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Drawings by Rebecca Fishow 

FOOD FACES: AIMEE BENDER

In this series, Shane Jones looks at the diet of some of our favorite writers. In this installment he talks to Aimee Bender, whose most recent book is The Color Master.

The Believer: Did you know that pasta comes up multiple times in your stories? 

Aimee Bender: Ha! Didn’t realize. I love it very much.

BLVR: Do you ever feel like it slows you down though? Also, you have a lot of bread in your diet. I’d be very sluggish with your diet.  

AB: Strangely in the evening I feel kind of energized by it. But at lunch, yeah. I sometimes try not to eat bread at lunch but then I miss it so much.

BLVR: Food and consumption plays such a sad and beautiful role in The Color Master. I’m thinking of “Appleless” (a creepy fable about a girl who doesn’t eat apples amongst those who eat nothing but apples) and “The Devouring’s” (a woman marries an ogre who eats her children) specifically, but also in “Lemonade,” a more realistic story where there’s a real sadness to the valley girl narrator and it’s the actual lemonade from a food vendor that functions as a kind of ‘human connection’ she doesn’t realize. Do you think sadness plays a role in our food consumption? Is food an important connector between people? It seems like it is between a lot of your characters.   

AB: Thanks. I think food is a definite connector and this omnipresent social prop. So, it just feels natural to have characters interacting with food.

I remember reading once about the writers of Sex in the City, and how they wanted to have the characters eating in every scene.  Which is true.  And something about that lends it a sense of real life. Sadness—sometimes, yes, but not always. Joy plays a role. Anxiety. Delight.  The whole gamut!

BLVR: The opposite would be something like American Psycho, where Ellis writes dozens of scenes at “high-brow” restaurants and uses the absurdity of it all as a disconnector between the narrator and his reality. I like that a lot too. How food has become something twisted and almost unrecognizable. In American Psycho the food is ridiculously overpriced, presented as art on plates, and everyone involved—hostess, servers, eaters—seem inhumane. Do you ever worry about how our food today has become kind of unrecognizable? How it’s so processed, altered, factory farmed?

AB: Yes, seems a timely thing to reread, too, with the foodie movement being so huge right now.

I wrote about food a lot in my last book, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and that was a focal point—the unrecognizable food being both alien and alluring specifically because it is alien and therefore a break from contact with people. So, yes! I think about it a lot. 

BLVR: Do you have a favorite “unrecognizable” food? I’m a sucker for potato chips with the most absurd flavoring (I recent bought a bag of “loaded baked potato” chips—the cover of the bag actually showed a baked potato with sour cream, chives, bacon, etc.) 

AB: I love those potato chips too—and I’ve always found the Jelly Belly phenomena kind of amazing. How do they get buttered popcorn flavor in there? I don’t even really like the taste but I think they’re weirdly impressive little technological objects.

BLVR: The advances in Jelly Belly flavorings in the past decade may be far greater than the advances in fiction. Do you think your stories have involved in any specific ways since your first collection? Maybe how you approach writing the stories? 

AB: I do think writing novels has changed the way I write stories to some degree—on one level they’re just longer stories. But also writing a novel stretches my sense of scene somewhat so the stories just take up space a little differently. And, also, I’m older, so that changes things in subtle ways I’m sure. I’m more aware of the fact that writing a story is a way of talking to a reader instead of just flinging it out in the world and longing for someone to connect with it but not really knowing if it would or did or could.

BLVR: Susan Sontag said in an interview that when she was working on something it totally consumed her. So much so that she often forgot to eat. Does this happen to you? I guess the opposite would be always having food on your desk, constantly snacking, drinking coffee, etc.  

AB: Only when I did later drafts of Lemon Cake did I have that feeling—I would try to read through the whole and try to focus hard on how it read and I would actually skip meals which is RARE for me. As in that never happens. But that was only for a few weeks. Then I’d be all amped up and go eat a huge lunch. Usually I work for two hours and then go eat, or have a yogurt while writing but that’s it.

I also like Murakami’s statement which is that while writing a novel he considers it a big physical endeavor so he eats well, gets more sleep, exercises, like he’s preparing for a marathon. So different than a Bukowski type.

BLVR: I read somewhere that Bukowski wasn’t as wild as his image and later myth portrayed. For example, he was surprisingly financially responsible. But I can’t imagine his diet (what a stomach). If you could eat one story from The Color Master which would it be? 

AB: I love hearing that about him being financially responsible! Had no idea. If I could eat one story… I suppose the title story since all the colors might make good flavors.

Shane Jones lives in Albany, New York.