Update: The contest is closed, but the book is available here!
Food is love (I cut your sandwiches in triangles because I know that is what you like) and sex (licking chocolate from your fingers, from his fingers). It’s comfort (the casserole my mother used to make) and anger (I am going to finish the potato chips because fuck everyone) and happiness (a birthday cake, a perfect peach, a beautifully puffed soufflé would you look at what I’ve done?). Food is frustration because you don’t know what you’re hungry for or you don’t know what to make for dinner or maybe you’re just tired of cooking or it is too hot.
It’s fuel, it’s in excess. It’s too much or it’s not enough. It’s bone-deep physical craving that makes you twitch; it’s satisfaction. It’s what your family does together, crowded into the kitchen stirring and chopping and yelling and making a beautiful mess. It’s what you do alone, meditative chopping with a cat winding around your feet.
It’s memory: pulling out the recipe card with their terrible handwriting to painstakingly recreate the tomato sauce only they can ever really make correctly but you try, you really try and for a minute they’re with you, smiling from across the table and every bite feels like home, it really does.
Food, and what we eat and how we eat it and who we eat it with and who we present it to and how—it took me so long to realize how tremendously important it is, how life-changing, affirming, transforming it can be, how valuable those rituals are. I ate compulsively, without considering what I was putting in my mouth, and why. I ate voraciously, hungrily, thoughtlessly and furiously and alone. Weight loss surgery changed that, necessarily. Abruptly I couldn’t be so violently careless. Or I could—I just paid a price for it. I did it to myself, but I resented it anyway, because there is very little in the way of logic when it comes to the complex emotional morass of food and eating.
And then Lisa Harper asked me to contribute an essay to the book she and Caroline Grant were editing, about the grace and diversity and importance of family food culture and how food matters in our lives, and I was a little panicky. What do I know about the importance of food? It had only ever been important to have it in my face. What did I know about eating, except that I liked to do it a lot but didn’t care much about what I was eating?
So I thought about that, and that’s what I wrote about. I wrote about my brother, the fancy chef, who understands it at a deeper level and who has always understood it. My essay is a little one in a book, The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, full of other writers who really understand it too. Who write beautifully about how food and how we eat defines us and our relationships. They write gorgeously about patience and love and brokenness and coming back together and ritual and compassion and compulsion. It’s a beautiful book, and I think it’s important—it is easy to forget how important it is to nourish the connections in your life.
It’s also yours to win, in a random drawing! Two readers each get their very own copy of The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage to feed their brain-holes.
To enter, leave a comment. Tell me you’d love a copy of the book, and also what your favorite thing to eat is. If you tweet about the drawing and leave a comment with that link, you get a second entry in the drawing, even! Go go go do it. I want you to read this book, because it is so good.