Food and words
Like bread and butter, like oysters and lemons, food and words are natural partners.
Somehow we know this from our earliest years, when we were mere slips tickled by Winnie-the-Pooh’s hums about honey, tiddely pom, and envying the Famous Five’s lashings of ginger beer. Kids books have always put food front and centre. Norman Lindsay even made food the hero of his book when he created Albert, the cranky old Magic Pudding. And who among us doesn’t want to sit down with Harry and Hermoine over a tankard of butterbeer, or tuck into some Green Eggs and Ham with Sam I Am?
It’s not just kids books either. How’s about William Carlos Williams’ plums in the ice box, or the Walter Cunningham syrup debacle in To Kill a Mockingbird? All that mutton and goose in Jane Austen, and whatever was served at Mrs Dalloway’s party. Dare I say Proust’s madeleine, which makes me feel sheepish since I haven’t read Proust, but how many of us actually have, and still we know that shell-like wee sponge cake as the trigger for that long and rambling reverie In Search of Lost Time.
Step out of literature into non-fiction and turn up the heat. Cookbooks have been around since long before Mrs Beeton, hitting their stride surely with Elizabeth David, whose spare and simple writing was well-proofed like a generous loaf of sourdough.
There’s a smørgasbord of foodie moments across all literary genres and forms, but that’s not the only way we sift and mix our language and our lunch. Food writing is spread with narrative discourse, and vice versa. Chefs talk about the story and the hero of the dish. We love some books more than others because it’s a matter of taste. Food and words share a common vocabulary of appetite and craving, nourishment and satisfaction.
There’s something sensual about both food and words, something to do with the way we use them both to communicate and connect. Between them, food and words straddle Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is surely what that old chestnut from the Rubaiyat points to:
A book of verses underneath the bough
A jog of wine, a loaf of bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness -Oh,
Wilderness were paradise enow.
Food and Words and Love are all we need, the poet reckons, and that’s worth celebrating. Props to Barbara Sweeney who cooked up the Food and Words Festival happening at the Mint, Saturday September 20, a wordy feast where you can tuck in to twelve courses of the best food writers around. We are ever-so-quietly launching Splayd and Crayon right there with an installation of Julie’s drawings. We are chuffed to be a part of it all, frankly. Check out the website to find out more or make a reservation.