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Food, Glorious Food

I remember a time, shortly before we got married, when Mike and I were eating lunch and he asked, “What should we have for dinner?”

I told my sister about it.

“Oh, he’s gonna fit in with our family just fine,” she said.

Food is a big part of my life. That’s why I am confused when writers neglect to mention all the muffin crumbs, lemon slices, and long, cheesy strands of life in their stories.

I concur with the Italian writer, Aldo Buzzi, who wrote, “The writer who never talks about eating, about appetite, hunger, food, about cooks and meals, arouses my suspicion as though some vital element were missing in him.”

I will make this assertion: leaving out the purchasing, preparation, and consumption of food in your essays, stories, and poems is a lost opportunity.


Waxing philosophic:

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”

Luciano Pavarotti

Paying homage:

“When God sets the table for dinner, I would bet my grandma’s rolls are right next to the butter.”

Susan Mark

Expressing disdain:

“Cucumber should be well sliced, dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out.”

Samuel Johnson

Inserting humor:

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”

Calvin Trillin

Portraying attitude:

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”

Sophia Loren

Describing the sublime:

“Strawberries are the angels of the earth, innocent and sweet with green leafy wings reaching heavenward.”

Terri Guillemets

Delivering a good insult:

“Americans will eat garbage provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup.”

Henry James

Bringing characters to life:

(Excerpt from a letter included in my as-yet-unpublished novel):

I hope to bring back a new recipe from my sojourn in Kengetty, but I’m not sure I can recreate it exactly. Mrs. Yandle, the sibilant proprietress of the Gwesty, has a style to her baking that I guarantee I can’t replicate.

Making bakestones, for example. It starts with a pronouncement, to nobody in particular: “Oi! I’d best get to my bakestones, or it’ll be dimmit before we know it!” Followed by a march to the cupboard, a clattering as she pulls bowls, boxes, and implements out and bangs them down on the sideboard.

At which point she suddenly turns into a monk at prayer as she crumbles lard, butter, and flour together in a bowl, then adds in honey, currants, cinnamon, and nutmeg. She cracks an egg on top as a benediction. When the dough has been mixed to her satisfaction, Mrs. Yandle goes into a kind of fit state, giving it fond slaps and yelling (I kid you not) “Take that, you fop doodle!”

For me, food is also a portal to memory.

What is evoked as I remember my father serving my sisters and me a dish he called “goop” (creamed tuna on toast) after my mother’s departure when I was eight years old? It was about the only dish he knew how to cook, having learned it in the military.

Goop filled the hole in my stomach, but I missed Mom’s tacos, and the way she pressed all the grease out of the hamburger for me, because I was a finicky eater, and couldn’t stand any kind of fat.

And in remembering my father’s dish I am whisked back in time, and feel again the hole in my insides that no amount of food could fill.

There’s much, much more to food than just the ingredients, the cooking, the eating, isn’t there?

So, all I’m saying today is don’t forget the food.

Let your characters argue over pasta.

Resurrect the way your grandfather chewed his pot roast.

Bring into your poem the taste of a single blackberry, just plucked from the bush in the shadow of the Tetons as you keep an eye out for bears.


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