Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2005 | Reviews

The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher

By Lan Samantha Chang

Lan Samantha Chang, 93MFA, the new director of the Writers’ Workshop, is immersed again in one of her favorite books, M.F.K. Fisher’s autobiographical The Gastronomical Me (North Point Press).

What’s it about?

In this perhaps most personal of Fisher’s works, she creates what she once called a “delicate emulsion” of gastronomy and memoir, recounting the first part of her extraordinary life through evocative descriptions of meals shared and dishes eaten. In a series of lucid yet elliptical vignettes, Fisher recalls her first oyster, her initial, heady meals in Paris, and her discovery of her pleasure in eating alone. Specific restaurants and dishes are evoked with a sensual delicacy that has since inspired many a literary meal.

Why did it have such an impact on you?

I never grow tired of Fisher’s sensual, detailed, and yet somehow very private autobiography. She lived an unusual life for a woman of her time: her three marriages ended in two divorces and one tragic death. She never revealed the father of her first child. She seems to have lived her life almost entirely in accordance with her desires.

When did you first read it?

I was in my early 20s, working a low-paying job for a publisher in New York City. Almost every evening I would sit down to a solitary dinner and another visit with Fisher.

What would you tell people to encourage them to read it?

As a chronicle of the years from 1912 to 1941, The Gastronomical Me is a rich evocation of a lost Europe. Fisher’s chronicles take place in a France that is sliding into occupation and war; they depict a world, with its fine restaurants, that has now vanished. Fisher was not ignorant of the fact that she was writing about food on the eve of world war. In one of her most well-known passages, she writes, “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.”