Food Writers Discussion Group: Haney

Joined Jul 3, 2002
A few of us on other strings have discussed having a food writing/food writers discussion section of ChefTalk. So we’re going to try it out here in the book forum.
One approach to working on our own writing is to analyze the specific strengths and weaknesses of published writing. I’ve suggested that since everyone here is pretty busy, using essays, articles and chapters might be better than trying to tackle full-length books. And since there are so many genres of food writing, we might try to switch off each time. One question would be: how often do we switch? Every two weeks? Every month? And should we start a separate string for each new reading? That would be my choice.

On a prior string, I suggested that we could look at a piece of autobiographical writing to start: “Fair Shares for All” by John Haney appears in the January 2003 edition of Gourmet Magazine.

Frankly, I have no idea how we should go about this, so I’m just going to point out a few aspects of Haney’s essay that I found really effective.

I love the way he describes the home-food he loves. It is so unsentimental and even unappetizing that, at first, you might think he’s going to comment on how revolting it is. But then he turns the image around and revels in it:
“This deadweight of pork, starch, and distressed chlorophyll was followed by a ready-made treacle pudding disgorged from a plastic tub. . . . And it tasted just as good to me as it had 40 years earlier” (p. 76).
And after his father’s funeral, that same food feeds his pain with memories even as it consoles him:
“. . . I came across a brightly painted van reeking of cheap meat . . . . I was handed a steaming heap of pig and squashy bread . . . . I chomped on grimly. The park began to empty. Another sandwich, then another. Grief, greed, and the need for another shot of Sancerre achieved perfect equilibrium. It was time to head home for zucchini” (p. 77).

And, for me, one of the small, yet revealing touches comes towards the end of a paragraph where he’s writing about the parties he remembers from childhood. After describing the men and the women and the children, how they were dressed and what they were drinking, he goes on to note: “A kitchen table crammed with squadrons of cocktail sausages, hulking wedges of Cheddar, precipices of ham, mountains of mince pies, piles of piccalilli, stacks of thick-sliced bread, and a teapot capable of accommodating the Mad Hatter and every last one of his lunatic friends. All this, and infinite kindness” (p. 75).

What struck you guys? How do the descriptions of food create a sense of place and period as well as a picture of the author?
Is this what we want from food autobiographies? Given the audience at Gourmet Magazine, is Haney also having fun with readers who might sooner drink screw-top wines than consume this much pork? Or is he making a connection with those of us raised in older days when vegetables and fruit were overshadowed by milk and meat groups?
Oh, and I wanted to point out one more image I loved: ". . . some kind of spongy pudding leaking strawberry jam into a lake of custard" (p. 73). I love that the food is out of control, sort of like a bustling mother with part of her slip showing because the hem came loose.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
All that, but I so enjoyed his Britishness....he reads just like a Brit friend of mine talks. Squishy bread!


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Can't really comment, Don't subscribe to Gourmet. I think it's a good 'zine. Any hope of a link on their site to the article? Then more of us could read and comment on it.

Joined Jul 3, 2002
Sorry Phil! There doesn't seem to be any link for the article. I just assumed that because Gourmet is such a general interest magazine, that people would either subscribe, know someone who did, or be able to look at the current issue in their local public library.

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