I’ve been on a food book binge for quite some time now. I want to write food-centric books, and the best way to learn the craft is to read what’s already out there. Last summer, I shared these books in a (short-lived) series called Books I Wish I Had Written.
Now that I’m settled and the hubbub of wedding/cross-country move has died down, I’m back to diligently reading, and with that in mind, I’m starting a new series: (Whisks &) Words You Should Read, in which I share with you great food-centric books that I think you should read immediately so that we can talk about it. You know, on Facebook or Twitter or this blog.
For my first selection, I want to share with you Kim Severson’s memoir Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life. This book is not about a literal life-saving (at least, not always) but rather about the influential cooks – from her own mother to Alice Waters to Ruth Reichl – who have “saved” her in some way.
A poet friend of mine and I were talking the other day about our lives, as we so often do in our long discussions about writing. She worried that, by writing, she wouldn’t be doing something for other people, that writing was selfish, that she wasn’t serving her fellow man the way she imagined she would as an activist. I had just finished reading Severson’s book before we spoke, so I asked her to think of the writers who, at various points in her life, have saved her in some way.
In Kim Severson’s book, she tells the stories of her interactions with eight cooks, from famous chefs to members of her own family. These women taught her about food, about herself as an eater, about what food can show us in the world. Each of those women, though they may not have intended it, showed her something that she needed to see about herself, be it her role in her family, how she could live her life without alcohol, about confidence and insecurity, about how to comfort ourselves and others with food.
Beyond just the worlds of cooking or writing, we are surrounded with the people who, whether they know it or not, have saved us in some way. In a manner of speaking, they put a plate of food in front of us when we were starving. And that’s what this book is about: salvation, the care we give to each other and ourselves.
Where there was good food there were usually good people. I learned that early on. I also learned that making food for other people was something I was good at. It gave me a sense of peace and belonging. When I made food, I made a tribe.
The quote above is from Severson’s book, and it resounded with particular strength for me as I am craving a tribe. In California, where we haven’t made many friends, I must limit my cooking to what Amanda and I can feasibly consume together because I have no one else to push food off on. I am missing my tribe of people to eat with, to feed.
But in this book, I found comfort. I found that even if my friends aren’t here, gathered around my table, joking with me and Amanda while drinking wine and eating food, they are in my memory. They are on my computer screen and my phone.
And beyond craving membership to a tribe, I remembered that writers can save us at certain moments in our lives. Kim Severson likely didn’t intend for her book to save anyone, but it did. It saved me in a small way last week when I read it. It introduced me to women I want to read and know more about. It showed me strength in action. It reminded me that we are never as feeble as we feel in difficult moments.
That’s the tribe I’m a member of. And happily so.