“Life is messy. Get used to it.”: Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

I love food. I love to eat it, cook it, watch other people cook it (Top Chef!), and read about it. I can’t get enough cookbooks, baking books (my newest favorite to the left. If that cover doesn’t make you want chocolate cake, check your pulse), or food memoirs, from the scorching (Anthony Bourdain) to the sweet (Ruth Reichel) to the iconic (M.F.K Fisher). Hell, sometimes I just read menupages.com for, well, the menus. So, it’s not surprising that I’ve been eagerly anticipating the publication of Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef (Random House, 2011). What a title! What a cover! The love child of Ruth Reichl and Augusten Burroughs (the book, I mean)! Sold. And, I was completely taken by the excerpt in the New Yorker. Disjointed and rushed at the end, but it whetted my appetite for the book’s release this Tuesday, March 1.

If you read (and since you’re reading this, I’d say it’s a given), you’ve seen something about this book and author. They’ve been covered everywhere, from the New York Times (twice: in the book review and the style sections) and Wall Street Journal to the Post, Huffpo, and Food and Wine. But amidst all of the talk of audacity, hard knocks, soul less kitchens and fried zucchini, something else popped out at me. See if you can catch it in this excerpt from the WSJ piece below:

“Chef-owner of the popular East Village bistro Prune, she [Hamilton] loathes the New York City farmers markets. A cook who never wanted to become a chef, she is appalled by her female colleagues and hates the very need to qualify chef with the word woman. A committed lesbian, she is married to a man—an older Italian doctor—but refuses to live with him for seven years despite their having two children together.”

 No, it’s not the bit about the farmers markets. Three questions: 1) What exactly is a “committed lesbian”? 2) Why would a “committed lesbian” be married to a man? 3) Is anyone surprised this article was written by a man?

Let’s tackle #3 first: no.

Now, what is a committed lesbian? It sounds either like an institutionalized lesbian or a lesbian in a committed lesbian relationship and neither would be the case here. She is apparently committed to her husband in some capacity so maybe a committed lesbian is just a lesbian committed to someone…or something. Or, perhaps a “committed lesbian” is committed (or dedicated, devoted, faithful) to lesbianism.

I can’t figure out how that would be different from your plain jane “lesbian” but I’m also having trouble wrapping my head around how that would accurately define Hamilton who seems to be living in a much more nuanced map of desire and commitments than that label, and the below, would imply.

“‘Some years ago I came to possess, of all things, a husband,’ Ms. Hamilton once wrote. ‘People who know me well are still scratching their heads about this.’ Before her marriage to Dr. Fuortes, after all, most of her romantic relationships had been with women. That said, she and Dr. Fuortes do not live together, and their union seems to have reached an endpoint. ‘We’re still married, technically, but we’re going to work that out,’ Ms. Hamilton said.”

Now, maybe Hamilton defines herself as a “committed lesbian” and then, so be it, everyone has the right to define themselves even if it causes others to scratch their heads but my guess is this was the writer’s doing who felt he somehow needed to define her and carry on a very attention-grabbing opening paragraph.

As for #2 why would a “committed lesbian” be married to a man? A “committed lesbian” wouldn’t be—they’re dedicated, devoted, and faithful!—but a lesbian might be if the guy needed a green card, and if you read between the lines that sounds like the case here. Though those two children—not one, two!—implies a more intimate relationship, at least at one point. But, who cares? Hamilton’s intimate life is her own business and I quite like her spirit:

“I’m going to eat foie gras,” she said. “I’m going to have sex with whoever I want to have sex with. I don’t want politics to deny me these experiences. And I’m not having them every day. So it’s not rapacious or gluttonous. Please.”

Why should it matter if it’s rapacious or gluttonous? Anyway, what irks me is the need to label. To me, this “committed lesbian” business exemplifies just how difficult it is to do accurately and how ridiculous it often is to try at all.

Someone in our reading group once said that she determines a lesbian by who she bequeaths her estate. If the partner gets the money, lesbian. If the partner gets cut out, not lesbian. It all comes down to money.

What do you think? Any other definitions?

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