Stories about Motherhood, Childhood, Food & Journalism

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

I went through the articles I’ve posted on my Delicious page recently and realized that there are a lot of stories that have interested me lately. Not surprisingly, they have to do with journalism, moms, childhood and food — the subjects I like to write and read about the most. Here are some of the stories that have caught my attention throughout the past month or so:

Diary of a ‘Food Racist’: I like this piece from The Atlantic, which looks at how our associations with certain places trigger our desire for, and memory, of certain foods. The author of the piece explains that when she talks with someone from India, she daydreams of naan and saag with cubes of paneer. When she thinks of Google’s recent issues in China, she’d led to crave porky soup dumplings. She looks at whether “racist” is too strong of a word to describe her cravings and blames her mom for making her think of food in this way:

“Maybe racism is the wrong word. It is loaded and ugly and not nice. I certainly don’t have a blanket dislike for any group of people (I dislike most people equally). And I pride myself on my willingness to embrace other cultures and whatever they bring to the—literal—table. But I clearly have a nagging, deep-seated case of something that makes me frame everything in life through food.

“Frankly, blaming my mother is probably the safest bet. She’d agree, no doubt. When I was small, she went out of her way to make sure I wasn’t a picky eater by pounding her motto into my impressionable brain: ‘You don’t have to like it, but you have to try it.’ So I’d try new things and inevitably like them. Which led to an inevitable life of trying and inevitable liking. Maybe I just like too much?”

First Camera, Then Fork: A New York Times story about people’s obsession with taking pictures of their food. I’ve never been one to take photos of the food I’m eating, unless I’ve made something that I’m especially proud of. The part of the story that helped explain why people feel compelled to let the world know what they’re eating resonated with me the most:

“That some people are keeping photographic food diaries and posting them online does not surprise psychotherapists. ‘In the unconscious mind, food equals love because food is our deepest and earliest connection with our caretaker,” said Kathryn Zerbe, a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders and food fixations at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. ‘So it makes sense that people would want to capture, collect, catalog, brag about and show off their food.’ “

(Check out this interactive feature that accompanies the article.)

Why is Women’s Fiction So Miserable?: This Telegraph story suggests that “women writers really can’t win. We’re damned for writing fluffy, upbeat chick-lit about shoes and cake, damned if we write about domestic abuse within a geo-political conflict.” True, there is a lot of grimness in women’s fiction and nonfiction, but it undoubtedly exists in men’s fiction, too. I think a lot of people are attracted to grimness — either because they can relate to it or because it’s so far removed from anything they’ve experienced. That’s one of the beauties of books — they let us cross into foreign territory and then just as quickly escape from it.

Window Farming: A Do-it-Yourself Veggie Venture: This NPR story highlights the growth of urban agriculture and makes me think of one of my favorite childhood books, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Major cities aren’t all that conducive to gardening, but they’re a good place for people with green thumbs to flaunt their creativity. I’ve always equated gardening with patience, a virtue that seems that much more important in an urban area. If I lived in a major city like Manhattan, I think I’d need a garden — a patch of slow growth among the streets of a harried life, a reminder to slow down.

Natalie Merchant: Globe-Spanning Poetry: This NPR Music piece showcases Natalie Merchant’s new album, “Leave Your Sleep.” I’m not a huge Merchant fan, but I love the artistry of this album, which she describes as “a thematic piece about motherhood and childhood.” The 28 songs on the album are based off of poems written by poets from all different time periods and nationalities, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall: to a Young Child” — a poem about an adult who’s trying to explain death to a child. Given that Hopkins is one of my favorite poets and that I can relate to the subject matter of this poem, I can’t help but be drawn to the song. I also like the more upbeat track, “Topsyturvey-World.”

An Essay by Anna Quindlen: The Amazon page for Quindlen’s new book, “Every Last One,” features a great essay about how being a newspaper reporter helped her become a better novelist. (Author Jennifer Weiner has shared similar sentiments in the past.) Here’s part of Quindlen’s essay:

“I learned, from decades of writing down their words verbatim in notebooks, how real people talk. I learned that syntax and rhythm were almost as individual as a fingerprint, and that one quotation, precisely transcribed and intentionally untidied, could delineate a character in a way that pages of exposition never could. And I learned to make every word count. All those years of being given 1,200 words, of having the 1,200 pared to 900 at 3 o’clock: it teaches you to make the distinction between what is necessary and what is simply you in love with the sound of your own voice. The most important thing I ever do from an editing perspective is cut. I learned how to do that in newsrooms, where cutting is commonplace, swift, and draconian.

” … Plot is like a perspective drawing, its possible permutations growing narrower and narrower, until it reaches a fixed point in the distance. That point is the ending. Life is like that. Fiction is like life, at least if it is good. And I know life. I learned it as a newspaper reporter, and now I reflect that education as a novelist.”

The description of Quindlen’s book is good enough to make me want to read it: “‘Every Last One’ is a novel about facing every last one of the the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live but must be brave enough to try.”

Cheers to that.

What good articles have you come across recently?

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