Food memoirs are generally not my cup of tea. I’m not a foodie or all that interested in cooking; I read this to fulfill part of a reading challenge. While I wouldn’t consider this on par with favorite graphic novel memoirs like Persepolis or Fun Home, it was an enjoyable little trip into a genre I generally don’t think about much.
Taste, like smell, is a powerfully associative sense. Certain flavors can conjure very strong memories and can be particularly nostalgic. I’ve never been terribly concerned about food, but I do have strong memories associated with certain tastes, so I can understand the impulse to use it as a method of memory conjuring. Lucy Knisley builds her entire book around this sort of nostalgia and the comfort associated with it, using food as the central element around which she centers experience and personal milestones. She also builds a strong case for the appreciation of food and how it can be an important part of life when it is treated with respect and care rather than as simply a necessity. I share this philosophy in theory, but not much in practice, since eating with care takes money and time that isn’t always available to everyone.
Knisley comes from a foodie family and has snob credentials (thankfully sans the attitude that often comes with them). While she is open about her love of occasional fast food and junk food, it is an indulgence and not an unfortunate necessity as it can be for some, so there are some limits on her perspective. The art is lively and expressive, the colors particularly vibrant; it is extremely polished work, and she imbues it with a lot of personality. She also incorporates illustrated recipes as interstitials throughout the story, which will be great for people really interested in cooking. As I am not one of those people, I skimmed or skipped them entirely, though I may go back to them someday, on one of those rare occasions when I feel like cooking something that doesn’t involve a microwave.
I took on a reading challenge this year to force myself to try new things. Will the food memoir now be a personal genre staple thanks to the influence of Relish? Honestly: no. This was cute, but as it was about a combination of subjects I don’t care much about (food and the lives of middle class twenty-somethings), I’m not too worried about revisiting the genre anytime soon. Memoirs like this tend to come from and appeal to a certain demographic that doesn’t really include me. I do enjoy Knisley’s style and sense of humor, so perhaps I’ll keep my eye out for her other books and see if I can connect better with less food-oriented storytelling.
A few images from Relish: