Eat My Words - A Memoir of Politics, Pig-outs & Pickles, is the latest tome by Australian political journalist Mungo MacCallum. Journeying through his epicurean adventures, MacCallum takes the reader on a bold ride across many decades, continents and food fashions. Although it contains several recipes, it is “not a cookbook” as MacCallum states in his opening line. It is a “real book for real people about real food”.
As an introduction, MacCallum recalls the moment in his youth when he realised that food was an essential part of life and should be accorded careful consideration - but not be taken too seriously. This thesis is built upon throughout the book, as MacCallum encourages and inspires the reader to take culinary control over their meals but to also have fun and experiment. This is evident through the loose structure of his recipes, instructing you, the cook, to “vary, add or omit at will”. Not exactly haphazard, but certainly liberal, his recipes focus on availability, ease and seasonality. Rather than having you run all over town looking for something not readily available, he lists many substitutes that will work just as well. The recipes are also somewhat mood-based, “if I’m in a hurry or feeling lazy”, and bring a comfort and a reality to the situation and the result trying to be achieved, which simply is your dinner, not a Michelin Starred dish.
Infused with haunts from his tumultuous past, MacCallum creates a sense of place extremely well. The reader is instantly transported and finds themselves smack bang in the middle of the crowded bar, dodgy restaurant or Labor Party Lunch . His writing also conjures vivid imagery and sensory experiences - “This downmarket Italian dive’s exclusive tipple was a red wine manufactured in bulk... It arrived in 44-gallon drums and was a formidable drop - so much so that following an afternoon on it you felt that you needed to clean your teeth with an electromagnet.”
Eat My Words is certainly written with a distinctive voice: it’s colloquial, funny, and slightly assaulting. It is clearly a male voice and this book has more appeal to a male audience than a female audience - dare we separate the genders in this day and age...? Yes, we must. MacCallum throws caution to the wind in terms of political correctness and recounts many a tale where gender dictates what role one plays is various social settings - “A more old-fashioned line is that a barbecue gives the sheilas a break; the blokes get their turn to do the cooking...”
Although enjoyable at first, MacCallum’s conversational tone and his slap-dashery of “throwing in a tin of tomatoes” into almost every dish he makes, gets a little tiresome. The book is somewhat repetitive and wears thin after 248 pages. Comical in parts, one gets the idea that nobody is enjoying the jokes as much as MacCallum is himself. Eat My Words is an easy read and would best equip a young male who has just left the nest and is looking for some guidance on how to cook blokey meals with flavour and flair.
Eat My Words - A Memoir of Politics, Pig-outs & Pickles
By Mungo MacCallum
HarperCollinsPublisher, 2012, pp248, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7333-3124-4