Writing about Food

IMG_0109It felt like a meeting of the Slow Food movement: the room’s quiet settledness as the group sat round a large wooden table exploring their chosen fruit – apple, banana, orange, grapes – through each sense in turn, culminating in an attentive tasting and eating. We were at Gladstone’s Library for the latest Write for Growth workshop. ‘Food, Glorious Food’  was our theme.

James Beard, the American cookery book author, described food as ‘our common ground, a universal experience.’ At its most basic, this experience is sensory. We whet our appetites for finding words for it by looking what others had done in poems such as Esther Morgan’s ‘Avocados’ and Diane Lockward’s ‘To a Potato’ (found here ). Morgan’s naked avocados are  ‘slippery as soap,’ while the ‘multitudinous pleasures’ of Lockward’s steaming, fluffy-fleshed potato invite ‘the recklessness of butter.’

The fruit-writing activity enhanced our sensory awareness of the smile-shaped banana; the acned  resistance of orange-skin to the peeler’s intrusion, and the sour-sweet bite of apple. It also began to trigger personal associations and memories. I’d planned the wider significances of food for further down the morning’s menu, but they appeared on the plate early on.

Food, we agreed, is not just fuel for the body. It becomes freighted with messages and often wired to our emotions. We linked food to issues such as IMG_0111punishment or reward; comfort or control; enjoyment or guilt; bonding and boundaries; ceremony and culture, and balance or disorder.

Food plays an elemental part in our relationships. What was striking was not only how immediately we were in touch with these meanings – often picked up from childhood – but how several of us had consciously chosen to change them for ourselves: An appetite for life expressed in a more adventurous eating of new foods; a determination not to pass on inherited mealtime restrictions and rules to the next generation.

Sampling a slice of Nigel Slater’s memoir ‘Toast,’ we saw how even  a one-off foray into spaghetti bolognese can highlight a family’s relationships and approach to life. We wrote about our own memories of family foods, from rabbit stew to Nutella, and the rituals around the treat of a Chinese take-away.

The colour, emotion, vitality and wealth of experiences, memories and stories prompted by food surprised us all. (‘I’ll never look at a banana in the same way again,’ commented one). I was more than ready for lunch by the end of the morning. I’m sure I tasted it more fully, too.

Write for Growth workshops run monthly on Saturday mornings, 10am-1pm, alternating between Castle Park Arts Centre in Frodsham and Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden. We will be in Frodsham on 25th June and at Gladstone’s on 23rd July. See Writing Workshops page for further details.

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  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

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