6 historical women and what their diets said about them

Did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt prepared a weekly White House Sunday dinner of scrambled eggs? Or that Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown was so obsessed with thinness that her typical breakfast consisted of protein powder mixed with diet orange soda?

These are just a few of the fascinating revelations in food biographer Laura Shapiro's delectable new book, What She Ate.

Here, Shapiro explores six notable women from history—Roosevelt, Brown, Nazi mistress Eva Braun, William Wordsworth's sister and poet Dorothy Wordsworth, British novelist Barbara Pym and Rosa Lewis, a preeminent caterer in Edwardian England—and the ways in which their attitudes toward food and eating defined who they were.

Related: First ladies through the years

35 PHOTOS
First ladies through the years
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First ladies through the years

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: First Lady Hillary Clinton (R) watches over as 12-year-old Chevon Perry (L) works on a lesson at P.S. 115 Elementary School 26 January 1993. Clinton made her first trip as first lady to New York to receive an award for her service to children. (Photo credit should read TIM CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Clinton is not only open about family issues, but health as well. 

WASHINGTON, : Future US First Lady Laura Bush (C) hugs a student at Seaton Elementary School 19 January, 2001, in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Bush visited the school with author Angela Shelf-Medearis who read from some of her books. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

She pioneered education reforms in the United States. 

Dressed in formal wear for a state dinner, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan await the arrival of a guest at the North Portico entrance to the White House.

Reagan focused on solving the drug epidemic and alcohol abuse. 

(Original Caption) This is the official portrait of the First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, taken on February 18, 1977, in the Vermeil Room of the White House.

She was a huge influence on her husband's policies, sat in on meetings, and advocated for mental health. 

circa 1975: Former First Lady, Elizabeth 'Betty ' Ford, stands outdoors behind microphones. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

Betty was involved in opening discussion on mental health, equal rights and legalizing abortion. A cancer survivor, she was open about speaking about her experiences. 

A portrait of the American Second Lady Thelma Catherine Ryan 'Pat' Nixon (1912 - 1993), United States, mid-20th century. Pat Nixon, wife of Richard Nixon, later served as First Lady when her husband became the thirty-seventh President of the United States. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

She was notable for her work in a number of volunteer causes and charities, and added nearly 600 paintings to the White House. 

Portrait of American First Lady Lady Bird Johnson (born Claudia Alta Taylor, 1912 - 2007) as she poses in a garden, 1963. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

Unlike other first ladies, she addressed Congress on a number of issues. 

1961: EXCLUSIVE First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1929 - 1994) sits in the back seat of a car and smiles while a photographer takes her picture, Palm Beach, Florida. 

She was known for her fashion, language skills and media presence. Jackie continued her advocacy after her husband's assassination. 

circa 1930: Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower (1896 - 1979), wife of American president Dwight D Eisenhower. She was a popular First Lady and an accomplished hostess at the White House. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
circa 1950: Portrait of Bess Truman (1885-1982), First Lady of the United States and wife of Democratic President Harry Truman. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images). She took on her new role after Roosevelt was killed, was opinionated and kept out of the social eye. 
Portrait of former First Lady Louise Henry Hoover (1874 - 1944) dressed as President of the Girl Scouts of the USA, Washington, D.C., 1924. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)
First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images). She was voted one of America's greatest living women and was popular for her social events. 
(Original Caption) Mrs. Harding Plants a tree in her backyard. The first lady of the land, recently received from a number of prominent men of Washington, a magnolia tree. The photo shows her after she had planted the tree in the yard of the White House.

circa 1912: Mrs Ellen Wilson (nee Axson, 1860 - 1914), the first wife of the 28th American President Woodrow Wilson. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images). 

When her husband suffered a stroke, she essentially took over all governmental matters in his second term. 

U.S. First Lady Edith Roosevelt (1861 - 1948) sits at her desk in the second floor private library of the White House, 1903. She was the second wife of president Theodore Roosevelt. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

She was known for her gentle spirit and good judgement, was considered a scholarly reader and dedicated her life to helping the poor. 

First Lady Ida Saxon McKinley and President William McKinley (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
1889: Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison (1832 - 1892), the first wife of American president Benjamin Harrison. She was an accomplished pianist, artist and dancer, and hosted many elegant parties before dying of tuberculosis in the White House. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

She strived to increase employment and education for women.

Portrait of First Lady Ellen Herndon Arthur (1837 - 1880), mid 19th century. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images). She died before her husband took office. 

Wife of President James A. Garfield. (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

An intellectual, she was involved in the literary society, and strived to preserve her husband's career and reputation.

Mrs Rutherford B. Hayes, wife of President Hayes. Lucy Ware Webb Hayes was First Lady of the United States and is often known as 'Lemonade Lucy' due to her support of the Temperance Movement. 
 Mrs. Julia Dent Grant. Photo taken while Pres. Grant was in the White House, in 1876 was a notable host. 
Engraving from 1886 featuring Eliza McCardle Johnson who was the wife of the American President Andrew Johnson. She was educated, brought her entire family into the White House, and was a gracious host.
Portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln, who was distraught at her son's premature death for most of the presidency. 
Abigail Powers Fillmore, wife of President Willard Fillmore was notable for bringing music and art into the White House with music rooms. She also added to the library. 
This is a portrait of Margaret Smith Taylor, the wife of the 12th President of the United States, Zachary Taylor.

Engraving from 1886 featuring Sarah Childress Polk who was the wife of the American President James K. Polk.

She was incredibly well educated, wrote speeches and correspondences for her husband. 

Julia Gardiner Tyler, Wife Of Pres. John Tyler was one of the most graceful First Ladies and was an accomplished poet.

She was a dedicated volunteer for the Confederacy

Engraving from 1886 featuring Letitia Christian Tyler who was the wife of the American President, John Tyler. 
Engraving from 1886 featuring Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson who was the wife of the American President Andrew Jackson. She died before he was inaugurated. She took in poor family members, adopted her nephews and raised them. 
'This vintage engraving depicts the portrait First Lady Louisa Catherine Adams (1775 - 1852), wife of US President John Quincy Adams and born Louisa Catherine Johnson. Born in London, she was the only foreign-born First Lady. 
Dolley Madison was one of the most loved first ladies, and saved the country's national treasures in the War of 1812. 
Engraving from 1886 featuring Martha Jefferson who was the wife of the American President, Thomas Jefferson. However, she did not live to see her husband become president. 

Engraving from 1885 featuring Abigail Adams who was the First Lady of the United States and married to the 2nd President of the United States, John Adams. She lived from 1744 until 1818.

She was one of the most 'informed' first ladies, and despite not formally schooled. 

Unlike most women at the time, Martha Washington was literate. She also liberated her husband's slaves after he died.
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Brown, for example, prepared elaborate meals for her husband, despite eating nothing but diet foods herself. Roosevelt, completely indifferent to food, hired the chef considered to be the worst in presidential history—to the point where Washington insiders knew to eat beforehand if they received an invitation to dine at the White House.

Perhaps the most interesting section of the book deals with Braun. Shapiro admits to the moral gap between Braun and her other subjects, but argues that though it's hard to know how small of a bubble Braun lived in, her world was one of "make-believe morality" and a lot of Champagne.

SEE MORE: Eva and Hitler

18 PHOTOS
Eva Braun and Hitler
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Eva Braun and Hitler
(GERMANY OUT) *20.04.1889-30.04.1945+Politiker, NSDAP, Daus einem Fotoalbum aus dem Nachlass vonEva Braun:auf dem Obersalzberg bei Berchtesgadenauf der Terrasse des Berghof: AdolfHitler mit Sch�erh�ndin Blondi, E. B.mit Scotchterrierohne Jahr (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Eva Braun,Eva Braun,Adolf Hitler, Theo Morell (*20.04.1889-30.04.1945+) , Politiker, NSDAP, D, - als Gastgeber einer Gesellschaft f�r, Marion Sch�nmann, geb. Theissen (eine, Freundin Eva Brauns) anl�slich ihrer, Hochzeit; in der Mitte das Ehepaar, ihm, rechts zu F�ssen Evas Schwester Gretl;, von links: Heinrich Hoffmann, Frau, Morell, Erna Hoffmann, zweite Ehefrau des, Fotografen, Eva Braun, ganz hi Leibarzt, Dr Theo Morell (Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1900: Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler Wife (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Adolf Hitler with Eva Braun. Undated Photo.
circa 1942: Eva Braun, the German mistress of chancellor Adolf Hitler poses on a terrace with an infant, in a still from a home movie taken by her sister Grete Fegelein. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Adolf Hitler with his mistress Eva Braun, 1940. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945) and Uschi (Ursula) Schneider, the daughter of Herta Schneider, a close childhood friend of Eva Braun, at the Berghof, Berchtesgaden, Germany, 1942. Herta Schneider and her children spent a great deal of time at Hitler's residence. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
Eva Braun (1912 - 1945) sitting on a terrace in a Bavarian dress, at the Berghof, Hitler's residence, near Berchtesgaden, Germany, 1942. A box camera is next to her. She took many photos and also 16mm color film of life at the Berghof and elsewhere. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Eva Braun,Eva Braun,,Gretl Fegelein (*06.02.1912-30.04.1945+) , Lebensgef�rtin Adolf Hitlers, E.B. mit ihrer Schwester Gretl Fegelein, 1944 (Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945) with guests at his birthday party at Hitler's residence, the Berghof near Berchtesgaden, Germany, 20th April 1943. On the far left is Eva Braun (1912 - 1945). Behind her is her close friend Herta Schneider. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
1945: Private First Class Richard Blust of Michigan surveys the bunker at the German Reichschancellery in Berlin where Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun are thought to have committed suicide. A fire has destroyed much of the room's contents. (Photo by Haacker/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
6th July 1945: A Russian soldier using Eva Braun's phone in her bedroom in Hitler's shelter, at the Chancellery building, Berlin. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany, c1936-1945. Eva Braun came to live with Hitler at the Berghof, his residence in the Bavarian Alps in 1936. They were married in his bunker in Berlin on 29 April 1945 in the closing days of World War II before committing suicide the following day. (Photo by Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images)
German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945) and his mistress Eva Braun (1912 -1945) dine in a still from a private home movie made by Braun's sister Gretl Fegelein, early to mid 1940s. Hitler and Braun married on April 29, 1945, the day before they committed suicide. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
Hitler s'amuse avec une toute petite fille, 'Uschi', qui serait la ni�e d'Eva Braun, circa 1940. (Photo by Keystone-France\Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Braun, Eva - Partner of Adolf Hitler, Germany*06.02.1912-30.04.1945+- (3.f.r.) with friends in a bar - undated- Photographer: AP- Published by: 'Sie' 31/1947Vintage property of ullstein bild (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Hitler et Eva Braun sont assis avec deux jeunes enfants, circa 1930. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Eva Braun (1910 - 1945), mistress to Adolf Hitler. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
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Braun, who met Hitler when she was 17 and he 40, took immense pleasure in serving extravagant meals to her partner's guests at intimate luncheons and dinners, quite possibly because it was the only time she was allowed to be seen on her beau's arm. (In public, he wanted to maintain a picture of himself as wedded to the cause rather than a woman.) In other words, serving Bavarian meatballs and apple strudel allowed her to live out a fantasy in which she was on the right side of history.

Buy this book, read this book and then spend a few seconds before every meal thinking about what message the dish sitting in front of you could be sending to your dinner companions.

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RELATED: More of history's most significant figures

41 PHOTOS
Historical women who fought injustice and broke down barriers
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Historical women who fought injustice and broke down barriers
The former slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), originally Isabella Van Wagener. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Harriet Tubman, American anti-slavery activist, c1900. Harriet Tubman (c1820-1913) was born into slavery in America. She escaped in 1849, became a leading Abolitionist and was active as a 'conductor' in the Underground Railroad, the network which helped escaped slaves to reach safety. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Profile portrait identified as Susan B Anthony in her 30s by Southworth & Hawes (Albert Sands Southworth 1811-1894 and Josiah Johnson Hawes 1808-1901, American) (from a daguerreotype in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), c 1850. (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)
English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 - 1928), is arrested at a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace, London. (Photo by Jimmy Sime/Getty Images)
French writer, existentialist philosopher, political activist, and feminist Simone de Beauvoir during the Bobigny Abortion Trial. (Photo by Michel Artault/Apis/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
Portrait of American pacifist leader Jeannette Rankin (1880 - 1973), who in 1916 became the first female member of Congress when she was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana, 1910s. Rankin was the only member of Congress to vote against US entry in both World War I and World War II and was an active leader in the antiwar movement during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Margaret Sanger (1883-1966), American leader of Birth Control Movement. Undated.
Portrait of Rosa Parks, who organized the boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955, 20th century, United States, New York, Schomburg Center. (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Coretta Scott King widow of Dr. Martin Muther King Jr., sometimes prefaces a response to a question addressed to her with 'Martin Used to say,' But none that know her doubt that she is a leader in her own right.
circa 1970: American feminist and author Betty Friedan, a founder member of NOW (National Organisation of Women) and the author of 'The Feminine Mystique'. (Photo by B. Friedan/MPI/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Feminist Gloria Steinem in a photograph, ca. 1967.
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers remarks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: First lady Michelle Obama attends the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel smiles after addressing delegates during her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party's congress in Essen, western Germany, on December 6, 2016. German Chancellor Angela Merkel launches into campaign mode for elections taking place in 2017. / AFP / TOBIAS SCHWARZ (Photo credit should read TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)
French President Francois Hollande (R) greets Myanmar's opposition leader and Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi (L) upon her arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 15 April 2014. .Photo by Christian Liewig (Photo by liewig christian/Corbis via Getty Images)
PAKISTAN - SEPTEMBER 09: Pakistan authorities released Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and herself now leader of political opposition to president Zia ul-Haq - Miss Bhutto returned to the family residence of Clifton in Karcahi, Pakistan on September 9, 1986. (Photo by Chip HIRES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India at the National Press Club, Washington, DC. 1966 Photo by: (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)
Ilhan Omar, a candidate for State Representative for District 60B in Minnesota, gives an acceptance speech on election night, November 8, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Omar, a refugee from Somalia, is the first Somali-American Muslim woman to hold public office. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presents onstage at a reception before An Historic Evening with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center on September 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 05: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., attends a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States,' featuring testimony by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others, January 5, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON - MAY 26: Federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor stands as she is named by U.S. President Barack Obama as his choice to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court during an announcement in the East Room of the White House May 26, 2009 in Washington, DC. If approved by the U.S. Senate, Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic and the third woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court. Sotomayor currently sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Amelia Earhart (1898-1937), American aviatrix. She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.
Photographic print of Marie Curie (1867-1934) a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. Dated 20th Century. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Vostok 6, soviet cosmonaut valentina tereshkova, the first woman in space, in front of the vostok capsule, june 1963. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
Washington, DC On Tuesday, June 14, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, General Lori Robinson, NORAD and USNORTHCOM, gives remarks, at The White House Summit on The United State of Women. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - MAY 14: Entertainer Beyonce performs onstage during 'The Formation World Tour' at the Rose Bowl on May 14, 2016 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage )
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 12: Oprah Winfrey is seen on stage during her 'An Evening With Oprah' tour at Allphones Arena on December 12, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 20: Emma Watson speaks at HeForShe 2nd Anniversary Reception at Museum of Modern Art on September 20, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Viola Davis poses at the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 12 -- Aired 02/04/2006 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tina Fey, Amy Poehler during 'Weekend Update' skit on February 4, 2006 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: J.K. Rowling attends the 70th EE British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) at Royal Albert Hall on February 12, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
NETHERLANDS - FEBRUARY 04: Photo of Annie LEIBOWITZ; Posed portrait of photographer of Annie Liebowitz (Photo by Paul Bergen/Redferns)
CNN Correspondent Christiane Amanpour covers the US-led peacekeeping operation in Mogadishu. From a tower she watches and smiles at Somali civilians crowding around the US Marines. (Photo by David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
American actress Carrie Fisher on the set of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope written, directed and produced by Georges Lucas. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 03: Malala Yousafzai opens the new Library of Birmingham at Centenary Square on September 3, 2013 in Birmingham, England. The new futuristic building was officially opened by 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai who was attacked by Taliban gunmen on her school bus near her former home in Pakistan in October 2012. The new building was designed by architect Francine Hoube and has cost 189 million GBP. The modern exterior of interlacing rings reflects the canals and tunnels of Birmingham. The library's ten floors will house the city's internationally significant collections of archives, photography and rare books as well as it's lending library. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 28: Serena Williams of the United States poses with the Daphne Akhurst Trophy alongside Venus Williams of the United States, posing with the runners up plate after the Women's Singles Final on day 13 of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 28, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Pro tennis player Billie Jean King holds her newly won trophy high after beating Bobby Riggs in their $100,000 winner-take-all 'Battle of the Sexes' tennis match on September 20th. Ms. King took 3 straight sets to beat the 55 year old Riggs.
DAYTONA, FL - FEBRUARY 26: Danica Patrick during driver introductions for the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona on February 26, 2017, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, FL.(Photo by Michael Bush/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 19: Kathrine Switzer, of Syracuse, N.Y., center, was spotted early in the Boston Marathon by Jock Semple, center right, who tried to rip the number off her shirt and remove her from the race. Switzer's friends intervened, allowing her to make her getaway to become the first woman to 'officially' run the Boston Marathon on April 19, 1967. (Paul Connell/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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