8Books Review: “Love, Loss, and What We Ate” by Padma Lakshmi

LoveLossPadma Lakshmi’s memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate is an intimate look at family, growing, grief, and eating through life’s ups and downs. Best known for her role as host on Top Chef, Lakshmi takes us from childhood to the present in vivid detail with humor, honesty, and self-reflection. She is fully willing to unveil her flaws, capitalizing on the gift of hindsight.

Lakshmi ably guides us through her triumphs and travails. She is unafraid to talk about her health issues (late diagnosis with endometritis), her sex life, her relationships, and her life between East and West. Inevitably, she returns to food–the foods of her childhood, those of heartache, what she makes for those she loves–interspersing occasional recipes throughout.

It’s an easy and enjoyable read. I’m not one to usually read this kind of memoir, the famous people’s names littered throughout mean a little, but not much, to me (she was, after all, married to a quite famous author). But I greatly appreciate that this is also very much a woman’s memoir. Rather than say, “I’ve lived an amazing life” (which is true and she acknowledges), Lakshmi takes more of the “I’m a person” approach, full of flaws, gratitude, and pain. Her writing also shows her personal growth and evolution as she unfolds her life story.

And true to the title, it is littered with tidbits about food and family. I love this little bit about being an immigrant kid on her own in New York, full of cravings and hunger and…

“In India, a meal was not a meal unless there was rice. In America, a meal seemed not to be a meal unless there was bread. Americans, it seemed to me, ate a lot of sandwiches. I was four when I made my first sandwich. I was hungry and hunger makes you get creative. What I really wanted was a cheese and chutney sandwich, an Indian classic…So I rummaged through my mom’s fridge and found a foil-wrapped block of Philadelphia cream cheese. I spread it on bread and added a good squirt of ketchup.”

I also learned the difference between a jacket and a coat about 200 pages in, so there’s fashion here from the former model too. But more than all the events strung together, at this book’s heart is the steady importance of family and the a life spent straddling the line between India and the West. And at the end, thoughtful reflections on what kind of life she wants to create for her daughter at these intersections and what lessons she hopes to pass on.

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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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