In 2013, at the age of just 20, Ruby Tandoh came to floury fame in the Bake Off tent, and has since made a name for herself as a food writer and commentator.
In her new book, Eat Up!, Tandoh talks about her relationship with her partner, Leah – who she met through Tinder – thanking her “for loving me and feeding me.” For Tandoh, food and queerness are very much intertwined, especially because she came to terms with her queerness around the same time as she came to terms with her relationship with food.
“Both are about what (or who) I want, and whether I see myself as worthy of that, and whether I’m allowed to follow those appetites,” she tells PinkNews.
Eat Up!, which intersects recipes with personal essays on food, hunger and identity, was published this week.
Speaking to PinkNews, Tandoh says the idea for the book came in response to scaremongering and confusion she saw being created by the food industry.
“Last year there was a real crescendo of uncertainty around food: diet culture was reinventing itself, there were books promising to save you from your own cravings and others saying that we’re all pretty much eating ourselves to death.
“One day, one thing was ‘poison,’ then it was some other food. It was seriously messed up.”
When it comes to her and Leah, their approach to food is unfailingly enthusiastic and endearing – their favourite thing to cook is pancakes.
“Leah’s the pancake-making queen, and I’m great at eating them, so we’re a good team in that respect,” Tandoh says.
She argues that a key step we need to take as a society is to stop separating hunger from appetite – the direction of hunger and what that hunger desires – and demonising appetite in the process.
“I think we tend to distinguish as a physical thing, and appetite is about pleasure-seeking. But I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think you can separate bodily hunger from emotional, sensual craving: these things work together.”
Tandoh, who struggled with an eating disorder in the past, says it’s important to her to talk openly about her experience, to create a frank discussion and dispel myths.
“I know how difficult a healthy relationship with food can be. It’s tough. And unfortunately, the proliferation of diet culture and ‘wellness’ is only making that harder.”
“We need to be honest about what eating disorders ‘look’ like (clue: anyone – in any kind of body, at any weight – can suffer from one), about what eating behaviours might indicate disordered eating (a lot of rule-heavy wellness plans fall into this camp) and what we can do to help.
And she believes this societal control of food is even more potent when it comes to women, who are placed under so many “weird contradictions” that just simply enjoying food becomes a form of protest.
“We can eat in public, but not too much, not too enthusiastically, and only if we have the ‘right’ kind of body. The rules that dictate socially acceptable appetites in women are much like the ones that regulate our sexual appetites.”
“We’re meant to want it, but not be too hungry. Fuck that.”
“There’s a lot to be said for the parallel unfolding of these culinary and romantic appetites.”
Coming out to her parents was fairly uneventful, or as she puts it, “kind of nothing-y!” but she says that she hates talking about it.
“For me the hard part wasn’t the reaction from other people, but all the work that went into my own self-acceptance. It took a while.”
She came out publicly on Twitter in 2015 with a video of Diana Ross’ “I’m coming out,” saying she felt “lucky and joyful and free.”
me to my parents today. feeling lucky and joyful and f r e e. over and Out.https://t.co/dHrlMsLlOg
— Ruby Tandoh (@rubytandoh) April 2, 2015
She received a hugely positive reaction from her fans and followers, she says, including Sue Perkins, who hosted Bake Off while Tandoh was a contestant.
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Although Tandoh was the third runner-up on the fourth series of Bake Off, she says she doesn’t follow the programme closely anymore. After the pressure of being on it, she says “the whole thing kinda brings me out in hives.”
However, this season she was supporting Liam and Yan, who was a favourite among LGBT+ fans.
In fact, Tandoh says the whole concept of Bake Off is gay.
“It’s the most ridiculous, camp, over the top thing in the world – a baking competition? In a massive tent? With innuendos and piping bags and flamboyant cakes?”
“It’s queer culture. I love it.”
Tandoh’s love of food doesn’t start and stop with Bake Off. She can often be found writing lengthy Twitter threads about cheese, doughnuts and nectarines, and whole articles as odes to melted butter on sliced white bread.
Her midnight snack of choice is cereal, she tells PinkNews, then cheese toastie for lunch at 8am because “nothing else will do.”
The smell of garlic bread makes her think of her childhood home.