m.f.k. fisher’s “mystic materialism of a hungry woman”


Right after news of Gourmet Magazine’s demise hit the food world like a missile, Lydia Wills sent us an article written by Stefany Ann Golberg, an artist, musician, and founding member of the art collective Flux Factory. She writes really smart, thoughtful, acute articles for The Smart Set and is worth following. Buried within her article about Gourmet and the American way of eating, is a perfectly-contained piece about M.F.K. Fisher, perhaps America’s greatest food writer. In writing about food, Fisher wrote about love, hunger, and real life with an stunningly original voice. In two paragraphs Golberg GOT what Fisher was doing, and why she resonates so strongly today. (And why she’s been a major influence on ‘the improvised life’.)


“In 1942 the celebrated writer was heartbroken by the sparse offerings of wartime rationing. Ten years earlier, Fisher had her own culinary love affair in France. She returned to America wanting… to inspire in its citizens a similar passionate relationship with great food. Rather than offering her readers a fantasy, though, she responded to the times with How to Cook a Wolf. The book synthesized reality and joie de vivre by encouraging an appreciation of daily living. The chapters were at once practical and joyous: “How to Greet the Spring,” “How Not to Boil an Egg,” “How to Be Content with a Vegetable Love,” “How to Be Cheerful Through Starving.” It excoriated the (unnamed) magazines that “set up a fantastic ideal in the minds of family cooks” and instead promoted this: ‘Now, of all times in our history, we should be using our minds as well as our hearts in order to survive…to live gracefully if we live at all.’ Even though written in wartime, the sentiment is the heart of Fisherian ethos, which looks more contemporary and relevant than ever.

Fisher’s oeuvre fills the gap between traditional European sophistication and American heartiness. She created a signature brand of unpretentious decadence, a decadence that turns simplicity into luxury just by exploring it.”

The Art of Eating, a collection of five of Fisher’s works including How to Cook a Wolf, continues to be reprinted. I leafed through my dog-eared copy, through “How to Keep Alive”, and “How to Rise Up Like New Bread”, revisiting Fisher’s “mystic materialism of a hungry woman” that had, long ago, changed the way I view things. It still has the power to strip things down to essentials, and remind us of the path.

You can read the entire text of Fisher’s Alphabet for Gourmets, courtesy of Gourmet online…

“S is for sad…and for the mysterious appetite that often surges in us when our hearts seem breaking and our lives too bleakly empty…

I is for Innocence…and its strangely rewarding chaos gastronomically”

8 Responses to m.f.k. fisher’s “mystic materialism of a hungry woman”

  1. Elizabeth 03.10.2010 at 1:24am #

    Wonderful post. I, too, have long been an admirer of M.F.K. Fisher’s prose — I think I’ve read everything she ever wrote!

  2. Judy 03.10.2010 at 7:50am #

    The picture with this post is arresting. Makes you want to BE in that kitchen, in THAT moment. And the post is a good reminder of how to live, not just cook and eat. Thanks for a great start to my day.

  3. Cindy 03.11.2010 at 12:46pm #

    I was reading an essay by John Thorne the other day that mentioned How to Cook A Wolf. This is a great post. I think the universe is telling me I really need to read this book.

  4. Sally 03.13.2010 at 4:56pm #

    Cindy, thank you for reminding me about John Thorne whose website Simple Cooking, and books, written with his wife Matt, are about truly creative everyday cooking (and hunger). We’re going to write something about them.

  5. Sally 03.13.2010 at 5:00pm #

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. It is very immediate and real and beautiful.

  6. pharmacy tech 06.03.2010 at 9:26pm #

    What a great resource!

  7. johanna 04.17.2014 at 1:56am #

    really neat-
    i have read a bunch of the ABC’s of MFK Fisher’s writing in Gourmet–just love it.
    a delicious writer

  8. Sally 04.17.2014 at 9:43pm #

    Check out The Art of Eating. It’s a beauty.

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