One of the surprises of last week’s James Beard Awards was the runaway success of McSweeney’s offshoot Lucky Peach, which ended up taking home five out of seventeen awards. On John Birdsall’s Tumblr, you can read one of the winning essays, which bears the attention-grabbing title of “America, Your Food Is So Gay.” (Related: Jessica Ferri on food writing.)
What’s old doesn’t need to be old-fashioned. It gets reborn.
For a “blood sport,” la chasse is peaceful. “This is all so civilized,” a foreign policy advisor originally from Montana once remarked to me (even though gunfire blasted around us). We were batteurs at an old world château in Châlons-en-Champagne, trudging through forest that had recently dropped its red and yellow burden. Generally shooters are taking aim at birds that were released into the habitat as chicks and provided for in the meantime. “It’s like a five-star hotel for pheasants,” you hear. The argument is there, though. Chasse kills are free-range and sustainable; traditionally they’re characterized by respect. One does not take a shot one does not believe he or she can make. One never shoots a bird on the ground. And one will probably spend an hour or more looking for an animal he or she worries is wounded. In all, how could it be worse than buying anonymous meat from the grocery?
Chantel Tattoli, “La Chasse: On Hunting in the French Countryside”
A chef knows how to stiffen the egg whites so that the soufflé stands; a fiction writer develops a sense of how to craft sentences and paragraphs to support the narrative and its central characters. There are prescriptive recipes for many types of writing just as there are for all kinds of dishes, and yet the ability to follow directions is more skill than art. It’s only after the procedures are internalized and diverged from that both cook and writer can pull off an original concoction. Perhaps in this way, writing a novel is similar to planning a feast.
As young and extremely carefree 20-somethings who spent their weeknights drinking $5 pitchers of Busch at the now-defunct Jack’s Club, we conceived of Family Dinner as a pseudo-ironic mimicry of the middle class practice with which we had all grown up. But seven years later, we are still at it. The group has grown from four people to 16. We have a calendar and a Google group, and we get together around 49 Wednesdays out of the year, rotating between approximately seven dwellings. One person cooks, everyone else brings beer or sometimes wine. We even have a family name: We’re the Boehners, and we love each other.
Lydia Kiesling, “World History and Family Dinner: On Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine and Empire”
We are all hungry, she tells us, but we must remember to make choices, not drift to whatever is at hand. Our hunger unites us; our choices, in restaurants and in life, make us individuals.
This article on M.F.K. Fisher, the godmother of American food writing, should be catnip for those of you who like reading about food almost as much as eating it. A onetime French expat, Fisher conducted “a one-woman revolution in the field of literary cookery,” most notably with her collection of essays The Gastronomical Me. (Back in 2010, Jessica Ferri wrote about Fisher for The Millions.)
But I’m not going to complain about Britain’s “lack of a service culture”—it’s one of the things I cherish about the place. I don’t think any nation should elevate service to the status of culture. At best, it’s a practicality, to be enacted politely and decently by both parties, but no one should be asked to pretend that the intimate satisfaction of her existence is servicing you, the “guest,” with a shrimp sandwich wrapped in plastic. If the choice is between the antic all-singing, all-dancing employees in New York’s Astor Place Pret-A-Manger and the stony-faced contempt of just about everybody behind a food counter in London (including all the Prets), I wholeheartedly opt for the latter. We are subject to enough delusions in this life without adding to them the belief that the girl with the name tag is secretly in love with us.
Zadie Smith could write herself out of a Chinese takeout box, and that’s exactly what she does in her essay on the differences between British and American takeout culture, “Take It Or Leave It," for The New Yorker.
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