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Lisa Joy Mitchell on Creating A New Kind of Story
Written by
She Writes
October 2018
Written by
She Writes
October 2018

Today's guest post comes from She Writes Press author Lisa Joy Mitchell. The author of literary cookbook Sacred and Delicious: A Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook recently shared with She Writes how to write a cookbook with soul and we found that it's a great guide for anyone who loves food and feels the need to share their story with the world. 

In my former life as a harried PR professional, I opened cookbooks for utilitarian purposes. Only. When I began writing my own cookbook, I awakened to the possibility of actually reading a cookbook—of sitting down with one to enjoy the author’s culinary adventures.

As it turns out, millions of home cooks are interested in back stories in which food is a main character. These come in many forms. There are stories of a locale in which food provides the personality of the place. There is kitchen lore. There are legendary accounts of family recipes. And there are health whodunits—because readers who are ready to take responsibility for their health are looking for guidance about how better food choices can transform their lives.

When you weave your personal stories into a cookbook, you not only entertain your readers; you can also endear yourself to them—and generate lifetime fans for your next books. By infusing your cookbook with a piece of your soul, you can elevate that book from an instruction manual to a source of inspiration, a book that readers will treasure. In short, your personal stories can set your cookbook apart from simpler recipe collections.

And if you don’t know where to start, try these simple steps to ignite the flame of creativity:

  1. Read, read, and read again great food writers. Holly Hughes edits an annual compilation of essays called Best Food Writing that I highly recommend.
  2. In thinking of stories, never stray from the goal of your book. Its key messages flow naturally out of your theme and purpose. Food histories, culturally-based cuisines, and food travelogues lend themselves to lilting narrative, and stories of personal transformation flow organically when the writer overcomes significant health problems through embracing a new dietary regime. Raw and my own Sacred & Delicious are two such books from She Writes Press.
  3. Jot down all the memories you have associated with food, starting with favorite childhood foods, cooking with your mom or dad, holiday baking, and so on. Wander into the epicurean moments of your dating life, courting years, and, if you’re a parent, child rearing. Journey into mid-life and beyond. You may be surprised by the dramas, poignant moments, and comic episodes that waft up from the past. In my own cookbook, I recounted how I cooked fresh vegetables and baked bread for the first time in college under the guidance of my junior-year roommate. The intoxicating scent of yeast rising in the oven is what got me hooked on homemade bread. I wrote about the first birthday cake—gluten-free!—that I baked for my extremely health-conscious husband. I described how a spiritual healer helped me understand that offering a prayer before I ate would support my digestion.
  4. Recall pivotal life events and the rituals associated with food in your past and present, whether cultural, sacred, or just plain fun. What were the images associated with these moments around a shared table? What were the conversations that shaped your awareness aoffood? I began my book with the Mmmm that comes from eating and sharing delicious food, an auditory memory that arose from countless occasions!

And if you’re moved to let it all hang out, then do just that. I was inspired to title my book Sacred & Delicious, and this gave me the opportunity to articulate some of my most cherished beliefs about the sacredness of food. As it turned out, this was one of the most important things I had to share about cooking and eating. I had to follow my own inspiration to learn that I was writing something more than just a cookbook.

My truth: when cookbook authors share their abundant wisdom and life experience as well as their plentiful recipes, readers are sated beyond their expectations.

Lisa Joy Mitchell, a busy public relations consultant, was drawn to study Ayurvedic cooking in 1998, when chronic health problems began taking center stage in her fast-paced life. On her road to wellness, Mitchell changed her diet and began an informal study with Ayurvedic physicians Dr. Vasant Lad, Ed Danaher, and Dr. Alpana Bhatt in the US and Dr. Smita Naram in India. 

Mitchell is now a wellness mentor and cooking instructor based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She often works in partnership with her husband, Tom Mitchell, a chiropractic physician who practices Ayurvedic pulse assessment and herbal medicine. During the past decade, Mitchell has cooked for hundreds of participants in Ayurvedic clinics and meditation courses.

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