M.F.K. FISHER, American writer. memoirist, food maven was born on this date (d. 1992); I had been under the impression for the longest time that Madame Fisher was, ahem, Not Gay. In fact, I thought her decidedly heterosexual. But having recently read Justin Spring’s fascinating recent book, The Gourmand’s Way, (https://www.thegourmandsway.com/ ) I must now stand corrected. Fisher was famously quoted as saying that she didn’t write about food, rather she wrote about hungers. It makes perfect sense that her hungers would not be limited to one gender.
Spring describes the woman many (myself included) revere as our greatest food writer as the author of “the most error-ridden book on French cooking ever brought out by a major American publisher.” He has little regard for her as a translator or writer, adding that she was also not much of a cook.
In addition to revealing her bisexuality, Spring’s view is that Fisher was a liar and an alcoholic. He ultimately dismisses her, in Richard Olney’s words, as “sweet” but “essentially empty-headed,” a woman with “no palate” who wrote “trash.” While I loved his book, on this, we must agree to disagree.
In this writer’s opinion, Fisher remains one of the most important writers in the English language in the 20th century. I found her work transporting and transformative. A goddess among the pantheon of goddesses adored by Gay men. So beautiful she was photographed by none other than Man Ray.
If you love eating, if you love food, five books by Fisher: Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster, How To Cook A Wolf, The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet for Gourmets are all collected under the title The Art of Eating and are nothing less than blissful, required reading. I defy you to read it and not crave a fried egg sandwich with mayonnaise.
In a career spanning more than sixty years, Mrs. Fisher wrote hundreds of stories for The New Yorker, as well as 15 books of essays and reminiscences. She produced the enduring English translation of Brillat-Savarin’s book The Physiology of Taste, as well as a novel, a screenplay, a book for children and dozens of travelogues.
While other food writers limited their writing to the particulars of individual dishes or expositions of the details of cuisine, Mrs. Fisher used food as a cultural metaphor. When asked what it was she wrote about, Fisher responded, as referenced above, “The easiest answer is to say that, like most humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. 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.” In 1963, W. H. Auden called her “America’s greatest writer.”