Whether you are someone who writes about food, or simply someone who appreciates the sensuality of food and the emotional process of making and enjoying a good meal, you need to study the work of M.F.K. Fisher.
by Cari Oleskewicz on May 24, 2012
Whether you are someone who writes about food, or simply someone who appreciates the sensuality of food and the emotional process of making and enjoying a good meal, you need to study the work of M.F.K. Fisher. Not only was she a genius when it came to food and writing, she was willing to eat pork chops for breakfast. Forget celebrity chefs. This is the type of person worthy of culinary worship.
I began my adoration of Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher when I was attending a writing conference, and one of my assignments was to read chapters from “Long Ago in France.” I know this book contained characters found in the charming city of Dijon, and I know there was some historical significance about the time period between the two world wars, but all I retained from that reading was the candid and colorful way that Ms. Fisher talked about her most memorable meals. Every ingredient had a starring role, and I had to stop reading because the jealousy was too overwhelming for me to bear. My envy and my ecstasy came from passages such as this:
“We tied napkins under our chins and splashed in great odorous bowls of ecrevisses à la nage. We addled our palates with snipes hung so long that they fell from their hooks, to be roasted then on cushions of toast softened with the paste of their rotted innards and fine brandy. In village kitchens we ate hot leek soup with white wine and snippets of salted pork.”
She was a writer before she was a foodie. M.F.K. Fisher began reading everything she could get her little hands on by the time she was five years old, and she started writing her own poetry at around the same age. She was a terrible student, but gained everything she could from her informal education, especially the cooking and eating habits of the people around her.
For M.F.K. Fisher, cooking was not just about the food. It was about thoughts, feelings and behaviors. She published her first book on gastronomy, “Serve it Forth” while she was living in California and struggling through a bad marriage. She got divorced; a scandalous act in the late 1930’s. Her second marriage had a fatal ending too when her husband shot himself to death. While this might throw most writers into dark, introspective pieces of creative nonfiction or graphic fiction, our M.F.K. Fisher instead continued to write about what she loved most: food. Specifically, she wrote about oysters and published “Consider the Oyster.” If you ever wondered about the reproductive habits of our favorite edible aphrodisiac, read this book.
Many other books would follow about her travels and her feasts. She married and divorced again, and had two daughters (the paternity of the eldest Fisher girl was never established or revealed). After her second husband killed himself, she claimed to be a “ghost” of a person. Perhaps he was the one she loved the best. Or, perhaps her real love affair was with a lover I have as well: food.
If you have not read anything by this brilliant writer yet, start with “I Was Really Very Hungry,” from her book “As They Were.” It is her story of stumbling upon a restaurant in Burgundy where a famous and temperamental chef obsesses over every dish he serves her. She is alone in the restaurant, and the over-attentive server explains each food item in vast and startling detail, leaving M.F.K. in a hot combination of fear, lust, hunger and pain. She calls this server “frighteningly fanatical about food.” Kind of like me.
Read all of her books. Only, don’t just read them – absorb them. The best way to be a fan of M.F.K. Fisher is not by trying to write like her; that is impossible. The best way to adore her is by living like her and eating the way she did. See the world. Eat everything. Release yourself from diets that eliminate entire food groups. Love without fear of heartbreak. It is the best, the only way to live. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have the urge to write about it all. I know I do.