“I don’t think I’m a food writer any more than I am a love writer or a fish writer or a fowl writer. I just write about life.”
This quote might seem surprising since M. F. K. Fisher is synonymous with food writing. Her 30+ books are largely centered on food, as clearly exhibited in THE ART OF EATING, which has been in print since 1954. This masterful tome contains her five most popular books—SERVE IT FORTH (1937), CONSIDER THE OYSTER (1941), HOW TO COOK A WOLF (1942), THE GASTRONOMICAL ME (1943) and AN ALPHABET FOR GOURMETS (1949). An eclectic mixture of instruction, opinion, and autobiography, her writing is straightforward but beautiful, giving the reader a sense of familiarity with every story told.
As Fisher herself explains in the introduction to THE GASTRONOMICAL ME, she writes about food because she is hungry, but there is more to it. “When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied.”
It is this idea—that writing about food transcends the basic need to fill our bellies—that spoke to me when I first read THE ART OF EATING. It’s a book that made me believe that M. F. K. Fisher and I might have been fast friends. Reading her words made me understand why I, myself, and so many others have been drawn to write about food. Writing about food isn’t just about the morsels we put into our mouths. Fisher knew that food was also communion, conviviality, meditation, memory, politics, travel, religion, love, war, creativity, curiosity, and so much more. Food is at the heart of everything we as humans do.
M. F. K. Fisher loved the history and science of food as much as the culture and the art of food preparation. THE ART OF EATING is full of delicious gems ranging from a recipe from my personal food hero—the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius—to feast menus from Elizabethan England to her disdain for the fruit cup to the best way to make milk-toast for invalids.
What lingers in the mind from THE ART OF EATING, however, are the lush descriptions on the page.
“The air tastes like mead in our throats.”
“The salads and stews she made from these little shy weeds were indeed peculiar, but she blended and cooked them so skillfully that they never lost their fresh salt crispness. She put them together with thought and gratitude, and never seemed to realize that her cuisine was one of intense romantic strangeness to everyone but herself.”
Fisher’s words linger long in the memory, and they stir more than hunger pangs in the belly. If you are a lover of food, or indeed a lover of life, THE ART OF EATING should be a book on your “to devour” shelf.