One afternoon, two years ago, as Josh and I stood in my kitchen, munching on bagel chips and goat cheese, we came to the unsettling conclusion that our life plans were almost identical. We were both English majors, studying creative writing at Davidson College, both wanted to go to culinary school, and both wanted to enter careers that somehow combined the two.
Since that discovery, we’ve been cooking together, sharing recipes, and arguing about the merits – or demerits – of everything we eat. And since that conversation, we’ve also come to realize that we share many of the same philosophies about eating, cooking, and writing – and how each of those elements influences, and also shapes, our lives.
My own love for food writing came from an unlikely source, the lavish and loving descriptions of feasts in the Redwall books, a children’s series created by Brian Jacques that chronicles the epic lives of a loyal band of mice, badgers, and otters as they battle an evil contingent of weasels and foxes. I read and reread mealtime scenes in Redwall, imagining the taste of Mossflower soup, the smell of fresh biscuits with butter and honey, hotcakes, and nut bread. Brain Jacques, my first food writer.
After Redwall, I started reading my mother’s cookbooks, her back issues of Saveur, even the recipe section in Southern Living. Although I grew up in a home that consistently had good food and freshly prepared meals, I first discovered my passion for food by reading about it. That progression, from reading to cooking, and now to writing, may be unconventional, but for me, reading, writing, and eating are invariably intertwined. I read to understand my culture, I write to understand myself, and I cook to understand how it all relates.
For me, there wasn’t a Volta, a change in time, an epiphany when I decided “I must cook,” or “I must write.” To be honest, I’m still grappling with what those terms really mean. Do I cook for people, do I cook with people; my conundrum seems to sprout from prepositions and their implications.
I did, however, stumble into cooking first. Living in a house with an apartment upstairs provided interesting sets of people residing directly above me. My family went through a couple of different residents, until Michele moved in. She ended up staying for eight years. Also a personal chef, nutritionist and dietician, food was a strong part of her life. After a few months of coming home from school to aromas of butternut squash soup, orange chocolate soufflé, and pumpkin spice cookies, I ventured upstairs with a question about cooking pasta and came downstairs with a stack of Bon Appetit. Finding myself increasingly curious about food, I would fit in an episode of Good Eats on the Food Network after waiting tables all night, find a recipe from one of the Bon Appetit and take to the kitchen. In the morning my mom would ask why she dreamt of scones, pies, and cookies all night, until she’d see the platter on the back counter.
I write for both of us when I say that food is more than nourishment for our bodies. Food is something we need to share in any way possible. “Companion,” after all, means “those who break bread together.” We all eat to live, and some of us live to eat, cook, and talk about it later. That’s why we’re here. Well, that–and because we like how it tastes. Eat me. Drink me.
This time she found a little bottle on it, (‘which certainly was not here before,’ said Alice,) and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words ‘DRINK ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters. […] Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words ‘EAT ME’ were beautifully marked in currants. ‘Well, I’ll eat it,’ said Alice, ‘and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door; so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!’ -Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland