“L’amour physique est un besoin semblable a la faim…” Honore de Balzac
“It seems to me that our three 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 it is all one.” MFK Fisher
Being an inept cook is hardly a prerequisite for greatness. Nevertheless, there are those who believe that cooking and a high achievements are incompatible . Sad to say, the anti-cooking faction seems to be an American phenomenon. Perhaps in the Americas, where ancestral memories of slavery and indentured remain fresh, it is easy to equate manual labor of any sort with powerlessness. After all, powerful people can choose not to engage in menial labor . Rather than toiling in the kitchen, they can split the atom, redefine the time-space continuum and make the string theory intelligible to pre-schoolers.
Tainted by its association with the servile job of cooking, food writing commands little respect in the Americas. I ought to know. As a freelance writer, I did my share of food writing in my day. The subject fascinated me and up to the advent of the internet, some national publications made food pages more accessible to freelancers than, say, the arts section. Freelancers are generalists and I am no exception. I wrote about painting, the ballet, the theater, literature, politics, science and the history of food among other things. Yet in Little Macondo, this lusty microcosm of the Americas, some saw me as a recipe writer–a profession that has as much cachet as garbage collection. Hard news reporters in the provincial newspaper where I worked for to many years, called food writers “kitchen table writers.” That was fine. The kitchen table writers thought hard news guys were one-note Johnnies whose collective IQ equaled that of a flea.
All this is water over bridge. GOURMET magazine where peerless food writing alternated with some of the best travel pieces in biz, folded. The Washington Post’s food writing is a joke. Food writers in the print media have to compete for attention with gazillions of bloggers and the ubiquitous television minions of Martha Stewart. Though Hollywood elevated Julia Child’s to that of a national treasure, real food writers such as MFK Fisher, whose sparkling prosed once added glamour to the pages of The New Yorker, are nearly forgotten. That is a pity. Real writers–dust off your Balzac, Dickens, Nabokov, Chekhov, Jason Goodwin– inevitably write about food. Why not? It is honorable work. So is recipe writing, which was first published in ancient Rome. Would that all non-cooks would leave behind a legacy as valuable as DE RE COQINARIA
Lemon bread for my best beloved.