By Larissa Heron
Girls Write Now Mentee
In the summer of 2011, I travelled to France with a group of high school students to learn about French art and culture. The Barats, our hosts and the founders of The Barat Foundation, decided it was essential that we dine at an authentic French restaurant. They took us out to a restaurant – or more accurately, we took ourselves, given we were the ones paying. Little did we know, there were ulterior motives behind their scheme.
This was back when I had MOCD (meat obsessive compulsive disorder), so I ordered the traditional three-course French meal. Salad (not my favorite) with a main course of chicken and pasta, and a dessert I can’t remember, most likely because I didn’t eat it. The pasta and the chicken, however, were a different story. The pasta was drenched in the oil from the chicken and although I enjoyed nothing else from the meal (don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not picky) that chicken and those egg noodles were pure delight!
While the food was being served, the program leaders had their photographer friend, who was dining with us, show us his work that was featured in the restaurant. The Barats had pretty weird friends if you ask me. Their dinner guest began talking about how some of the women in the photographs were from mental institutions, and how he had them pose in the snow, nude. Talk about taking advantage of mentally ill women! By that time, I was thinking that his comments and his behavior were more than inappropriate. I was comforted that it was not just us students who found the dinner to be bizarre: the only other guest at the dinner table—an art curator—quietly mocked the photographs that were so disrespective of their subject matter, too.
That was about the time I lost my appetite. Shortly thereafter, I became a pescatarian (one whose diet includes fish but no meat). This wasn’t exactly a direct result of dining in the midst of nudes, although my decision did take place that same summer.
After reflecting on my very awkward French fine-dining experience, the real reason that the founders took us to that particular restaurant finally sank in—they wanted to give their friend’s work exposure before a captive (or hostage) audience of teenagers. That way, the photographer could talk in vain about his nude “art,” and have people “admire” it. Unfortunately for the memory of that delicious French meal, it will forever be bound to the photographer who took pictures of mentally ill women in the nude.
Dining in the Midst of Nudes: From the GWN Food Memoir Workshop
By Larissa Heron