Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: Love in a Dish or MFK Fisher: First Food Blogger

This isn't really a book review. It is more of a rambling monologue after reading another of the Penguin Food Series. This time is it is Love in a Dish ... and Other Culinary Delights. The reason this isn't a book review is because I had already prejudged this short collection.

You see, about five years ago, I finally read a substantial amount of the canon of M.F.K. Fisher. I had been reading a bunch of chefs on cooking and writers on writing and her name kept cropping up. When I hear about classics, I often get turned off by the hyperbole and the quest for deeper meaning by the reader. With Fisher, I found that the reviews did not matter. There was a deeply personal tone to her work that resonates today. She admits primal urges and explores food in a delightful way. Food is not just nourishment and cooking is not just technical. At the same time that she recounts great meals or discusses her mother's cooking or her grandmother's dietary needs, she is communicating a deeper interior relationship with food.

My wife has a visceral reaction and compulsion with sweets. The fact that something has a sugary taste and a starchy base makes her happy. This physical act of eating a cookie drives her to take another and another. These personal stories were not shared much in traditional food writing (think of restaurant and lifestyle sections in the early twentieth century).

Many of Fisher's pieces are small. There are mini essays that differentiate between gourmand and gluttony or personal recollections like when she travelled with her uncle on a train. It is precisely these vignettes that make me think that if Fisher was alive today, she would be a food blogger.

Online food writing sometimes relies too much on shortcuts; pictures, memes (OM NOM NOM), and opinions without consideration. It is refreshing to see someone do something special. Some of my nominations for bloggers that seem to be using the tools of irony or new media to create this same feeling would include Nadia G., My Drunk Kitchen, Epic Meal Time, and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. I am not saying that these are at the same calibre but what I am saying is that they are showing their relationship with food in a visceral and personal way. I like that. I can only hope to achieve that level of honesty whether it is slathered in humour and bacon or not.

I guess this goes a ways to say, read M.F.K. Fisher if you are an aspiring blogger. There is a lot of good that can be had by watching a masterful chef or writer. You may not be able to do the same in your kitchen but you will get a few hints to make you better.

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