I’ve been thinking a lot about where to take the newsletter in 2022. It was wonderful to get it started again and get back into a regular cadence in 2021, but I want to do more. Some of that may require changes (which, as a New Englander, I’m not a fan of). Before I do anything, I want to hear from you.
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A massive snowstorm is bearing down on the East Coast. There wasn’t even supposed to be a newsletter this week (just the reader survey pitch, WHICH YOU SHOULD DO). I’m supposed to be at the airport on my way to Canada to see a soccer game. If I end up making it, I’ll sneak a reference into next week’s issue.
But it’s not looking good and I’m grumpy. In order to not linger on those feelings, I thought we could all use a little escape. As such, I’m sharing three features from three of my favorite food writers of all time, plus quotes that made me very happy.
M. F. K. Fisher
Kicking off with the most apropos, I found an essay by legendary M. F. K. Fisher where the New York Times Magazine asked her to write about her favorite winter meals of all time. This is from 1985, so a much older Fisher is more wispy and ephemeral than some of her earlier hard-edged writing (I only just read her most famous books last year and they are brilliant, sharp, and sexy. If they were published TODAY they would be the best food writing of the year).
For instance, in about 1945 I was in a restaurant in New York with a very complex man who ordered a strange meal, mostly of kidneys - grilled or simply prepared, I think. Other dishes came before and after, of course, but I noticed that he was watching me as I ate the little nubbins of good tender meat, and I did not learn until about a year later that he himself loathed kidneys in any form, and wondered how I would cope with them. Would I hate them, would I love them, would I swallow them if I hated them, yes or no, would he love me, hate me? He was too complex for me, so finally we parted, but that was a good meal and I liked it, and I liked the people who ran the restaurant he took me to, partly because they were on to his game and never betrayed to him how inwardly amused they were.
I know Trillin for his outstanding and hilarious food books. I spent a bit of time for this newsletter trying to find Calvin Trillin’s first food essay in the New Yorker. I didn’t realize how much he had written about news, in particular the Civil Rights movement, before he started to write about food. That pathos comes through in his 1985 essay about the Memphis barbecue festival. It’s a fun article about weird traditions, but between the lines is an amazing portrait of the new South at that time. And his section about “the Chili Line” might actually have predicted all of food?
When chili went the way of chili—when it became clear that the eating of chili had come to be surrounded with enough self-conscious boasting and slick packaging to impair the appetite—I accepted the evidence with equanimity. I had never been deeply involved with chili. I had previously admitted that I liked chili, but not enough to discuss it with people from Texas. Barbecue is a different matter. I have been deeply involved with barbecue, mostly on the eating end. It would hurt to see barbecue go the way of chili—cross over what I now think of as the Chili Line. The fact that just about everything else in the United States seems to have crossed over the Chili Line—labelled and packaged and relentlessly organized and fitted out with promotional T-shirts—doesn’t mean that it would hurt any less.
Close readers may have noticed how… alphabetical the J. Gold quotes in the recent Snack Carts have been. I’m using the newly restored newsletter as an excuse to work my way through Counter Intelligence. I thought about trying to find a winter-appropriate review to link to but 1. Not a lot of winter stuff in LA Weekly, 2. Gold’s Gourmet archives are no longer online, and 2. This review of Batavia made me laugh SO MUCH. It’s great proof of how Gold started writing about music before transitioning to food.
If you want to eat well in Los Angeles, you’d better be prepared to endure a lot of Kenny Loggins and Dan Hill, Olivia Newton-John and Air Supply. (If you have been lucky enough to forget about Dan Hill, you obviously haven’t eaten a decent plate of Malaysian nasi lemak in years.)
Aaaah Calvin Trillin! His anti-thanksgiving food sentiments make me feel seen. Thank you for these reads!