I was predisposed to like this food and family memoir. I have a healthy respect for the work of Kim Severson, who is a food writer, but also a reporter — in the dogged, determined, old-fashioned sense.
Severson brings her hard-news nous to a beat not always known for serious coverage in food stories for The New York Times, where she’s worked for six years.
She also draws on her experience writing about food at such dissimilar places as The Anchorage Daily News, and in an award-winning spin in my neck-of-the-woods at the San Francisco Chronicle, before she was whisked off to sit at the desk that once belonged to the legendary Ruth Reichl.
I was also a captive audience. Seven hours lying around waiting for your turn in the operating room will do that to you. And, let’s just say, with a surgical procedure looming and an unknown outcome hanging over my head, I was emotionally primed to respond to Spoon Fed, a personal story filled with, well, the stuff of life — and not all of it good, easy, or pretty.
I loved her honesty. I loved the gritty bits. There was a moment when I felt all gossipy — ooh, who knew the Times food critic was once a lush?
Then I checked myself and made that connection, as we all do as humans, when we digest what that must have been like for her, based on our own experience, or watching a loved one struggle. Because, let’s face it, who among us doesn’t have alcohol or some other life-sucking addiction in our inner circle?
And I felt a sense of gratitude that Severson told a story that reveals writerly insecurities — we all have ‘em — the chief one that we’re a fraud and we’ll be found out in short order. This from a gal at the top of her journalistic game. It was, frankly, comforting.
Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life is a testament to struggling to discover your sense of self, coming to terms with your sexual identity, dealing with your demons, finding your professional footing, creating a new family, and learning to love and forgive the family you were born into. All in a mere 242 pages, which I consumed in one hit.
Severson chooses to tell the tale of her particular journey through the kitchen wisdom she learns from eight very different women cooks. She shares simple truths she discovers along the way, some emerge in unlikely places, at unexpected times, from unexpected people.
The female food mavens who form the heart of Spoon Fed, include Marion Cunningham, who taught Severson that in food and in life it is never too late to start over. Alice Waters reminded her of the need for perseverance and patience and the power of such tenacity. From Ruth Reichl she realized that she need only compete with herself. Marcella Hazen showed her to accept what is — and served as a cautionary tale about expectations.