More than a mouthful

Tucker Shaw wasn’t planning on doing anything much in 2004, so he decided to photographs every food, every candy, every dessert, in short, everything that he stuffed down his throat for the entire year.

Even more amazing, he got Chronicle Books to publish “Everything I Ate: A Year In The Life Of My Mouth”

It’s a beautifully organized book. A page per day, with the months running alongside each page, all color coded and tabbed so if you had a sudden stab to find out what Tucker ate during July, you could flip to the right page.

Each comestible is photographed in situ with what looks like a point-and-shoot camera. Each photo is numbered, and a caption at the top identifies the item in question, the time it was consumed and where it was eaten. Most of the photos look like what you would take with a camera, although Shaw likes to mix it up occasionally, positioning a doughnut on top of a copy of Oprah magazine, holding a quesadilla in front of the Queen Mary 2 as it pulls into New York harbor, or (frequently) a bowl of evening cereal in front of the TV screen. The chapter notes and foreword were written on napkins and photographed.

“Everything I Ate” is weirdly compelling on two levels. First, the question of “why the hell would someone pay $14.95 plus tax to read this” keeps popping up. The menus are given without captions don’t give much more than the basics (Some examples from the entry for Thursday, June 10: “12:06 PM Mango at home.” “2:47 PM Nutty Healthy Shake from 3rd Avenue Natural with Henry.” “11:04 PM General Tso’s chicken, white rice from Mama Buddha with Danny at home.”). I can’t imagine anyone actually sitting down and reading more than a day’s worth of entries. Why should I care that a year ago on the day I’m writing this (October 28), Shaw ate Tuscan roast beef sandwich, lavender candies, potato chips, grilled cheese with bacon and tomato, French fries and Wheaties? “When I look at what I ate, I remember everything,” he writes. Good for him. So?

At the same time, seeing pictures of the food gave me a creepy feeling. Eating is an intimate act. The choice of food reflects the personality, habits and desires of the consumer, and despite the fact that Tucker Shaw is a willing participant, there’s an element of voyeurism that’s unsettling. I don’t know Shaw, and I’m not interested in him. He’s a stranger, and this is a book about watching a stranger eat.

But also, the shutter’s release captured a foodstuff who’s fate has been sealed. Everything pictured in “Everything I Ate” no longer exists. It has been consumed and transmuted into another form, most likely decomposing. It’s a gallery of the soon-to-be dead, akin to seeing the mug shots of Khmer Rouge victims.