Writing food memoirs

I attended a wonderful panel moderated by Cara De Silva at the past weekend’s Food Writing Forum at the New School in New York. The panelists – all with rich careers in food and writing — had so many interesting things to say, a handful of which are excerpted below. Not exactly restaurant history, but close enough.

Elissa Altman

“I grew up in a home that was tied in knots over food.” Her mother, who was afraid of food, gave her diet pills while her father, a “fresser,” smuggled her off to secret meals at La Grenouille.

Among other books, she is author of POOR MAN’S FEAST and the upcoming MOTHERLAND: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing.

Mark Russ Federman

“A fish monger from the lower East Side,” he observed that when word got out that he was writing a book about his family’s famed business, “All the literary agents showed up and bought an eighth pound of lox.”

As the third generation of the Russ family to own and operate the family appetizing store, he published a combined memoir/history titled RUSS & DAUGHTERS: Reflections and Recipes.

Madhur Jaffrey

As a memoir writer, she realized that “When I looked back on my life it was all about food.” Reflecting that the name given to her at birth means honey, she commented, “God connected me to food.”

She is author of cookbooks and CLIMBING THE MANGO TREE: A Memoir of a Childhood in India.

Anne Mendelson

Writing a biography of the mother-daughter cookbook authors of The Joy of Cooking she admits, “I was flying blind.” But she considers this a “necessary condition” for writing a biography.

She has written STAND FACING THE STOVE about Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, as well as cookbooks and other food books.

Laura Shapiro

“You can tell any life if you know the food,” she observed. Working on her recent book, she knew she was onto something when she discovered that feminist Inez Haynes Irwin had once confessed that preparing Sunday dinners had “set a scar on my soul.”

Among her books are PERFECTION SALAD and the new one, WHAT SHE ATE: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories.

 

See my new-ish blog on childhood food memories, Archaeology of Taste.

 

2 Comments

Filed under food, writing

2 responses to “Writing food memoirs

  1. Susan Taylor Brand

    My gosh what a revelation. I had never thought of talking about the food we ate in my memoir. I sit silent for a moment, wondering. Just this evening, my 15 year old, after dinner, began cooking his first family meal: a recipe of jerk chicken that had to marinate over night. His pride was so evident as he sliced up the vegetables, his amazement at the hotness of a habanero quite profound … yes, I think it may be true, as Madhur Jaffrey said, that more than I had realized, “it is all about the food.”

  2. I agree that these were riveting panelists, and I can also recommend your new blog: Archaeology of Taste!

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