I remember a time, 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, and I make no apologies about it.
So I often wonder when writers leave out of their stories all the muffin crumbs, lemon zests and long, cheesy strands of life.
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.”
Not including the growing, gathering, purchasing, preparation and consumption of food in your essays, stories and poems is, in my opinion, a lost opportunity.
A LOST OPPORTUNITY FOR…
“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
“When God sets the table for dinner, I would bet my grandma’s rolls are right next to the butter.”
- Susan Mark
“Cucumber should be well sliced, dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out.”
- Samuel Johnson
“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
“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
- Sophia Loren
Expressing the sublime:
“Strawberries are the angels of the earth, innocent and sweet with green leafy wings reaching heavenward.”
- Terri Guillemets
“Mariam’s right hand scoops peanut sauce and rice from the communal bowl. Her thumb nudges it into a ball, which she slips into her mouth using only her forefingers. Not a grain of rice is dropped." - me
Delivering a good insult:
“Americans will eat garbage provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup.”
- Henry James
Food is a portal, too, to memory.
What is evoked as I remember my father serving my sisters and me a dish he called “goop” (creamed tuna on toast--pretty much the only dish he knew how to cook, having learned it in the military) after my mother’s departure when I was eight years old?
Goop filled the hole in my stomach, but I missed my Mom’s tacos, how she used paper towels to press all of 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 to that time. I feel again the craving for my mother's tacos and I feel again the hole in my insides that no amount of food could fill.
There’s so, so much more to food than just the ingredients, the cooking, the eating. There’s a whole other world of sensation, impression and connection.
“I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.”
-- M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me
A WRITING PROMPT
In our writing group, we have an exercise called “Tag, You’re It.”
Between our monthly sessions, the person assigned to be the “tagger” selects a writing prompt and emails it to that month’s assigned “taggee.” The taggee writes to the prompt and at the next session, shares the results with the group.
Mike recently tagged Susan with a writing prompt from Natalie Goldberg that encouraged Susan to write about a food memory.
“A Lemon Pie Worth the Work” was the result. Susan’s depiction of a scene in which she was performing her little-girl job of adding flour as her carpenter-father kneaded bread dough, told me all I need to know about how she reveres her father. The image stays with me like a note of music hanging in the air after the musician has set down the instrument.
So, all I’m saying today is don’t forget the food.
Let your characters argue over pickles in the potato salad. Resurrect the sound of your grandfather chewing his pot roast. Summon in your poem the taste of a single blackberry, just plucked from a bush in the shadow of the Tetons as you keep an eye out for bears.