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A Review of Geraldine DeRuiter's If You Can’t Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury.

Caroline Hampshire

Geraldine DeRuiter’s humor is like a multi-tiered cake (cake being a faithful and enduring symbol in her writing). It has layers in the same way that, according to DeRuiter, cherishing Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits in the comfort of your own home has layers: “For a moment, I could pretend I was in a restaurant and that restaurant was pretending to be in New England.” DeRuiter’s new and timely collection If You Can’t Take the Heat distinctively layers narratives of human sovereignty and interpersonal connection and conviction with sociohistorical phenomena such as beef stroganoff, box cake mix, imminent tectonic catastrophe, the “ladies’ menu,” and the comments section of a recipe page. Each chapter offers a synecdochically distinct moment of reassurance and hilarity. When read holistically, this collection constructs a trajectory from formative defiance to ripened perspective and rage, as witnessed through DeRuiter’s relationship with food.

To illustrate this relationship, DeRuiter dwells in intriguing dualisms throughout her work such as the revelation that apocalyptic food can exist simultaneously as comfort food, especially in the case of a global pandemic (when “everyone was making sourdough” during quarantine). Or the dualism encountered when vastly different pasts and futures reconcile and gather in a single kitchen. She describes the moments when her husband and her mother interact in their kitchen in the wake of her mother’s devastating house fire, started by a stovetop back burner—she writes, “I feel the strange, anachronistic wholeness that comes from having your spouse and your parent under the same roof. Your past and your future compressed into the whole you’ve made for yourself.” She reminds us that these suspended, liminal, often food-centered moments of enlightenment bring us closer to the ones we love.

DeRuiter’s collection features two chapters derived from her long-standing blog, The Everywhereist. These chapters, “Gender Rolls and Cinnamon Rolls” and “Bros’,” are widely known across the internet—one earned DeRuiter the 2019 James Beard Award and both resulted in vehement harassment and backlash, an onslaught of “culinary wankery” from the depths of online anonymity and global newspaper front pages alike. These chapters’ analogies showcase DeRuiter’s candid comic style at its best. In “Bros’,” she illustrates the night she and her friends experienced possibly the worst Michelin-starred restaurant ever:

“At some point; the only way to regard that sort of [meal]—without going mad—is as some sort of community improv theater. You sit in the audience shouting suggestions like ‘A restaurant!’ and ‘Eating something that resembles food,’ and ‘The exchange of money for goods, and in this instance the goods are a goddamn meal!’”

In these chapters of If You Can’t Take the Heat, DeRuiter gives her regular readers some welcome elaboration on both of these viral posts and contextualizes them in a larger discourse on gender and race disparity across the culinary world. DeRuiter calls for a kind of reflective reconciliation in these moments too, challenging us to acknowledge our past and strive for progressive change for the future.

Food is both the context and the medium for this change in DeRuiter’s second book just as travel was the context and medium in her first, All Over the Place. The other persistent thread in DeRuiter’s writing is that she writes about writing, in the satisfyingly meta way that lovers of narrative and language will appreciate. Her parenthetical consciousness—“(passive voice)…(active voice)…(let’s-just-call-it-what-it-is voice)”—invites her readers into her writing practice in a way that makes you feel a little bit closer to the essential rage that DeRuiter identifies as a catalyst for the creative process. In her chapter “Old Haunts,” she examines the meanings and associations we build with transient places, like restaurants that one day “close their doors” and, as she laments, remove popcorn shrimp from their menus. Reflecting on how we memorialize these sliding and intangible things, she notes, “Be careful with a writer’s heart; in the end the facts are how we choose to remember them.” In this statement, she brings together the ideas of agency, memory, and change that resonate throughout If You Can’t Take the Heat and are inextricably linked to the way we eat.


GERALDINE DERUITER is the James Beard Award–winning blogger behind The Everywhereist and the author of All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, Marie Claire, and Refinery 29. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband, Rand. They are currently working on a cooking-themed video game and ordering too much takeout.

CAROLINE HAMPSHIRE is a Ph.D. student, concentrating on Medieval and Early Modern British Literary and Cultural Studies. She received a B.S. in English from the United States Air Force Academy and a M.A. in Shakespeare Studies from King’s College London. She has focused her scholarship on examining the early modern mirror stage property, prologue costuming, and material collaborative authorship, presenting selected works for the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association (2022, 2023). Her additional interests include travel and food literature as well as reviewing poetry and literary-inspired performances—she has published reviews in War, Literature, and the Arts 34.1 (2022) and KCL’s collection of Shakespeare400 consortium student reviews (2016).


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