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robert brown

Your Preoccupation with Food

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John, between our little e-mail exchange and reading the first half or so of "Serious Pig", I still have not discovered where your dedication to culinary research and practice comes from. An appreciation of food seems to have resided in certain member os your family, including grandparents, and having to fend for yourself as a young lad also seems to have entered the picture. Perhaps you explain it in the books of yours I haven't read yet. In any event, will you explain for the enlightenment of the eGullet community how and when you decided to devote yourself to the preparation and narrative of cuisine and cooking at the neglect of whatever else you may have considered for a livelihood?

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Well, my first choice for a livelihood was to be independently wealthy, but I never managed to pull that off. Writing about food, at least as I do it, is about the next best thing -- you get everything but the money. I hang around at home, read books, think, and eat. I suppose the writing itself could be considered work, but only if you've never had to go out and get a job. It requires effort and practice and some beating of the brain, but nobody's looking over your shoulder. I feel the closest to being at work when I do a freelance piece -- all that nagging: how do you know that? what do you mean by this? aren't you done yet? If you stop and think about it, almost nobody gets to survive in this modern world on these terms.

Why this is about food is another part of the equation. One of things you have to understand about me is that I really am a natural home body and the activities that are attendant to that loom large for me. The only nonfood book I've written is called HOME BODY and is a collection of essays about parts of the house: door knobs, floors, bathtubs, electric lights, etc. I find the simplest of dishes awash with meaning and take great pleasure teasing it out. I once devoted a whole issue of Simple Cooking to toast, and I've had to restrain myself from devoting another one to the pleasures of a glass of water. Maybe for my last bow.

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I've had to restrain myself from devoting another one to the pleasures of a glass of water.

One of my favorite kids' books -- now, sadly OOP, I'm betting -- is called "The Search for Delicious," in which the king has sent all his knights and ministers far and wide in a quest for the most delicious thing in the entire world. They bring back all kinds exotica, but when drought strikes the kingdom, a Wise Old Woman points out that, in fact, "delicious is water."

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