Feast on these

Glenda Martin is a co-founder of the Minnesota Women’s Press. (Courtesy Photo)

Books based on food? I haven’t looked at a cookbook in years. In fact, I cook almost not at all, except once-a-year familiar recipes for my son’s birthday. 

But, books about food? Yes. 

“The Orchard: A Memoir” by Theresa Weir, who now lives in St. Paul, tells of her years living on an apple orchard in Illinois. Weir has written several books, but in this 2011 intimate sharing of her personal life, she writes of the reality of marrying a farmer, who dies young, having spent much of his life spraying chemicals to create perfect apples. It is a strong story, a story of what happens to much of our food currently and reminds one of the message of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” written in 1962. 

A novel set in Eden Prairie, Minn., and deep in the Amazon jungle is “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. It certainly is a state of wonder when you are exposed to what one might eat in the middle of the jungle. How about tree bark? Pharmaceutical companies are exploring it. Have you thought about anacondas? Tasty snake. But then it all seems just right when, in the next-to-last paragraph, Patchett’s main character muses, “Minnesota! It smelled like raspberries and sunlight and tender grass. … There had never been a place in the world as beautiful as Minnesota.” 

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s novel “Once Upon a River” is the story of Margo, a 16-year old, surviving alone on a rural Michigan river. Women in my book groups had mixed reactions to Margo’s shooting animals for food, and we were aware of how little we knew about edible greens that grow along the river banks. 

“It is an excellent American parable about the consequences of our favorite ideal, freedom,” wrote Jane Smiley for the New York Times Book Review. I totally agree. 

Then there is Margaret Atwood’s “The Year of the Flood,” the second book of her speculative-fiction trilogy. I admit Atwood is a favorite of mine. As we discussed the book, there were no readers in the middle, only those who hated the dystopian novel or those who loved it. It was fascinating to read about food in this future society-the chain called SecretBurgers, for example, where customers never knew what sort of animal protein was actually in them, and the Happicuppa coffee franchise-and to puzzle about what kind of food the Gardeners were creating on the rooftops. 

What a treat to ponder these books again, looking through “food” eyes. 

Glenda Martin is a co-founder of the Minnesota Women’s Press. More than 100 women read these four books this past winter in nine book groups led by Martin in Green Valley, Ariz. 

Glenda Martin also suggests these books by women writers with an emphasis on food:
Turn Here Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley 
The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel 
The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher 
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki 
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland 

What’s on your bookshelf?
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