Relish, by Lucy Knisley, was not brought into the house by me, but by my partner, R. He's a foodie, the passionate-since-childhood kind, and so anything food-related in printed form in our library is his doing. In this aspect we couldn't have been more different - that is, until recently. I have never been interested in food other than a source of fuel, and there were times in my life (adolescence, mostly) where I was even repelled by it. I grew up in Brazil, in the 80s and 90s, eating rice, beans, beef, and not much else, mostly cooked by housekeepers instructed by an also food-disinterested mother. When the family's money ran out and we couldn't afford any help, my mum took charge of the kitchen - but even then, her interest in food never grew past family staples like pasta, roast chicken and lasagnas. I was a stereotypically picky-eater as a child, the kind that would cry at the table upon hearing the word "souffle" and make vomit faces when forced by my grandmother to "swallow it!" My overprotective mum would hate to see me and my brother cry or suffer over anything, and she would never insist on us eating what we didn't fancy; and so we both grew up having little affection or understanding of elaborate meals and special ingredients.
It was the case until I met R. almost 14 years ago, at the age of 18. We fell in madly in love with each other, and haven't been apart very often ever since. I was still living in my mum's house in a beach town in the south of Brazil, but it didn't take long before I found an excuse to move to his city up north, in the form of a substandard journalism degree. Food for him was not just a source of interest. It was pure love. He was a teenager then too, from a working class family with a fascination for the processed variety of cuisine, but that didn't seem to have influenced him much: whenever we had to go to supermarkets, he would stay hours lost in the aisles, reading labels, discovering new ingredients, marvelling over exotic fruits, while I would sit in a chair by the entrance or in the car with a book and wait till he was finished. Then he would go back to our little flat and cook the best and simplest meals
I and our friends would ever have. While I studied my meagre degree, he convinced his parents to enrol in a culinary programme for a year, but even then he didn't convince me to become more adventurous at the table (or the kitchen, for that matter). It took many years, a couple of different countries, and countless trips, restaurants and home-cooked meals for me to be finally defined as a person that "eats a bit of everything." Which I do now, although I can't say the same about cooking. I now have a 3-year-old that started life as a picky eater like her mum, but it's slowly being transformed into someone who won't cringe at the sight of broccolis.
So it was with gusto that I devoured Knisley's book, Relish (pardon the gastronomic terms). I've been a comic fan since before I was old enough to read, and autobiographical graphic novels are a passion since my late teens, although one I couldn't pursue till I left Brazil as this genre was not widely available there (it still isn't). Knisley's drawings are charming (not unlike Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, another book I love) and her writing is simple, but her story of growing up with a foodie parents first in Manhattan then in upstate New York is fascinating. Food filled all aspects of her life, and her relationship with it was a major source of pleasure, comfort, and joy in a way that's hard to find among young women these days. There wasn't a single mention of putting on weight or comfort-eating to placate anxiety and frustration, no mention of diet or food-related disorders, even though she professes her love for some junk food to her parents' dismay. It's full of stories about trips to Europe and Mexico experimenting with exotic treats (and McDonald's), about growing up in a farmhouse and helping her mum at the farmer's market, about her Uncle's gourmet shop and her frustration at never being able to reproduce the recipe for the best croissant in the world. All chapters end with a perfectly illustrated recipe that is linked to the story told, and the explanation is so fun that it makes you want to head to kitchen straightaway.
What about R.? He's more of a foodie than ever before, and currently is working on a plan to go to Cordon Bleu in Paris by the time he reaches his 40th birthday. That'll be one thing worth writing about, I think.