My family’s pre-dinner time conversation usually involves discussing the Netflix shows we’ve been watching lately. Honestly, I don’t usually have much to contribute because I have an embarrassingly short attention span; shows normally hold my attention for maybe an episode or two. But for once, I actually had something to add to the conservation: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. It’s a four-episode travel and cooking show, based off of a book by chef and food writer Samin Norsat. For me, this was a fully engrossed, sitting-in-my-bed-watching-into-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning-sort of show, and that’s a lot for someone dedicated to her 10 p.m. bedtime.
When I told my mom this, instead of curiosity or excitement, I just got, “Oh yeah. We watched part of the first episode. It was OK, but she was just kind of gross, the way she stuck her fingers into stuff, you know?”
I, visibly deflated, shrugged and went to my room to finish the first season alone.
I had been sort of hesitant to share the show with my mom. I’d loved it, but I’d had a feeling she wouldn’t. We have a bit of a contemptuous relationship with food, one I’ve struggled to come to terms with as an adolescent. Growing up, I was praised for “eating like a bird,” “eating healthy,” or whatever people would say to the same effect, when they really meant that they appreciated how little I would eat.
But here’s the thing. I love food. I love eating, and I’m damn good at it. I can go in on a plate of French fries or a burrito and be done with it before your food even makes it to the table. I can eat peanut butter by the spoonful and will do so happily. I’ll drench my bread in enough olive oil to make you cry.
If that paragraph grossed you out a little bit, that’s what I was going for, and that’s why I love Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat so much.
A lot of what I’ve been told about food growing up basically boils down to this: as a woman, it’s my job to make myself as small as possible. I’m not supposed to take up space, or time, or food. When I put food on my plate, I should eat small amounts and eat it slowly. No one’s ever told me this outright that I can remember. It’s more subtle than that: my family chastising me for eating before everyone else’s food arrives while my brother eats without a word said to him, my friend astoundedly asking me if I really ate a peanut butter cup in two bites when she had taken just a nibble of hers, even a Bon Appetit cooking video where two skinny women eat a bite of cake each and laugh to the camera about their “Fat Girl Moment” in chef Christina Tosi’s words.
I’ve been taught to make myself small and stomp on my appetite. If I’ve eaten and I’m still hungry, I should ignore my body and be satisfied with the serving I was given, because the absolute worst thing that could happen to me is gaining weight. Even if it means sacrificing my joy or peace of mind to be skinny, I have to do it.
In contrast to all of that, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’s Norsat unapologetically enjoys food, and that gives other women license to do the same thing. The opening sequence shows shot after shot of Italian gelato, and at the end Norsat eats a cone and moves on with her life, something I haven’t done in years. It was the most freeing thing I’ve seen in a long, long time.
However, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is not a feel-good cooking show about women’s liberation. Norsat’s ability to eat without shame doesn’t come up once. It’s not a show about women who eat, or women who cook, or women who travel. It’s not even remotely about her being a woman. She’s just a person who happens to to be a woman, who eats like all people do and enjoys it. She’s allowed to exist without it being a gimmick or a thing. She just is.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat doesn’t bring any shame with it about eating, or discussion of nutrition and calories, or ways to make food healthier, lighter, or “guilt free.” Norsat and her guests eat for pleasure. There is immense joy in eating, in sharing a meal with people you want to be around, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat captures that perfectly.
So, whether you like cooking, travel, food or watching someone drink olive oil, I implore you to watch Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. You’ll learn how to make a delicious meal, laugh at Norsat’s antics and might just improve your relationship with food a bit along the way.