Eat Joy

“Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers” edited by Natalie Eve Garrett. Black Balloon Publishing, 2019. 194 pages. $22.

Across almost every culture, food is a connecting force. Relationships are built over shared meals, and favorite dishes prepared by loved ones become precious memories, treasures passed down across generations. Through essays that are heart wrenching, funny, or sometimes both, “Eat Joy,” edited by Natalie Eve Garrett, reflects on the comforting nature food can have, and how it provokes memories within us.

“Eat Joy” is comprised of thirty-one essays by some of today’s most popular and well-respected authors, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Anthony Doerr, Lev Grossman, Colum McCann, and Laura van den Berg. The essays are divided into four categories: Growing Pains, Loss, Healing and Homecoming. A recipe follows each essay, providing the reader with a chance to recreate each dish after learning the particular meaning it has to the author.

The essays vary greatly in topic and tone. Melissa Febos writes about learning how to debone and roast a pork shoulder in an effort to save a struggling relationship. Colum McCann pens a moving essay about watching a woman in an outdoor café enjoy a piece of chocolate cake in the days after the September 11th terrorist attacks, an unremarkable act made memorable by the events that surrounded it. Mira Jacob’s essay about making chai with her mom in the face of heartache radiates warmth.

 One of the funniest stories comes from Anthony Doerr in “Homesick at the Outer Edge of the World.” Doerr writes about how reading Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” as a child inspired to seek out adventure in Alaska. When he was fourteen, his parents allowed him to attend a month long sea kayaking trip, during which the call of the outdoors lost much of its initial appeal. Doerr’s group struggled greatly with cooking, burning almost everything they made, and ruining their food supply by leaving it out in the rain. During the second week of their journey, the only food left was a box of brownie mix. On a night when the wood was too wet to make a fire, Doerr and one of his fellow travelers pour the mix into a pot, mix it with water, and eat it raw. Doerr writes “It is not exaggeration to suggest that when I put that first fingerful of raw brownie batter into my mouth, the chemistry of my entire body changed.” Doerr connects this adolescent memory by talking about his sons who are currently fourteen, who no longer join him in making brownies as they did as children.

The essays in “Eat Joy” are truly delicious. While each author has a distinct voice, food is written about with passion in every essay. There is a story and a recipe for every mood. Eat Joy would make an excellent gift for any lover of literature or food, and it is a comforting, warm collection to read.

Elizabeth Weislak is the Youth Services Coordinator for Alamance County Public Libraries. She may be reached at eweislak@alamancelibraries.org