florence, Italy in 2005 to study art restoration, and fell in love with a Tuscan Sommelier. They live with their daughters in a charming hilltop village between Florence and Pisa and plan to open their own space for sharing food and natural wine experiences in San Miniato in 2023. (Book your travel now!) Emiko has also written five cookbooks, most recently Cinnamon & Salt, and she also shares her recipes on her Instagram and in her Substack newsletter,Emiko’s Newsletter.
But today we’re talking less about Emiko’s amazing food (although I always have time to talk about Emiko’s amazing food). We’re talking about Emiko’s experiences parenting her daughter Luna who is in a bigger body. And as you can imagine, that gets especially complicated for Emiko, as a semi public figure who shares pieces of her life and her kids online.
Episode 70 Transcript
You have been on my radar for such a long time as someone who produces this beautiful and delicious food. You live in Italy and live out my dreams in many ways—or at least it looks that way. I’m allowed to fantasize. But I didn’t realize until you started doing your Substack about a year ago that you were also very firmly anti-diet. And I am always so thrilled to discover food people who feel that way. Because, as I’ve discussed in the past (here with Julia Turshen!), the food world has a complicated relationship with all of these issues, as I know I don’t need to tell you.
Well, I actually didn’t realize that there was a term for anti-diet until I started reading some of your work. I’m pretty sure you had a lot to do with it, Virginia, so thank you. But I once I started reading about that I realized I’ve been anti-diet my whole life. Because I, like my daughter Luna, grew up in a in a bigger body. I basically went through puberty and then became thin, like over the summer. My body completely changed. And then I was a thin teenager and have been all kinds of body shapes as my through my 30s and now I’m 42. Especially having babies and everything else.
We all try out a lot of bodies, a lot of shapes.
Yeah, exactly. But one thing I have never been into was diets. I was just very lucky that growing up, that was something that my family never hinted at or never suggested that we needed to do. So I realize now, looking back, that I went through those periods of my life where I was in a bigger body completely unscathed really. I don’t really remember anytime ever feeling ashamed of myself or hating myself. For that, I feel really grateful. Restricting food was never something I was gonna do. I loved eating and I loved cooking. So when I realized there was a term for anti-diet, I was like, wow, this is, this is me. I found my home.
What a gift your family gave you. Do you have a sense of why your parents or the adults in your life were able to provide that safe space?
I don’t know why I was so lucky. My mother is Japanese and she’s very tiny. She’s a really tiny Japanese lady. My father, though, is in a bigger body. And I don’t know if that had something to do with it. Body commenting or any of that sort of thing, it just was never something that we did in my family. I have a younger brother, who was always stick thin and still is stick thin and has never changed. My sister, though, was just like me, she had a bigger body as a child and as an adolescent. So maybe it was just a combination of the fact that we we all had different shaped bodies. And that was just who we were.
They didn’t feel like, “We have to fight this.”
I feel very lucky. Looking back on this now, I didn’t realize how lucky I really was.
So you had this realization when you started sharing pictures—particularly of Luna, you have an older daughter, too—that suddenly you were in this conversation in a different way, that you weren’t just sharing pictures of your kids.
So my older daughter is nine and she’s straight sized. And actually, we had a few years of really difficult eating, where she basically was only eating a handful of things. She was so anxious about school that she wouldn’t eat breakfast or eat at school. So she would come home at four in the afternoon and hadn’t eaten a thing and she was getting so skinny. So she was a whole different thing. I was always trying to make sure she was really comfortable around food and that mealtimes were just really the chillest and most peaceful place to be. I didn’t want to create any more anxiety than what she was already going through. And then Luna came along when we were in the middle of this really difficult eating phase. I’m gonna say its a phase because she is getting out of it now that she’s nearly 10. But the ages between four and eight were really, really difficult years.
And Luna was born when she was five and a half, so right in the middle of this. And Luna was just this bubbly, funny, kind of crazy, little second daughter. When she was a toddler, I was posting photos and videos as I had always done on on Instagram and on my blog, of food things that we do together, which is basically like what we do whenever we have any free time. Almost every day, on the weekends or after school, we’re making something or at least I’m cooking something and my kids usually jump in and want to play with whatever it is that I’m making.
And when when Luna was a toddler, people loved seeing Luna content. You could tell she really loves food. She loves trying anything, eating anything, sticking her hand in a bag of flour or whatever it was. You know, making a mess. I’m usually in the kitchen testing recipes and things like that and I would post all these photos and videos and sometimes we’d be making pasta or baking something, whatever it was. And so that was great, people love seeing little Luna doing that.
And one of her one of the videos that that people still talk about when they write to me about her is Luna drinking a bowl of minestrone which was her favorite thing. She literally will pick up the bowl and drink every last drop out of there. And then like put it down and give this big sigh. Like, “That was so good.” So I was sharing these things. And when she was little, people just loved it and saw the joy and the innocence. That was the main thing people would write to me: This is just pure joy.
I mean, her reaction to minestrone is exactly correct. It’s delicious.
The first time I got some really startlingly negative, really hateful comments was about a year ago. I happened to be making a tiramisu when Luna popped in like she always does no matter what I make in the kitchen. She’ll be there like, what are you doing? Can I come and help you? And she’ll stick her hands in whatever it is I’m making. I was gutting a fish and she did the same thing with a fish, right? She’s just in there, curious about whatever it is that I’m doing.
But this time, it happened to be a tiramisu, which, you know, is a dessert made with mascarpone, eggs, cream. I had some persimmons that were super ripe and I was using them in the tiramisu. And I think it’s kind of… what’s the word? Maybe predictable? That this was going to happen with a photo of Luna with a dessert. Not minestrone, which was full of vegetables, but a dessert. And the only actually the only times I have ever gotten negative comments is when they see Luna with something sweet. In this case, it was a tiramisu and she wasn’t actually eating it. She was helping me make… I wouldn’t even say she was helping me. She was just making a mess!
She was in the process.
She was like, “What’s this?” And literally stuck a savoiard, like the lady finger biscuit, in the egg and sugar before I had even put the mascarpone in there. And she was just messing around. So I had these photos and I have the recipe that I was sharing in my newsletter. That was the first time that I got some really negative comments and the comments were basically, “What are you doing to this child?” This was clearly something that they saw as my fault. “What kind of parent does this to their child?” The assumptions are that she’s eating too much and that she has this really like hearty appetite, which also she doesn’t. She eats regularly! Thank god, she’s not a difficult eater, like my older daughter, but she’s not a particularly big eater, either. I just don’t think that that has anything to do with anything at all. But it’s this assumption that people have when they see her, especially coupled with an image of cake or dessert or sweets, right? The assumption is that I am to blame for how she looks. And I think that’s the problem.
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