Editing Force Fed: Contemplating Food as a Tool for Abuse
Food has a different meaning and function for us all. Ghia’s relationship with eating, alongside her time editing Force Fed, gives us some real food for thought.
CW: This article discusses food as a tool of abuse and food consumption in relation to eating disorders. Readers are asked to keep this in mind ahead of reading the piece.
Force Fed is a book by Christine Sloan Stoddard that uses poetry, photography, and fiction to weave a compelling, emotional story. As someone who had the privilege of editing this book and an avid reader in my own right, I can honestly say Christine’s story-telling abilities will play your heartstrings like a harp and produce a gripping melody you’ll never forget.
When I agreed to edit Force Fed, I wasn’t prepared to read one of the best books I’ve read in my life. How foolish of me! After all, I was already acquainted with Christine Sloan Stoddard and her writing, so I should’ve known better. You see, she is the founding editor of Quail Bell Magazine, a fairy punk magazine that publishes Real and Unreal stories. I, on the other hand, am the senior editor at Quail Bell Magazine. I started out as an editorial intern in May 2014 and worked my way up to my current position. Writing and editing for Quail Bell has been one of the most rewarding writing experiences I’ve had in my life.
Since I began writing for Quail Bell, Christine has continued to impress me and the rest of the world with her stunning creativity. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that she has a talent for telling stories and immersing readers in the realities faced by marginalized communities. Force Fed marches to that beat. The book consists of letters written by an older sister to her younger sister, regarding the abuse they experienced at the hands of their mother. It also includes “napkin poems” that the older sister wrote along with the letters. These letters and poems provide an intimate glance at how the older sister processes her own trauma related to her abusive mom. Part of the older sister’s trauma involves witnessing the abuse her younger sister also experienced.
When people imagine abusive parents or even merely negligent ones, a scarcity of food comes to mind. People associate bad parenting with not feeding one’s children enough. However, in Force Fed, the mother did the opposite. She uses large quantities of food as an instrument of control and abuse. She does this because she is using cooking big meals to mask her psychological problems.
As a result, her daughters experienced something that a lot of people do: food as a weapon, rather than a source of nurturance.
Editing this book made me think about food and our culture’s double-edged sword of a relationship with it. Sure, we live in a society where our cultural relationship with food is complex and conflict-ridden. We need food to live, but there are so many emotions and experiences that form one’s relationship with food, and they’re often quite negative. For instance, one moment, many of us will eat food with loved ones to celebrate life, holidays, and important events. The next moment, we’ll think poorly of emotional eating and experience the fear of getting fat. The protagonist in Force Fed never mentions anything related to fatness, but her and her sister fear other physical manifestations of food as a tool of abuse.
This work made me think of how warped and contradictory people’s relationships with food can be. Diet culture tells us it’s a bad thing to associate food with emotions, especially positive ones. But honestly, I didn’t start feeling much negativity surrounding food until the adults in my life put me on a diet when I was 10 years old. Only then did I start to experience food guilt and other toxic feelings/beliefs about food as well as my body. As a fat person who’s in recovery with an eating disorder, I’ve learned that having negative feelings towards food in our culture is not only commonplace but encouraged. I know I’m not alone in my experiences with food guilt, food anxiety, food shaming, food policing, and other negative experiences that skewer my relationship with food.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because Force Fed transports me into an opposite reality that still somehow corresponds to something I know: a world where an abundance of rich, heavy food is the enemy. In this book, food is a consistent theme in the abuse faced by these sisters. As their mother forces them to consume large meals against their will, the girls crave the normalcy and safety that’s alien to their dysfunctional household. They yearned for the same sense of stability that people living in happy homes take for granted.
I’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t use food as a reward,” repeated ad nauseum. But what about food as a punishment? Society doesn’t like to think about it, but the truth is that yas, food can be an instrumental component of a person’s abuse.
Personally, I know my negative experiences and feelings surrounding food have impacted my relationship with it. Because of this, food isn’t just food to me and it might never be. Therefore, I can only begin to fathom the kind of hard feelings these sisters have towards food. Reading about their experiences with abuse will reframe food for you and show you how one person’s favorite food could be another person’s torture.
I am recovering from bulimia, so I am familiar with the concept of emotional eating and using large amounts of food to self-medicate. But Christine takes this concept and goes wild with it, turning in directions that I’ve never considered before. Still, the story has such a tangible and believable quality to it that it reads like a non-fiction book.
In addition to that, I also like how Force Fed doesn’t use fatphobia to drive its storyline. In fact, there’s no mention of either sister developing an eating disorder or any weight changes they might’ve experienced as a result of their abuse. This also plays into Christine’s writing technique of leaving many details up in the air and letting the readers fill in the blanks with their imaginations. That’s part of what makes this book is so powerful.
Your relationship with food matters because you have to eat in order to live. This book is a great read if you’re interested in stories with characters who have complicated relationships with food. That said, I also believe there are abuse survivors out there who will see their experiences echoed in Force Fed. This book is a meaningful representation of how despite the similarities between different survivors’ abusive experiences, the abuse each survivor faces is unique in some way. This story will also help you appreciate that food isn’t “just food” for a lot of people—it’s so much more than that. However, please know that the story in this book isn’t the typical narrative that portrays food as a tool of abuse. The characters in Christine’s story clearly associate food with trauma and abuse they’ve experienced, and the story will make your jaw drop. Editing this work involved confronting a lot of powerful emotions and an up-close-and-personal look at abuse. In the end, I believe all of the emotional labor was worth it because this book is one of the ripest fruits my editing labor has ever produced. For this reason, I feel especially honored to be mentioned in the first pages of the book.
Interested in knowing more? You can buy Force Fed on Blurb, Amazon, or Powell’s City of Books. For more updates, like Quail Bell Magazine on Facebook and follow us Twitter and Instagram. We’re always happy to inject more fairy punk goodness into your social media feed.