Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Literature and Food

(The purpose of this blog is to share interesting ideas I have found in American professional publications dealing with the teaching of English at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.)

Topic: Food and Literature

Summary: The food memoir belongs in the literature classroom.

RayS: The second article in the March 2008 issue of College English continues the theme of food in literature. Written by Barbara Frey Waxman, its title adequately summarizes the article: “Food Memoirs: What They Are, Why They Are Popular, and Why They Belong in the Literature Classroom,” pp. 363-382. Following are the first and last paragraphs of the article:

“Why are food memoirs popular? It’s not just about the recipes, although recipes often conclude the chapters and punctuate the narratives of food memoirs. It’s not just the impassioned descriptions of unusual and well-loved comestibles—even though these are also plentiful in food memoirs. It’s also about the treasury of metaphorical associations that link food with love and emotional nourishment that are often present in the personal histories and confessions of food memoirists; these resonances are purposefully, creatively used by most food memoirists to elicit feelings from readers and evoke their memories. And it’s also about the associations of food with cultural identity, ethnic community, family and cross-cultural experiences; these matters are prominent themes of food memoirs Food is clearly a link among generations of immigrants and exiles; those who cook and write about food are ‘culture-tenders’ and at the same time teach people outside the cultural community about that community’s values, rituals, beliefs. These elements and others draw readers to food memoirs and inspire authors to pen them.” p. 363.

“I have been arguing for the educational value and appeal of culinary memoirs in the literature classroom. Providing an unthreatening context with which we are familiar (since we all have to eat), these food memoirs will reach out even to reluctant readers and turn reading into an enjoyable activity, teaching students about the power of a vivid description, the issues of selecting and arranging events in one’s life story to fulfill a specific purpose and invent a particular version of the self, the methods of creating a lively character portrait or an engaging voice, especially a witty one, and many other literary topics. Reading food memoirs in a literature class, students will learn the crafts of reading and writing. They will also benefit from the emotional and moral intelligence that many food memoirists display. Reading about others’ families may encourage in students a useful introspection about their own families. Finally, the most unseasoned and untraveled of student-readers…will learn through food memoirs about a variety of cultural practices and communities abroad that will encourage reflection about their own cultural practices and communities at home. This sounds like an educational banquet to me.”

(Note: This article is a “keeper.” The Library of America recently published an anthology of American Food Writing, edited by Molly O’Neill. RayS.)

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