Since 2004, Amanda Hesser has collected the food-inspired memories of America’s featured writers from a variety of backgrounds. Gleaned from The New York Times Magazine column of the same name, these food-linked memories offer unexpected insight into the emotional content of writing.
Whether “we are what we eat” or not, certainly the foods we crave help define the unknown territory of the creative mind. In sharing these intimate secrets, twenty-six playwrights, screenwriters, novelist, poets, journalists and food writers reveal the importance of food, comfort, memory, and the emotional connotations of dishes they have related to significant incidents in their lives.
Food and memory are a powerful combination, potent as a door to the past, evoking both pain and comfort, delivered in sections to match the emotional content of the contributions: Illusions; Discoveries; Struggles; Loss; and Coming Home. The writers included in this collection are eclectic and provocative: Ann Patchett, Tom Perrotta, Colson Whitehead, James Salter, Kiran Desai, Chang-Rae Lee, Pico Iyer, Manil Suri, Allen Shawn and Dorothy Allison.
In “Expatriate Games” (Loss), John Burnham Schwartz writes of Sunday dinners that became a weekly ritual: “Between feasts and sometimes during- life-altering decisions were made, hearts broken, songs badly sung.” In “Turning Japanese” (Coming Home), Heidi Julavits confides: “Two months later I am spiritually annihilated by contentment. I haven’t had a craving in months, and… I forget to worry about my uncertain future.”
R.W. Apple’s “The Dining Room Wars” (Discoveries) takes an eclectic perspective, food from everywhere, from New York to Saigon to Africa: “I am neither High Church or Low- or rather I am both at the same time.” And poet Billy Collins confronts “The Fish” (Illusions):
“and thus my dinner in an unfamiliar city… was graced not only with chilled wine and lemon slices but with compassion and sorrow.”
For the curious reader, Eat, Memory is a treasure trove. The willing share their intimate recollections and personal stories, bridging the gap between the written word and its interpretation, the many-layered emotions that create the stories of a society in whatever form they take, novel, screenplay, poem.
These essays offer a banquet replete with irony, piquancy, sadness and joy, the varied flavors of experience. Of all the voices clamoring to be heard in the modern world, those most closely wed to human experience bring us nearer to understanding ourselves and the complicated world we inhabit. Herein we discover another piece of an intricate puzzle, memory, food and writers.