Jane Brody and Me

New York Times

I opened up the New York Times wellness briefing today to discover that Jane Brody, turning 79, had been working at the newspaper for forty years.  That’s just about as long as I have been reading her columns.  We started subscribing to the paper when my husband and I moved to Manhattan in 1981 so that he could take a job at Columbia University.  The job didn’t last long, but our loyalty to the newspaper did.  We are still reading, even though we’ve been in California for over thirty years.  All that time I’ve followed Brody through her many phases as cooking maven, exercise coach, and now advisor for the older set.

I’m not sure if I have ever consciously acted on Brody’s advice, but I do know that my life has changed in ways that she has recommended.  I used to eat meat; now I almost never do.  Even chicken is a fairly rare dish at dinner.  I used to exercise sporadically; now I am a pretty big exercise fanatic.  These are trends that Brody has endorsed and I now claim as my own.

But Brody also irritates me.  When she writes about her own life the tone is often, “If you would live like me, everything would be better.”  When I think about her columns, the word “just” comes to mind.  Need to lose weight? Just eat vegetables! Having trouble with your knees? Just start swimming!  Need to get out and walk? Just get a dog!  Finding it hard to negotiate the stairs in your walk up apartment? Just move to the suburbs!  If any of these things were easy (or cheap) we would all be a lot thinner and healthier. 

Today’s column is a perfect example.  She acknowledges that many people are having trouble getting motivated during the current pandemic.  The solution?  Look for internal, not external, motivational factors to discover what is meaningful to you. The grand gesture is probably not possible right now, so find smaller things to express your values. Worried about the end of the world? Just make soup for your widowed neighbor!

This is sage, almost saccharine advice. But can such baby steps really conquer the fear and uncertainty that surrounds us now? My family is meaningful to me, but I still don’t know when I can safely move my mother into a care facility or when I’ll see my daughter again.  I’ve already made masks for them, but I’m still worried. Perhaps it is a failure in my character, but making masks for strangers hasn’t filled the void.

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4 Responses to Jane Brody and Me

  1. JS says:

    “But Brody also irritates me. When she writes about her own life the tone is often, ‘If you would live like me, everything would be better.'”

    I could not agree more. I’ve been reading Brody for as long or longer; I was born and raised in NYC and after living in other cities, again live in NYC. I’ve always read the Times. When I was young, I used to revere the paper, but have not felt that way for a very long time. Several years ago, I had a discussion about Brody’s columns with a college friend who had moved to NYC from a smaller city. I complained that she interjected herself too much into her stories and was always annoying. He agreed.

    And yet I still read her when her articles pop up in my Feedly queue. Why? Force of habit, I guess.

    I’m a little younger than you. If one has had difficulties in life, after a certain age all these “sensible” articles become insufferable. I remember when Brody wrote about being a binge eater during her 20s: She’d come home at night stressed from her work at the Times and stuff herself. Coming to terms with that didn’t seem too easy.

    I hate to feel so cynical, but I’m resigned to the idea that it is the job of service journalists to identify a problem that is obvious to everyone, speak to some experts, and wrap up their advice in a tidy article. A New York Times byline doesn’t make it any wiser.

    Now if I can “just” stop being incensed by those constant inspirational quote cards on Instagram.

  2. LindaW says:

    What a relief! On a day when I’ve been way past up to here with pandemics, politics, stay at home, and five inches of rain in three days I find I’m not alone in thinking Jane Brody looooves to skim the surface. Her columns hold more fluff than my sofa pillows. This is a bright spot in my day and I thank you!

  3. Katrina B says:

    As a West Coast native I didn’t grow up with the NYT as a staple and to this day I still only read a few bits of it regularly (OK, just one bit, the Book Review). I can’t remember ever seeing an article by Brody! However, I know exactly what you mean and this oversimplified condescending helpfulness is one of the reasons that I rarely look at health and fitness magazines, or any kind of “women’s magazines” for that matter. I hate to use the charged term “privilege,” but nowhere is it more apparent than in popular health advice.

  4. I read Brody at the time when she was publishing cookbooks. As a rule, I don’t read self-help articles. They never really hit the spot and the advice is often obvious and trite. I do better on my own; writing it out, making lists, or talking with a trusted friend. Or I just watch period films and read fashion books. But I know what you are saying.

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