I will read a cookbook from front to back without ever picking up a pot or pan, spoon or spatula. So, I will not pretend to have made a single meal from Billi Gordon’s 1985 classic, You’ve Had Worse Things In Your Mouth. My husband, our family’s chef, is a strict vegetarian whom I wouldn’t dare ask to prepare a spread from ingredients like squirrel, rabbit, or shark—even if highly recommended by Billi Gordon.
Dr. Billi Gordon is a deeply irreverent multipotentialite from a farm town near Detroit. Born “dirt poor across from the city dump,” Billi has been making multipotentialite moves their entire life. In high school Billi was a jock. In college, a cheerleader. When Billi Gordon first left their home state of Michigan, it was to attend seminary and pursue a life in ministry.
After leaving Michigan for the second time, they landed themselves in California, earning a living through sex work, as both a male and female escort. They left the business in 1982 for a more lucrative career as a greeting cards model, where they reportedly collected 12,000 USD per hour at the height of their demand. Billi Gordon’s bio on LinkedIn says, “if you have ever seen a greeting card with a voluptuous Black woman inviting you to do something lewd on your birthday…you’ve probably seen me.” I couldn’t find any evidence of these birthday cards, but if you locate one, puhlease share it with me!
Their success in modeling led them to other entertainment gigs as a comedian, actress, sitcom writer, and humorous cookbook author.
It’s the cookbook work that has left my mouth wide open—not for want of food, but out of shock from their platter of indecent jokes. No US demographic is left off the menu. Their suggested cuisines borrow food from many cultures but also parody the same groups.
There is a disclaimer found in the back of the cookbook:
…it is by laughing at ourselves and each other that we are able to muster the courage to grow, and it is in that growth that we all come together as one people, spared from the poverty of factions and blessed with the wealth of indivisibility…
You’ve Had Worse Things In Your Mouth is divided into four sections. According to Billi, there are only four reasons anyone would need a cookbook.
- Seduction—to get the love you deserve.
- Motive—to get the raise you want.
- Destitution—when your wallet won’t let you get to a restaurant.
- Revenge—to get payback.
The Seduction section includes recipe titles like “Lustettes” and “Breeding Bisque” where Billi warns us about the deadly bay leaf…
A recipe called “Tingles” promises it “will make Nancy Reagan go Greyhound. So you can imagine what it will do to a date.” If you like history, wit, and American grub—grab this cookbook.
The Motive section had to have been written with Second Wave Feminism in mind. Dishes that claim to help women climb the corporate ladder and shatter all the ceilings pepper this part of the book. It’s ripe with stories, like the one about Andrea, who “started as a file clerk at Megla Insurance” but—after inviting her boss to try one of the recommended croûte recipes—now sits “up in the executive suite, doing absolutely nothing but signing letters…in a Halston mumu with brie on her breath.”
The Destitution section gave me the heebie-jeebies. I’ve been heavily reciting money manifesting mantras, so I did not want to engage with any chatter, no matter how funny, about poverty eating—been there, done that, and I don’t wanna go back. Plus there aren’t any desserts offered in the Destitution part except a tonic with Kool-aid as the main ingredient. Let’s move on.
Revenge Cooking is my favorite. There are no real recipes in this section, so no need feel guilt about not preparing them. Though, there may be reason to feel a little shame if you do.
“Beets Juanita” is a “dish for the man who just did his homesteading somewhere else after spending years cultivating your Paw Paw patch.” There’s a glossary at the end where Billi explains what a Paw Paw patch is.
The best recipe is the one that mocks my hometown, “Cream of Cleveland-Saigon Style”. Billi believes that “anything with Cleveland in the name must be terrible.” I’ve heard worse. My birthplace has been called “the mistake by the Lake” and other not-nice things. It still gave the world Halle Berry and Lebron James, so you’re welcome.
You’ve Had Worse Things In Your Mouth also boasts portraits of Billi Gordon in drag, wearing tropical leaves as dress, in sequins, fur, and sometimes leather, in ‘80s tennis gear, with sponge rollers in their hair, lots of wigs and feathered boas. Gordon as “Mammy” from Gone With The Wind graces the original cover. This cookbook was so popular, it was reprinted in 1986 and again in 1992, with a fresh controversial cover for each new edition.
In the ‘90s Billi left cookbooks and drag behind to pursue a PhD in neuroscience. Wanting to understand the relationship between stress and obesity, Billi took culinary culture to the head. “Do you know how hard it is to go from being a legendary diva to being a brain doctor?” Dr. Gordon asked an LA Times reporter who featured them in a cover story. Their research focused on “interoceptive awareness (how we feel what we feel) and the neuroanatomy of emotion (why we do what we do)” to gain a better sense of obesity-related diseases. As a PhD, Dr. Gordon gave up the wigs and the head rags, but never once forfeited their humor. “Womanly primping took too much time away from [doctoral] studying.”
You can find all of Billi Gordon’s cheeky cookbooks wherever vintage titles are sold.
Are you inspired by Billi Gordon’s story? Got any multipotentialite role models of your own? Tell us about them in the comments.