Diets of Great Literary Men

A couple of weeks ago, The Paris Review ran an article about the late David Foster Wallace’s adorably wacky diet, which consisted of among other things “chocolate pop tarts and soda” and “Diet Dr Pepper and blondies.” Quoth the Review: “In 1995, the journalist David Streitfeld saw a kitchen with little more in it than a case of Dinty Moore beef stew and elicited the confidence from Wallace that ‘what’s really sick is I like to eat it cold.’” (Wow, bro, you are into some WEIRD shit. Like nobody’s ever thought of eating soup cold? Jesus.)

As I pause to contemplate just how little I care about DFW’s appropriately immature diet, that feels very much like posturing and a concerted effort to add to his mythos as an enfant terrible (translation: a big baby in a stupid bandanna), I’m reminded of the budding misogynists that build shrines to him in a desperate attempt to conjure identities as brooding, complicated antiheroes. In reality they’re just dorks who are afraid to talk to girls, which, come to think of it, DFW might’ve tried erring on the side of rather than the stalking and terrorizing and incessant banging of students that has complicated his otherwise revered legacy. There are women who admire him, too, of course, but I don’t know any and frankly probably wouldn’t care to be friends with any of them.

Anyway, after reading that article and swallowing my rage, I found myself wondering which diets a couple other important literary men might’ve been following, and here’s a partial list of my best guesses:

Jack Kerouac


  • Coffee, black with lots of ash
  • Toast with jelly but no butter (too fattening)
  • 3 Lucky Strikes
  • Peanut butter and fluff sandwich
  • Jello


  • Steak fajitas (exotic, just like he liked his ladies)


  • 5 Lucky Strikes
  • Whiskey from a glass shaped like a lady

Jack was a cool dude who no doubt lugged his typewriter everywhere with him and wore the same black turtlenecks for weeks at a time. He was too restless to stay in one place–or on one date–for too long and had a real jones for the ladies.

Here’s a quote that pretty much sums Jack up:

“I’ve realized something utterly strange and yet common, I think I’ve experienced the deep turning about. At present I am completely happy and feel completely free, I love everybody and intend to go on doing so, I know that I am an imaginary blossom and so it my literary life and my literary accomplishments are so many useless imaginary blossoms.”

So yes, Jack was a delicate flower full of feelings, and he loved (translation: banged, probably badly) many women. But he could not be tied down by so useless a thing as commitment, so ramble he must, and probably contract loads of venereal diseases in the process.

Ernest Hemingway


  • Vodka, straight from the bottle


  • Whiskey, straight from the bottle


  • Tequila, straight from the bottle


  • 200 rum balls

Everything I know about Ernest Hemingway—apart from the fact that he adored cats, which in my opinion absolves him just a tiny bit of being a loutish drunk with, again, a penchant for turtlenecks—can be summed up in this comic strip:

I know that he wrote about wars, and wrote very realistically about wars, which I guess is great if you love reading about wars. Frankly I could barely make it through the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, so I’ll be goddamned if I subject myself to hundreds of pages about young people running headlong into battle only to have their heads blown off moments later. But plenty of people whose taste I very much respect seem to adore him, so he must’ve done something right when he wasn’t busy arm wrestling people for the last sip of their hooch. Rest in peace, you wily bastard.

Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski was one of those authors—along with all the other important literary men on this list with the notable exception of DFW (obviously)—I read in my early 20s, when I smoked American Spirit Lights, drank espressos, and watched nothing but Godard movies while wearing a beret. In other words, Bukowski holds a lot of appeal for the generally insufferable. Here’s a good sum up of this surly guy from his novel Factotum:

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery—isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

There’s some good stuff in here, don’t get me wrong. Take heart and keep writing no matter what, despite the inevitable rejections. But Bukowski has a way—like his compatriots—of romanticizing, you know, homelessness and crime, all in the name of producing (what you perceive to be) a great work of art.

You can romanticize loneliness all you want, but at the end of the day, nobody wants to go to home to nothing but a typewriter and a pack of stale Lucky Strikes. (And if they do, you should definitely not date them, which is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way more than once, ahem.)

Like Hemingway, Bukowski had quite the love affair with booze, which usually just adds to his mythos. In reality he was just another mean drunk who was a real drag at parties and probably barfed on his friends’ shoes more than once.


  • The taste of stale vomit washed down with a milliliter of leftover malt liquor


  • A stolen ham sandwich
  • A box of wine


  • A hunk of cheddar cheese
  • A case of wine


  • Just 100 rum balls

Henry Miller
No list of important literary men would be complete without at least a nod to Henry Miller, whose Tropic of Cancer I devoured whilst clad in my beret. The only thing I really knew about Henry Miller before my jaunt through his Wikipedia page is that Anais Nin was captivated by him, and paid all his expenses during his roustabout days in Paris in the 30s, so, yes, I know he WROTE Tropic of Cancer, but it would likely never have seen the light of day had it not been for her. Of Tropic of Cancer, Miller wrote to a friend that it would be “First person, uncensored, formless – fuck everything!” That last sentiment was, incidentally, the same way he felt about women, since by the end of his life, he’d collected 5 wives. Maybe that’s a little harsh. But I can chalk one or two up to bad luck or honest mismatches, but 5???  I will, however, give his novels a lot of credit for being too hot for America and helping usher in the sexual revolution. At least three of them were banned in this country for being obscene, and Grove Press rode the publication of Tropic of Cancer all the way to Supreme Court, who finally declared it a work of literature rather than pornography, in 1964.

To me, Miller is probably the least odious character on this list. He was definitely a womanizer and took himself waaaay too seriously and played poor Anais like a fiddle, but he also said this when he was nearing his twilight years, hinting that he at least kind of understood how necessary gratitude was to a good life.

“If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power.”


  • Cappuccino with a naked lady drawn in the foam
  • Baguette
  • Cigar


  • Beef bourguignon
  • Baguette
  • Absinthe


  • Coq au vin
  • Escargot arranged in the shape of a naked lady
  • 5 bottles of wine


  • Creme brulee with caramelized sugar torched into the shape of…well, I’m sure you can guess.

Am I in imagining that Jack Kerouac ate peanut butter and fluff sandwiches? Did Hemingway drink every one of his meals? Did Henry Miller really eat food shaped like naked ladies? I am confident the answers are yes, yes, and yes, but it’s up for debate whether these important literary men’s diets add to their mystique or detract from them.

And the most important question: who would win in a food fight between Hemingway and Bukowski? My answer would be whoever came out of it with the cleanest turtleneck.

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