I was squinting up at the top shelf of the food section in my favorite used book store when I saw it: a hefty tome entitled The Art of Eating, notable among its sleeker cookbook neighbors for its unrepentant devotion to the delights of consumption rather than preparation. Being a much better eater than I am a cook, I made a running leap to seize the book from its high perch and carried it home clutched to my chest like a kitten.
Published in 1954, The Art of Eating is a compilation of five earlier essay collections by M.F.K. Fisher, the doyenne of American literary food writing until her death in 1992, at the age of 83. I brought the book to bed with me the evening I bought it. The first essay begins like this:
When a man is small, […] some foods are utterly delicious, and he thinks of them and tastes them with a sensuous passion which too often disappears completely with the years.
Perhaps there are little chocolate cookies as a special treat, two apiece. He eats his, all two, with an intense but delicate avidity. His small sister Judy puts one of hers in her pocket, the smug thing. But Aunt Gwen takes a bite from each of her cookies and gives what is left of one to Judy, what is left of the other to him. She is quite calm about it.
He looks at her with dreadful wonder. How can she bear to do it? He could not, could not have given more than a crumb of his cooky to anyone. Perhaps even a crumb would be too big. Aunt Gwen is wonderful; she is brave and superhuman. He feels a little dizzy as he looks at the bitten cooky in his hand. How could she do it?
How might our world change if we all approached our meals with this same reverence (and a bit more generosity)? What would our grocery stores and kitchen cupboards look like, and our waistlines and school cafeterias and dinner tables? What happens to that “delicate avidity” as we grow, and how might we go about maintaining it into our adult lives? These are some of the basic questions I seek to explore in this blog. I hope you’ll share your own thoughts, comments, and ideas here, as well.
May the feast begin!