It is an impossible question that billions of people will have pondered at some point in their lives, and it lies at the centre of Eating Myself: “Am I fat, from an objective point of view? I’ve always asked myself that.” Posed innocently enough by Pepa Duarte in her moving one-woman show, there can of course never really be an answer. Because how can anything ever be objective, when you are the only one trying to gauge something about yourself?
Eating Myself is a brave and deeply personal account of one woman’s complicated relationship with food, family and heritage. It tells of the trap we can find ourselves in when all the joyful associations of food can be lost, and it becomes an outlet for all our fears and anxieties. As Duarte laments, “No matter how hard I tried — I always had this sensation of failing”.
Laura Arroyo’s highly stylised set is a kitchen surrounded by floating cooking utensils, that are a physical manifestation of the psychological processes behind feeding oneself. When Duarte’s character explains her mother’s pregnancy, a colander is held over her stomach. This only mimicking a womb, but also the inherited trauma of what it is to be the emigrée daughter to a patriarchal Latin American family, who has suddenly had her origins and social position held against the light of 21st Century Western feminism.
Duarte also wrote the play, and the script is littered with recognisable foodie experiences, such as the spontaneous splurge of £60 on an online “miracle food plan”, or the motion of meal planning by “boiling loads of the same thing and then separating into so many containers.”
But as well as being relatable, it is also unashamedly Duarte’s own experience. It draws on experiences of the Peruvian diaspora shopping for ‘magical Peruvian peppers’ at Seven Sisters Market, as well as — in what becomes the central theme of the second half the play — the bewildering relationship we can have with our families as adults. It is unclear how much of the story is based on fiction and how much on truth, But to see Duarte at the end, tears glistening on her face and stripped down to her underwear, it is evidently a deeply personal account.
Duarte’s performance is adroitly choreographed in engaging and imaginative ways by Shane Dempsey to manifest her interior struggles. Recorded on camera just before lockdown, it is certainly a shame it was not being shown in person, as much of visceral pull of the movement direction will have been lost when relayed through a laptop screen.
Eating Myself remains a refreshing, in-depth take on a range of topical issues. And with so much contemporary discourse fixated on Covid and the coming economic armageddon, Eating Myself reminds us that all the other issues in the world that we used to talk about before the pandemic have by no means gone away.
Eating Myself is playing online. For more information and tickets, see Applecart Arts website.