5 Questions for Amanda Hesser: A Memoirist Who Loves Food Talks to A Goddess of Food Writing

One of the wonderful things about having a book come out is that you are suddenly thrust into this lovely community of other writers who share some of your same interests. The writing world-- which seemed for months on end while you toiled away on your book about as big as the your desk top--suddenly feels more expansive, more accessible. 


One of these happy connections was Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food 52. This summer Amanda and I were able, in between vacations and kids and work, to find a few moments to talk about food and writing. Enjoy!


1. As a memoirist, food plays a huge part in my memories. Sometimes I'll remember a day, week, trip, or country, even, because of a meal I ate. I remember a meal, for instance, I shared in 1993 with some friends when I was 18 and was on my way to Spain from France and stopped in Biarritz. All I have to do is conjure up the food--mostly all seafood-- and I get the sun, the light, the smell of the ocean. What meal memories do you have from your life that define parts of your life?
Plums always remind me of the summers we spent on a lake in Pennsylvania. I can smell the water and feel the damp chill after swimming when we’d stand on the rocky shoreline in the shade. My mother always brought along ripe plums and I’d peel the tart skin off with my teeth before eating the flesh.
2. You have young children. And I've read about how they've tried lots of strange things--at your suggestion-- and that you like them to at least taste anything, they don't have to like it but they do need to try it. Have you ever had a tussle over this philosophy? And what are their favorite foods these days? (My son, who is two, commands Camenbert and Asiago when he feels we're not treating him well!)
I don't believe there is such a thing as strange food. One problem with how we feed our children is that they are taught to believe there’s something called “kids’ food” and that there are odd or exotic foods that should be treated with skepticism. Why is a cow’s stomach (tripe) any different from its muscle (steak), other than in flavor?
Also, the tussles that people have with their children over food aren’t at all about the food. So, yes, our kids and I have our tussles, but it’s usually about something else, like control.
I know I sound like an old crank about this topic but I really am tired of all of the misperceptions and fear of food. I wish our fear-mongering culture would stop it. It’s really important for everyone to eat greater variety – not just for our health but for the environment.
3. I met you once at the Greenmarket in NYC (you won't remember me, but I remember you!) and I know that eating locally is very important to you. How do you reconcile this movement of eating pure, local, organic ingredients with the much more pernicious fact that there is no corn which is not GMO anymore because of cross-pollination. Soybeans are GMO, as are beets and soon, possibly alfalfa which we will feed our animals. As a mother the continued contamination of  our food sickens me. How do you feel about it?
I don’t get too worked up about it. This is the food system that has been handed to us by previous generations. If we want to change it, we can feel passionately, but we need to be inclusive and welcoming to others who might be less concerned about the details. Lead by being a convincing and level-headed example. Being too extreme will limit any movement to a fringe exercise.
4. Tell me when and why you began Food 52. And what's more or less satisfying about it than writing for the Times?
Merrill [Co-founder of Food 52, Merrill Stubbs] and I wanted to test out crowdsourcing and curation with recipes, so we decided to start with a simple goal: to create the first crowdsourced cookbook in 52 weeks. We built the site food52 to do this. We figured if nothing else came of it but a great cookbook, we’d be happy -- but now it’s been 2 years and we have a fully-fledged business.
5. What are you eating for dinner tonight? Will you cook dinner with your husband? Or do you do most of the cooking? Will your kids love it or hate it?
My husband ate with friends tonight, so I cooked for myself: an asparagus frittata and roasted potatoes (someone else roasted them and I found them in the fridge) that I heated up and topped with ramp butter. A glass of Beaujolais, leftover from our kids’ music group (the wine is for the adults), to accompany. And then chocolate-covered almonds, a gift from a friend, for dessert. Our kids will love the leftovers. And if they don’t, they’ll still eat them for supper. We take a firm but fair approach to food. This is your dinner, and it’s something interesting. Enjoy! Period.


Caitlin Shetterly's Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home was published in March, 2011 by Voice, a division of Hyperion Books.

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Comment by Sharon D. Dillon on September 27, 2011 at 9:55am
Great philosophy and delicious food. What about all the food allergies now prevalent? Is it the food or the additives?


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