Book Diaries: Milk Fed, by Melissa Broder (2021)

Care warnings: eating disorder, self-harm, and homophobia.

I swear, I didn’t set out to read another horny and vaguely-incest book right after Hysteria. We blame the algorithm of Scribd being like, you liked Daddy Kink, but have you tried Mommy? (Sorry.) Either way, I’m glad they did! Milk Fed, by Melissa Broder, is essentially a diary of obsession. The first person narrator, Rachel, describes an entire world that revolves around intense calorie restriction. Her existence at the start of the book is propelled by thoughts of low calorie snacks, nicotine gum, and strict routines. When that routine is broken in anyway, she’s pushed to humiliating lengths to correct it. When she can’t correct it, she dives deep into a binge. Her hunger and repulsion drive the entire book. The plot point that kickstarts the story, though, begins when her therapist recommends a 90 day fast from communication with her mother, who passed on these habits to her.

It’s interesting because this story starts with Rachel’s desire, in some way, to heal. But everything else about her mentality is so troubling! Broder writes about every little thing like worship. Every line is a decadent ode to something, whether that something is low-cal frozen yogurt with no toppings or the body of Miriam, the overweight orthodox jewish girl swirling the yogurt that Rachel becomes obsessed with. Everything is laced with this awe and desire, and the stylistic descriptions get dizzying and sometimes uncomfortable. There were sections of this book that made me miss the dangerous food habits that I and so many of my peers had but nobody talked about. It took me back to pro-ana tumblr and that Skinny Bitch book and earnestly saying things like “Whipped cream is for fat girls.” How good it felt to go to bed hungry, or sleep in so late that you skipped a meal. How good does writing have to be to make you miss yourself at your absolute worst?

But the language sometimes dipped from worship to fetishistic. I was really turned off at times by the way the Rachel described Miriam’s body. Like, I get that someone whose biggest fear is gaining weight finding a fat woman beautiful could be healing! It was really complex to watch Rachel try to reconcile her sexual desire for Miriam with the fear she had of herself looking like that. I like that although she likes so many things about Miriam beyond the body, she also loved her body. None of that “but she’s beautiful on the inside” shit, which I appreciated! But a character obsessed with bodies, obsessed with food, watching another character eat? It can be hard to read. And it’s supposed to be.

What I loved is how most of the events and narration revolved around food, and how that braided into everything else–her relationship with her mother, seeking approval from mother figures, feeling displaced from her faith but also conflicted about zionism, her own sexuality and maybe even gender expression. Nothing was separate from anything else. Other things start mattering to her. I truly think the jewish-ness of this novel is essential. It grounds the style and the plot into something discernible. Overall, I found this book to be hilarious, sometimes gross, often cringe, but very tender and real. Here’s a look at the style!

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