Each sharply drawn profile reflects the personality, the opportunities and challenges, and the times they lived in. Particularly well-executed is Shapiro's placement of Lewis' rise from kitchen to drawing room in the context of late Victorian and Edwardian culinary and social mores. By writing about these women and not focusing on gastronomy's usual suspects, Shapiro is able to use the unexpected context of the book to bring great insight into the roles and expectations of women and men, particularly during the 20th century. Reading these stories, one after the other, one realizes how Shapiro deftly uses food to link one woman to another — and to us today ... a deliciously satisfying read.
Food writing is often unrigorous, more emotional than cerebral. But Shapiro approaches her subject like a surgeon, analytical tools sharpened. The result is a collection of essays that are tough, elegant and fresh ... Shapiro has less success getting inside the pretty head of Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler’s mistress, but we probably aren’t missing much: Braun’s head appears to have been empty. Shapiro shows us a vapid, childlike woman who ate very little in order to stay slender ... a vibrant food culture has burgeoned, one that has spawned a rich body of literature to which What She Ate is just the latest addition.
...a collection of deft portraits in which food supplies an added facet to the whole. Sometimes it strains to do so. With Dorothy Wordsworth in particular, Shapiro is forced to read a great deal into a single line from a 1829 diary entry...But Shapiro is such a shrewd, sprightly writer that it’s hard to fault her for reading more into Wordsworth’s 'food story' than the record warrants. Each of her subjects fascinates in a different way, and Shapiro has a wizardly epigrammatic knack for summing up paradoxes ... British cuisine becomes a metaphor or counterpart to Pym’s fiction, and perhaps (I’m obliged to admit) food writing itself, at least the way Shapiro does it: underestimated by those who judge too quickly and by appearances, but full of hidden glories.