We’re joined this week by author Chelsea G. Summers to talk about the different forms of cannibalism throughout history, as well as patriarchy, misogyny, aging, and questioning what culture dictates. Be hungry, horny, and satisfied.
This week, Julia recommends Dead to Me, now available on Netflix.
Content Warning: This episode contains conversations about homicide, cannibalism, mental illness, violence against women.
Check out our upcoming live shows and appearances at multitude.productions/live, including our just-announced shows in New York City and Boston! Tickets are on sale now.
- Skillshare is an online learning community where you can learn—and teach—just about anything. Visit skillshare.com/spirits2 to get two months of Skillshare Premium for free! This week, Amanda recommends “Powerful Storytelling Today: Strategies for Crafting Great Content” with Soledad O’Brien.
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Amanda: Welcome to Spirits podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: And I'm Julia.
Amanda: And this is episode 128, Cannibalism and True Crime with Chelsea G. Summers.
Julia: So, editor Eric was going through this episode, and sent us a message saying that this is probably the chillest episode of Spirits he's ever listened to, which is saying something given our subject matter for this episode.
Amanda: Yeah, I mean, basically we just noticed that Chelsea had written a modern novel about a woman cannibal, and was like, that sounds really interesting, and that she talks often about feminism, and aging, and just all kinds of fascinating topics, so we wanted to interview her, so in a way, this is not a traditional episode of Spirits. This is not like an exhaustive survey of the history, and mythos, and cultural baggage of cannibalism, but more like a one person's understanding of these topics, her involvement, and conflicted feelings about true crime, and really just a free ranging conversation about being a woman in a world where crime is a genre and a fact, and it's really fascinating.
Julia: Yeah, and that's not to say we don't talk about mythology in this episode. We do-
Amanda: We do.
Julia: ... touch upon it in several points, because cannibalism is extremely tied to mythology, and in particular, stories about women in mythology, so I'm curious to see what you all think of this episode. I'm really excited about it.
Amanda: Me too. I'm also so excited to have some new patrons with us. Welcome to Morgan Frankencisco, Abby L. Cinsenatas, Abigail, Jacob Phlem, Isabel, and Led Zepherlyn.
Julia: I like Led Zepherlyn. It's a very good name.
Amanda: That's extremely good, and also extremely good, our supporting producer level patrons! Phillip, Eeyore, Mercedes, Christopher, Kathy, Vinnie, Danica, Marissa, Sammy, Josie, Neal, Jessica, and Phil Fresh.
Julia: Yeah, and I would share a bottle of wine, like the beautiful bottle of Smith & Hook cabernet sauvignon we had with this episode, with our legend level patrons: Hailey, James, Jess, Sarah, Sandra, Audra, Jack Marie, and Lee Ann.
Amanda: Speaking of wine, Julia, it is spring and summer, and I am getting much, much more into rose than I am during the rest of the year, which is still pretty considerable, so I would love for you to recommend to me something to read, or watch, or listen to as I'm opening my next bottle.
Julia: Oh, Amanda, do I have a show for you. I just binged it this weekend. It is very good.
Julia: It is new on Netflix. It is called Dead to Me. It is a dark comedy starring one Christina Applegate.
Julia: And Linda Cardellini.
Amanda: The Cardelean!
Julia: And it's about two women who meet at a grief counseling group.
Amanda: Group therapy, which I also love!
Julia: It is wild. There are twists and turns I never saw coming. The first episode is so action packed, and emotional, and beautiful. Highly recommend it. It is a really, really good show, and something that ... it's those sweet half hour episodes, too, so you can just binge the whole thing.
Amanda: A tight 30. I love it.
Julia: I know you do.
Amanda: Beautiful. Well, I am going to have to check that out. And finally, before we get into the episode, we wanted to remind everybody that we have some live events coming up in New York City and Boston. We're also going to be at PodX in Nashville, and Podcast Movement in Orlando this August, so go on over to Multitude.Productions/Live to get your tickets.
Julia: Yeah, and thank you again to our patrons in particular. Their support helps us go to things like this, and host live shows, and go to cons, and have a great time where we can all enjoy the community that we're a part of.
Amanda: It really means the world to us, and if you're able to give even a couple bucks per episode, we really, really appreciate your support. That's at Patreon.com/SpiritsPodcast.
And now enjoy Spirits podcast episode 128, Cannibalism and True Crime with Chelsea G. Summers.
We are here with Chelsea G. Summers, who is a writer and author now who has a novel that's published this summer or fall? When does it come out?
Chelsea: It comes out some point this fall on Audible
Chelsea: It's going to be an Audible exclusive.
Amanda: Well we love Audible here.
Chelsea: It's an audio book.
Amanda: That's is very, very exciting. Oof. Would you tell our audience what it's about?
Chelsea: Sure. It's called A Certain Hunger, and it is a memoir styled novel about a woman who is a cannibalistic serial killer food critic who kills and eats her ex-lovers.
Amanda: So many words that you just said I'm so in love with.
Julia: Listeners, you can understand why we heard about your book on Twitter, and we were like, um, excuse me, would you please come on the show?
Chelsea: Thanks so much. Yeah, so the elevator pitch is it's Eat, Pray, Love meets American Psycho.
Julia: Oh, so good.
Amanda: Oh my god. Amazing. I would love to hear about the cannibalism that you researched and wrote about, and the kind of intersection between that and personal storytelling, but first can I say, I thought I was the only person who really loved sort of spiritual memoirs and also true crime, so is that something that really interests you? How do these two things interact in your own life?
Chelsea: I am very much into true crime. I've written a couple pieces about it. One was for Medium's truth issue, and I listen to a bunch of podcasts, and I read a ton of books, and I will indulge in the occasional Snapped marathon. Yeah, I really dig true crime, particularly if it's based around women criminals. I think it's an important cultural interest to look at how we portray, talk about, think about, adjudicate, and sensationalize women criminals in a very specific way, so, a lot of my interest is feminist, and then the rest of it is just kind of your basic thriller. Yeah.
Amanda: That's been on my mind a lot recently with the Theranos documentaries and stories that have been out in the news. I really loved the book which was on how the company-
Chelsea: Bad Blood?
Amanda: ... sort of got ... yeah, Bad Blood. It was, oh my gosh, so good. I love those sort of corporate thrillers. But a lot of that story had to do with getting institutional endorsement, and a lot of that had to do with older, wealthy, powerful men really being like entranced by a younger woman, and a lot of the discourse around it, people don't always quite articulate, but I think the assumption is sort of like oh, well, she bewitched them, or she seduced them. Not literally, but with her just ... I don't know. Her manner.
Chelsea: Her unblinking stare and fake baritone.
Amanda: I know. I know. But it's like it's so strange how her body, and appearance, and candor there's like all these huge images of her with any story about her, Elizabeth Holmes, the CEO, so I just think it's fascinating, and not a thing that we have sort of the vocabulary to talk about in a really nuanced way.
Chelsea: Yeah, I also think that you bring up a good point, which is that true crime is exploding. It used to be just all murder, and dismemberment, kidnapping, et cetera, and now there's a real swing to okay, there's also corporate true crime, and there's political true crime, and there are these wider sort of resonating criminal acts that we're beginning to understand in very different ways than we did 10 years ago. I think in part because of who's writing about it, but also because of who's doing it.
Amanda: For sure. So tell us more about the plot of the book. How did you ... Or not the plot, but the sort of concerns and research that you did, the stuff that interests you to lead you to write this story.
Chelsea: Yeah. It started in 2011. I had spent the spring of 2011 in Italy, in a really small town on the Italian Rivera, and it was-
Amanda: Did you kill a man in a rowboat? Is that the ...
Chelsea: I didn't. But I did fall in love with a really stupid, cruel, Italian, as one is wont to do, and we broke up right as I was leaving, and I was really heartbroken, and I felt really lonely. The entire time I had been there was kind of living in The Shining with palm trees, and I decided I wanted to return on my own terms, so I was going back that fall. A friend of mine who's like, "Oh, yeah. You can do something like Eat, Pray, Love." She's like, "Only flip it." I was like, "Sure of the first woman zombie story, and then Pray, Love, Eat." Then I was like, well, actually, that's kind of interesting, because I was really still very angry at this man.
So I went back, and I was staying in this 17th century Tuscan villa by myself, and I wrote the first scene of the novel, and then it kind of hung out for a while in my head. It took me about six years to finish it after that, and a lot of it was processing my own feelings and experiences about being middle aged, about feeling frustrated with the publishing industry, about the ways that we consume things, the kind of reasons why we consume the things that we do, and getting past a lot of the negative feelings I had about relationships.
Yeah, so I wrote the book, and then it took a couple of ... it took about a year before I found representation, and then it took about 18 months before my editor, Jen Uden, sold it. So it's going to be an Audible exclusive, and we're hoping to sell the paper rights, fingers crossed.
Julia: Very, very cool.
Julia: So I'm slightly curious, because cannibalism is such a very specific genre, I suppose, or a very specific tradition or taboo, so what about cannibalism?
Chelsea: Yeah, the thing that's really fascinating to me about cannibalism is that it's historically, wrapped up in a lot of lies that we tell ourselves. There's a really wonderful scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, Bill Schutt, who wrote a book called Cannibalism: A Thoroughly Natural History.
Chelsea: One of the things that he does in the book is debunk this idea that specifically white Europeans never ... like left cannibalism in the dust centuries ago. The fact is that they didn't, and neither did Americans. White Europeans set up this sort of mythology. In fact, the world cannibal comes from the word that the Spanish, Christopher Columbus and all of the other Spanish dudes who were sailing to the quote unquote New World called the people here in the New World in order to dissuade other people from taking the trip across the ocean, and doing more quote unquote discovery. So it was very much an idea of other people are always cannibals. We are never cannibals ourselves. But the truth is that medical cannibalism was practiced throughout Europe well into the Victorian age.
Amanda: And what is medical cannibalism?
Chelsea: Medical cannibalism was the belief that you could heal yourself through generally slathering on parts of other human bodies, like a lot of human fat was used in cosmetics or in medicines, but also if you ate or swallowed executed man's blood, or ground up mummies, or other kinds of parts of human bodies it would help you heal yourself.
Julia: I'm so glad you brought up the powdered mummy eating, because it's one of my favorite things.
Chelsea: Powdered mummy eating is awesome.
Julia: It's very, very cool, but also the reason why we don't have as many mummies, because we kept wanting to eat them.
Amanda: Yeah, the context, not so cool.
Amanda: But the idea is kind of wild, and it hasn't left us. Last week I read a headline about some venture capitalist who wants to inject himself with young people's blood.
Chelsea: Oh, Peter Thiel.
Julia: Yeah, that's a thing.
Amanda: Yeah, I wasn't going to name him, try to invoke him in the mirror Beetlejuice style, but yeah.
Julia: We don't boogeyman Peter Thiel here on this podcast.
Chelsea: You can always-
Julia: We say it one more time.
Chelsea: I mean, the interesting thing is that cannibalism is such a lingering and spidering myth, or not even just myth. It's a reality. That it shows up in so many different guises, so whether it's something like zombies eating other humans, or Dracula drinking people's blood, or people actually killing and eating other people, or survival cannibalism, or exocannibalism where you're eating your enemies, or endocannibalism where you're eating your own in order to commemorate them, there are many, many different faces both literal and mythic. So, I got really interested in it because I come to writing as a former academic, as a PhD candidate in 18th century British literature.
Amanda: Oh, fantastic.
Chelsea: So, I'm really interested in the ways that we use words, the ways that literary tropes shape our thinking, the ways that we tell stories in order to understand things about ourselves. Cannibalism was always fascinating because the idea of you hold up a baby and you're like, "Oh my god. You're so cute. I could just eat you up." And that's a thoroughly acceptable thing to say. And literally it's really gross.
Julia: That is true.
Amanda: There's something, yeah, about that just instinct. I don't know. As I'm thinking now, I wonder why we decided that this was the line, and by we I mean kind of the Western dominate narrative, that this is a line that we don't cross. It makes total sense. It's something I didn't know until now that those origins are intended to malign someone. It's a reaction against a behavior you find, not a moral thing that you put on yourself, like a mantel you take on.
Chelsea: Right, well there's a ... I mean, whether it's like the wendigo myth, which is the Native American idea that there's a psychosis that causes you to eat people, or want to eat people, or whether it's like maenads who were handmaidens of Dionysus who would dance themselves and drink themselves into a frenzy, and then tear apart a man and eat him, there's one particular flavor of cannibalism is that it's always just on the other side of losing control.
Chelsea: That's it accessible, and it's there for all of us. Cannibalism in some kind of way talks about these urges that we have and have to repress, or learn to repress, or not pay attention to, but they still burble up into our consciousness, and that's like why something like Hannibal is so satisfying.
Julia: Yeah. We are both big Hannibal fans.
Chelsea: Yeah, I loved Hannibal. I loved Hannibal in all of it's shiny, wet surfaces.
Julia: It's so beautiful.
Chelsea: Just the idea that here's this ultra refined, incredibly erudite, terribly well-dressed, extremely mannered, very controlled man who on the other side is creating these wonderful masterpieces of hideousness that draw people into his orbit, whereupon he can prey upon them. It very much ties into a kind of Freudian death wish, a Freudian consumption wish, a desire to both be eaten and to do the eating. It's a really bizarre inflection point in I think basic human psychology, and I love it.
Amanda: I love it, too. I'm just sitting here quietly with my eyes open like oh my goodness. I so agree. This is such a good conversation.
Chelsea: But yeah, so I have this one shelf in my kitchen. My apartment's kind of small. So, I have three floor to ceiling bookshelves that are around my kitchen table, and they butt up against the stove. This past spring, I had to have the gas line in the apartment building was replaced, so they had to rip out my stove and replace this whole gas line. It's sort of at the eye level of the plumbers who were doing the replacing is this one bookshelf that goes from serial killer to cannibal books to cookbooks all aligned on the same shelf, because-
Amanda: So beautiful.
Chelsea: Yeah, I have a perverse sense of humor.
Julia: Oh, Chelsea, that's so good. Thank you for that.
Amanda: I love it so much. Did you read Janice Poon's Hannibal cookbook?
Chelsea: I read her blog a lot. I didn't ever get her cookbook.
Amanda: It's really beautiful.
Chelsea: But when she was still blogging ... Yeah.
Chelsea: Yeah, she's great.
Amanda: And it really is such a fine line. I guess this is part of the conversation, right, of liking crime and writing about crime is you don't want to glorify harming someone else, but kind of giving those urges and thoughts and behaviors space, I think, is ultimately a way to understand them, and to have more rigorous questioning, but also more empathy of the people around you. So, did you kind of consider that, or have that on your mind at all when deciding to write about behaviors like this?
Chelsea: I had on my mind the importance to me as a woman and to others who consider themselves women that it's important for women identified people to read crime perpetrated by chicks. That I really wanted to get in the head, and in the voice, and in the life of somebody who was a sociopath, and whose life was more important than everybody else's, and to get a sense of what it meant not on a thin and superficial level, but more on a textured, layered, lived as much as I could as a novelist experience of how that would be. In part because I wanted to consider for myself well, what would it feel like to be doing these kinds of things? What would it feel like to have these particular bunches of problems to solve? What would it be like to live with the aftermath? What would it be like to have the police come after you? What would it be like to have friendships throughout all of these various acts? How do all of these things come together in the life of this one particular woman who's also given a lot of the gifts of Hannibal? She's multi lingual. She's really smart. She's completely nuts. I also really wanted to see a woman who has these sort of super extraordinary gifts, just as we see somebody like Hannibal have. So, as a writer, I could create her, and so I did.
Amanda: That's amazing. There must be something to ... I actually wonder if this is changed the way that you experience daily life, and if there's a level of fear that's less than it was before, because there's something so radical about imaging yourself as someone who has grown up as a woman in the world mostly fearful of the harm that could be inflicted upon you by others, and to sort of consider for a moment not having that mindset.
Chelsea: Yeah, I'm sort of odd in that I don't really ... I'm not saying I've never clutched my keys between my fingers, or thought about the fact that I can't really run in the dress I'm wearing and the shoes that are on my feet, but I am saying that I don't really walk around the world in a state of being afraid. Maybe that's my age. I'm in my mid 50s, so I didn't grow up in a time when kids were on milk cartons when I was sitting down for my morning cereal. You know, the kind of anxiety that millennials were raised with, I didn't have, so that may be different. It may just be me. I mean, I've been living in New York since 1989. I don't know. I don't really walk around afraid that much.
Amanda: Nor should you.
Chelsea: Yeah. Really nobody should.
Chelsea: But I do think that what writing the book has done for me, oddly, is made me a lot more aware of carceral justice and the jurisprudence system, and what happens when people go to prison, and what that means, and how that kind of ... I just sort of walked around the world, and part of it is just kind of what's happened in the last five years with Black Lives Matter, and our current presidency, and various other ... but it really did raise a much bigger awareness of like, all right, well, what does it mean to go to jail?
Julia: No, I think that's an excellent point, and it's something that you're writing.
Chelsea: I've also become a better cook.
Julia: Fantastic. I like that a lot.
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Amanda: Only unless there's a problem usually.
Julia: Yeah, usually, right? If I'm going out in somewhat heels and I need to wear socks with those, I have to think about, okay, well which of these socks has the most comfy bottoms there so once I'm walking around 20 blocks in heels, I'm not completely sore by the end of it.
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Julia: Yep. Oof. The absolute worst. You know what hasn't been the worst, though? My feet-
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Julia: Amanda, tell me about learning.
Amanda: I will tell you about learning, Julia, especially featuring a bunch of badass women who tell incredible stories and teach me incredible things, because this week, we are sponsored by Skillshare, and I want to recommend to you the course Powerful Storytelling Today: Strategies for Crafting Great Content with Soledad O'Brien, the journalist.
Amanda: I heard her on Ann Friedman's podcast, Going Through It, recently, and she has had the wildest career of anyone I've ever heard. She was often the first woman, or the first black person, or black woman in her newsrooms that she's worked in, and just had to tear down so many doors, and put so many people very kindly in their place or else she would've been fired. It's really amazing to hear her journey.
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Julia: Yeah. Skillshare has been such a great supporter of the show, and they are wonderful, and we love their classes, including Amanda's class. You can still take it. Go do it. Podcast Marketing.
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And now, let's get back to the show.
Julia: I would love to ask you, because you talked about looking at cannibalism through the lens of feminism, and one of the most obvious examples, at least in my book, is looking at the cannibalistic witch in fairy tales from all over, specifically Baba Yaga, the Hansel and Gretel story, anything like that, and I would love to hear your thoughts on kind of that as almost a prototype to what we see cannibalism in Western society now.
Chelsea: Yeah, so I've gotten really interested in witches, and I think my next book project is going to have something to do with witches. I'm not really sure what yet.
Julia: Well, we can't wait to listen slash hear that.
Amanda: We're pro-witch.
Chelsea: Yeah, but I mentioned a little earlier maenads, and I wrote a short story about ... A friend of mine, she was running a reading, and she asked me to write a story, so I did. It's about a group of maenads who rent an Airbnb and one of them brings in a guy, and they get him drunk, and dismember him, and eat him, as maenads are wont to do. I think that there's a thing specifically about women consuming children and men that speaks to fears about what happens if women don't toe the lines that they're supposed to be toeing in culture.
Julia: That's a great point.
Chelsea: I mean, there's a ton of myths, like Chronos eating his children, and that whole family of Greek myths, the Chronos family, there's like five different stories of cannibalism. Mostly it's women baking sons into pies, feeding it to their husbands-
Julia: Yeah, there's a lot of that.
Chelsea: ... or men eating their brothers or kids, nobody really talks about that. It's sort of like, oh yeah. Men eat men. Whatever whatever, but what's really scary is if a woman were to do that.
Amanda: Well, it's the opposite of procreation, right? Which is the one societal acceptable role in patriarchy.
Chelsea: Exactly. Right. Exactly. But there's also this idea that just sort of lurking somewhere under the thin socialized surface is the ability to break all boundaries, and bring out the rosemary and sage.
Amanda: Yeah, right.
Julia: I like that. I like the idea that women could break these bonds at any time and just start fucking shit up.
Amanda: I know. Just asking what if is powerful, like your rebellion doesn't necessarily even have to look like that in order for that thought, and just putting that seed of thought into you, like oh wow. I can act differently. I can be different to what's expected of me. I can say no, and I can be disobedient. That's huge.
Chelsea: Yeah, I mean, so I got married about a year and a half ago, and I love my husband a lot, and he's awesome, but every once in a while when we're in the kitchen together, I just sort of think about turning around and plunging the knife into him. It's not that I want to do it, it's not that I'm going to do it, right? But I spoke to ... I don't have a whole lot of friends who are married, and a friend and I were out for drinks. I was like, "So, do you ..." and this friend happened to be a guy. I was like, "So do you ever think about when you're in the kitchen with Amanda just like, you know, shoving the knife into her?" He goes, "Oh, yeah. Totally." I mean, I think that there's also this thing where we as humans have this violence underneath us that is not something that we pay attention to, but it is something that articulates its voice every now and again.
Those myths, obviously, the myth of Hansel and Gretel is to teach little kids don't go wandering in the woods, don't take candy from strangers, but it's also teaching women that thing, that violence you want, you think about, that violence you contemplate is there. It's not good. Don't give into it.
Chelsea: The flip side of every crime story is ... The overwhelming theory about why women watch true crime or read true crime, and here I'm speaking not about like Bad Blood, but specifically violent crime, is that it allows us to feel prepared. That if you listen to, and I don't particularly, My Favorite Murder, stay sexy, don't get murdered, don't get into the trunk. It's always these sort of toss off pieces of advice, the idea being that you can arm yourself. Forewarned is forearmed. I also think that the other reason why it's appealing to us is that it allows us to safely experience the violent feelings of the criminal involved, and that's actually true with somebody like Elizabeth Holmes. Watching The Inventor, or reading Bad Blood, or I can't remember what the podcast was that featured.
Amanda: The Dropout.
Chelsea: Dropout, The Dropout, yeah. What if I were Elizabeth Holmes? What if I did believe in myself-
Julia: Like ask for what I want and get it. Yeah.
Chelsea: Yeah. Believe in myself with that cast iron titanium clad sense of entitlement, what would that feel like to me? How would I walk around the world? Would I be wearing black turtlenecks? I don't know. But what would that feel like if that particular door were open to me?
So, whether it's cannibalism or whether it's siphoning off millions and millions of dollars from various investors, there's a sense of indulging in these stories of criminals because something about that brazenness, something about that unshakability, something about that wantonness, something about that blood lust is available to us.
Amanda: Yeah. Well, I'm glad that you wrote a whole book about these thoughts and impulses, because I definitely want to read it.
Chelsea: Thank you.
Amanda: It reminds me a little bit of the sort of feeling you get when you look over a cliff or a bridge, or if you're driving fast on the highway, there is this ... I think there's an actual name for it, but this death drive, or this just thought what if I did it.
Amanda: Especially in discussions of mental health or suicidal ideation, it's so ... I thought, actually, I brought to my therapist when I first was going to get treatment for depression and anxiety, surely I am a monster for having these thoughts. Surely I am dangerous to myself and to others for occasionally thinking that is an option that is available to me in my body when faced with a situation like that. In fact, it's super normal and a ton of people experience it, but I think, too, there's something really calming and a lot of agency in saying it's a thing I can do, and I won't.
Chelsea: Right. Exactly.
Amanda: And just kind of affirming to yourself ... I don't know. Like kind of testing ... not even testing a boundary, but identifying the boundary, or believing in yourself like hey, it would be easy, or it would be thrilling, or it would be something, but it's not a thing I'm going to do.
Chelsea: Yeah, I mean, every time I walk past any body of water with my cell phone in my hand, I imagine just hurling it out and hearing that really satisfying thunk as it hit the water.
Amanda: I imagine pushing vases off of pedestals in museums. I don't want to, I'm not going to, but it's so tempting.
Chelsea: Yeah, it's like if you're in a restaurant and servers go by with plates full of french fries, and I think of ... or if you're walking past an outdoor café, and somebody's sitting eating french fries, I always think about taking one off and just walking with, you know, eat-
Julia: Oh, god. Same.
Chelsea: Yeah. So I gave my protagonist the opportunity to do a couple of things like that because I've never done it.
Amanda: Yeah, and it's just like an ownership over the world that ... Julia and I saw the American Psycho musical on Broadway.
Chelsea: Oh, did you?
Julia: Couple times.
Amanda: It was actually a very interesting piece of art, but I went after that to read the novel, and I was like, oh, wait this is ... I get why the moralistic panic is happening, but also it's just such a foreign sense of ... not even ... I guess it is entitlement, but just an idea that the whole world is mine for the taking, that I do almost want to try on a little bit. I tell friends when they're going into job interviews, just assume straight cis white male confidence. Imagine your most privileged and confident friend, and assume a little bit of that air when you need to. It's a weapon you can deploy.
Chelsea: Right. It's like a suit, you know?
Chelsea: It's the idea of being able to put on the Hannibal suit, and walk like Mads Mikkelsen.
Amanda: Yeah. Oh my god. Mads Mikkelsen is truly style goals.
Chelsea: Yeah, absolutely.
Chelsea: But yeah, I mean, and a large part of me wanting to write this book was feeling like I'm middle aged, my career had sort of hit a weird dead end. I didn't know what was going to be on the other side of middle age. I felt like I was spinning my wheels, and I was really angry and really frustrated. And so I put a lot of those feelings of being really angry and really frustrated with my career, with relationships, with expectations into the book. Also, because she's a food writer and it's about cannibalism, I did a lot of deep dives into how and what we eat, and how we kill animals, and what that means, and how do we think about consuming and what is ethical consumption, and how do you critique these things while still being a meat eater?
I think in particular one of the reasons why zombies have been so big in the last like seven, eight years, is that we've reached a kind of crisis of consumption. Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, Google, it's just hot and cold, Tinder, Grindr, it's hot and cold running consumption all the time, every day if you want it. At a certain point, you have to ask yourself, well, what am I eating? What am I consuming, and am I just consuming iterations of my own self?
Amanda: Blow my mind right now. Some serious introspection coming later for me.
Chelsea: Yeah. And so the other reason why I wanted to ... as I was writing the book, I had no idea that what I was doing was writing a satire of various industries. I ended up doing that. But part of the book was like, well, what about consumption? What feeds hunger? What satisfies hunger? How is food a questionable item when it's something we need?
Amanda: Especially for people raised female, and body image, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, so much of what we, not just what we do, but what we take in and put out. Like as I get older, I am more and more astonished at the policing of pregnant people's bodies. That happens, and it's just accepted as a standard, because there is this moral panic over people that are producing other people, and we think that we have a just societal right over policing what they do, and eat, and wear, and look like. It's just everything is related, and as I get older, speaking for myself, as I am sort of presented with opportunities to see how much I am socialized to have certain opinions and see certain things as good or bad, or virtuous or devilish, or whatever it might be, it is staggering, and I'm sure that that is a project that will continue my entire life.
Chelsea: Yeah, it's a lot of un-learning.
Amanda: Yeah. I don't know. I mean, how do you think about the stuff that you write, and watch, and take in?
Chelsea: Yeah, I didn't really ... I mean, one of the advantages of making my protagonist a sociopath is that she really doesn't care about thin, fat. She doesn't think of herself in those kinds of terms at all. She's tall. She knows she's advantaged. That's basically it. But there isn't a lot of discussion. She never describes herself. You know she has red hair. That's basically it, and that's she's tall.
Amanda: That's so freeing for female character. I can't think of a single female character that isn't described in her appearance and attractiveness.
Chelsea: Yeah, I mean, you know she's middle aged, but that's about the extent of it. Of course, it's a memoir style, so you see her at different ages, but I, like a lot of other people, I think about how much time would I have if I had never spent time worrying about my weight or my shape? It's a hard trap. What is being strong, what is being healthy, what is determining the aesthetics that you want for yourself because you want them for yourself, and what is being guided by media, dubious medical advice, cultural baggage, patriarchy, misogyny, the diet industry goop, so it's an ongoing thing. I think that one of giant pluses of the last few years, and in specific Twitter, but also publishing, is that there's been an opening up of voices for people who are not white, not cis, who are non-gender binary, who claim fat for themselves, who understand that and want to talk about a place, and a style, and a way of living that is counter to or questioning of dominant narratives.
A lot of that, I have some fat friends, and they write about being fat, and they talk about being fat, and they question what it means when people make assumptions about thinness or fatness, and it's like it's really revelatory in terms of opening my eyes and being like, oh yeah. I have been a complete fucking dumb ass in terms of swallowing unquestioning these lines that culture has dictated to me.
So, yeah, I mean, I think that it is like a lifetime of un-doing, and it only changes. As you get older, it's like well, what does it mean to be a middle aged woman? Does this mean I have to cut my hair? Does this mean I have to wear Eileen Fisher? Does this mean I can't wear leather pants? Or-
Amanda: It's presented to you on your 50th birthday.
Chelsea: Yeah, basically.
Amanda: Here's your card. Welcome.
Chelsea: It comes with your AARP membership.
Julia: Of course.
Chelsea: It's a very bizarre thing, and because I don't act or look that way, in some places when I'm walking around, I get a lot of very strange looks. Like, my husband's Swedish. I spend half the year in Sweden. Outside of Stockholm city center, and even some places in Stockholm, there aren't women with bright red hair and tattoos who are in their 50s. There just aren't. It's very strange. Here, walking around New York, I'm not that weird. Up in the middle of nowhere Sweden, I am a rare bird.
Amanda: What has aging been like compare to what you expected, if you thought about it?
Chelsea: What's most unexpected is how I have grown more authentically me. I'm more me than I've ever been before, and I really thought I'd grow up and I'd be a very different person. I'm like, no, I'm basically ... I'm just me. My experience of aging is kind of like you know those anatomy textbooks that have clear plastic overlays, and so you have the skeleton, and then one system, and then another system, and another system, and another system all laid over. You can peel each one back and see it separately, or you can see them working together. That's sort of how I feel about aging. At any one particular time, I may be experiencing something as a seven year old, as a 23 year old, as a 32 year old, as a 45 year old, and as a 56 year old.
Amanda: Wow. That's so encouraging for me to hear. Not that you have to be inspirational in your messaging all the time, but you're not often exposed to a lot of reasons why getting older is great, apart from being able to live on your own when you're an adult, or vote, or drive, or whatever it might be.
Amanda: That's something I've heard consistently is just caring less about what people think of you, and I feel sometimes like a total failure, because I care so very much what other people think of me, and I want so very badly to be liked that it just ... I'm glad to hear that for a lot of people that ends up getting better over time.
Chelsea: Yeah. I mean, any time I spent in my life caring about other people liking me, I was miserable.
Chelsea: And when I look back at those times, and they're very ... they're for me, because I haven't really cared that much about that, they've been very specific and very limited. I look back at those times and I'm like, yeah, I was fucking miserable, man. That sucked. It's so much better to just go in on my own terms.
It's funny. I guess it was last week on Twitter, I saw somebody had tweeted something about I can't wait until I'm middle aged. I'm going to wear crazy big hats and caftans, and not give a fuck what anybody thinks. I'm like, dude-
Julia: Do it now.
Chelsea: ... what's stopping you.
Julia: Do it now.
Chelsea: Like seriously, what's stopping you? You want to wear a crazy hat, wear a fucking crazy hat. You don't know you're going to grow old.
Julia: That's true. Wow.
Amanda: Well, I know we've gotten kind of far a field from cannibalism, but it is all related. Julia, do you have any questions that I sort of steamrolled over in my eagerness to talk about living as a woman in society?
Julia: I mean, I always want to hear you talk about living as a woman in society, so it's fine. For you, Chelsea, are there any that you, I think we discussed them as flavors before, but are there any other flavors of cannibalism, which god I love that phrase, that you really, really love?
Chelsea: The puns just write themselves.
Julia: They just do.
Chelsea: They really do.
Julia: Are there any-
Chelsea: Yeah, my favorite form of cannibalism other than neo-natal cannibalism where sharks eat the other sharks, or twins eat the other twin, is, of course, sexual cannibalism, because, come on, that's just awesome. And actually, Bill Schutt's book gets it a lot into various kinds of sexual cannibalism, but we think of praying mantises, but yeah. My book is very much about she's ... There's once when she does it in flagrante delicto, and that's kind of cool.
Amanda: That is kind of cool. And it reminds me a lot of the Hannibal fandom.
Julia: If you don't speak Latin, you can probably figure out what that is.
Chelsea: It's really going to gross some people out. A lot. I mean, I wrote the book, and I was like, well, I really want to make people hungry, horny, and horrified, and I hope I've succeeded.
Julia: Wow. I love being all of those things, so that's perfect-
Amanda: God, so wonderful.
Julia: ... to me.
Amanda: Please let the people know where they can find you online, and how they can get your book.
Chelsea: Yeah. Audible still doesn't have a release date, but it should be October. I'm chelsea g. summers on Twitter, and also ChelseaGSummers.com is my website, and then I have a Tiny Letter that you can subscribe to, which is TinyLetter.com/ChelseaGSummers, so it's all branded. Yeah, my agent and I are hoping to sell the paper rights to the novel, so if you're not into audio books, fingers crossed in another year or so it should be out in paper, as well.
Julia: No, go ahead. Fabulous. Well, we'll promote the crap out of the book once it is on Audible. Just let us know. We'll tweet all about it.
Chelsea: Oh, thanks so much. I will.
Julia: Of course.
Amanda: I want to eat the other Twitter users that have various permutations of my name so that I can get it, and now I'm going to lean into that instinct, so thank you so much for coming on the show, and for getting so real with us. I appreciate it so much, and I feel like this is a conversation that I wish I had earlier, and I'm only 27, so I hope that a lot of our listeners find it similarly illuminating.
Chelsea: All right. Lovely. My pleasure.
Julia: Absolutely. And remember, listeners, to stay creepy.
Amanda: Stay cool.