11 December 2008

M.F.K. Fisher, a food writer in a league of her own.

It seems that this woman is appearing far too serendipitously in snippets of my conversation these days: with my poetry teacher; with my women's history teacher; over a bowl of buttered spaghetti, a simple dish that Fisher champions, with my mom; with my classmates, who are curious as to why I am lugging around this 800-page volume entitled The Art of Eating; and, today, with Julia Reed, a food columnist at Newsweek who spoke at my school. In any case, Fisher is a major part of my life right now, and given that I am far too broke from Christmas shopping to enjoy an actual meal out right now, the next best foodie thing to write about is a fellow epicure.

Perhaps this excerpt from The Gastronomical Me sums it up best:
"It seems to me that our basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it... and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied... and it is all one."

A more serious or self-respecting gourmet might spend seven pages elaborating on how and why P is for Pasta, or Parmigiano Reggiano, or Panna Cotta, or Pâté. Fisher, though, is an entirely different story, and although she does pay homage to Pâté in a single page, she chooses to devote seven pages to a chapter entitled P is for Peas. (Later on, I might add, she spends only four pages on how R is for Romantic, glossing briefly over the inextricable connection between food and love.) Such is Fisher's eccentric and whimsical Alphabet for Gourmets, in which letter designations exactingly and comically refrain from the trite, so that C is for Cautious rather than Coulis and H is for Happy as opposed to Hamachi. Perhaps it's not the most elevated book out there as food literature goes, but it is undoubtedly among the most genuine, and that, in short, is Fisher's hook.

What is most alluring about Fisher is her effervescent wit and infectious passion. Important to note is the fact that Fisher is not just a food writer the way Brett Anderson is for the Times-Picayune. As opposed to an author of ephemerally significant newspaper reviews, she is a writer unto herself; her subject of choice just happens to be food rather than star-crossed lovers or the American Dream. Her writing style has an effect similar to that of an effortless host: instantly relaxing, humbled, and infinitely inviting in its lack of pretension. Rather than elevate herself superficially with typical food jargon, she has a no-nonsense but all-joie de vivre approach, so that one can read it without a familiarity with typical culinary semantics. She's a real human being, concerned more with the sentimentality of a certain meal than with emulsions or aromatics, who can devote solid, sincere writing in praise of kasha, the simple oatmeal-esque dish pervasive in Eastern Europe, just as well as she can effortlessly discuss the gastronomical benefits of beluga caviar or pâté de foie gras truffé en brioche. Regardless of her topic, there is a sheer joy that glimmers through every word, and why wouldn't you want to read that?

1 comment:

Robley H said...

Your mother and aunt Pam will remember Betsy McCutchen, who taught at McGehee's for 38 years. She admires (should I say idolizes?) MFK Fisher as you do. She would smile if she were to read this post. Indeed, I have sent it to her for her amusement.