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Friday, 7 October 2011

Sam Woulidge: confessions of a hungry woman

Sam Woulidge is a freelance journalist who considers herself really lucky to have landed a column in one of South Africa's foremost food magazines, Taste.  She once edited entertainment magazines (Cape ReviewCape etc.) relating to life in Cape Town, South Africa - a city which she adores and she was also the founding editor of Time Out Cape Town. But obviously she likes the food writing gig the most.  Today she tells us about her journey to become a food writer and shares some of her favourite food writing quotes. 

I was the last in my class to get a reading book. I was according to the teacher, ‘too slow to read’. She made me nervous with her flashcards and angry eyes. And so written words were frightening. A few years later another teacher opened up the book cupboard in her classroom for me, telling me that if I read, I would never be alone.
And so I think that’s why we read. To escape. But also to know that we are not alone. To recognize an emotion as described by someone else, and realize that they too were, sad, frightened, happy, hungry, turned on…
And I think that’s why I write, to tell people about the time that I was sad, frightened, happy, hungry, turned on. Writing reaches people.
I am not a novelist. I have the greatest admiration for their creativity and determination, but I doubt that I have a novel in me. I write what I know. What I feel. But writing is hard. Especially if you have self-doubt. Because you will never feel that your words are good enough. It took me a long time to eventually become a journalist, I waited until I was almost 30 before attempted to write. I was too afraid to start, I case I should fail. I still feel that way later, 12 years on. Every time I begin writing, I hope that I’ll be good enough, that I won’t fail. My husband, Jacques, responding to my many bouts of writer’s block thinks I’m ‘beautifully complex’, my mentor, Joan, practically encourages ‘completion not perfection’. I trust both of them. And myself eventually. I believe in The Muse. She waits inside of you, until the anxiety stills, and then breathing softly, she reminds you to write with your own voice. Because that’s how you should write, with your own voice.  Write the way you speak. To do any differently would be akin to having a conversation in another, faux, accent. Impressive perhaps. Amusing maybe. But not authentic. And what this world needs is authenticity. It needs authenticity much more than it needs good grammer.
I fell into food writing by chance. I’ve always though of myself as an editor, first and foremost, as that’s what I’ve been for most of the past 12 years. I’ve worked with some great South African writers, which means that I’m always extra critical of myself, because I know and recognize good writing and because I wanted to see my words in print for so long, that to be careless with them would be disrespectful to myself and to those who read what I write. When I left full-time employ to travel the world five years ago with my seafaring husband, Sumien Brink, editor of one of the foremost South African food magazines, Taste, gave me the most glorious of all gifts, she asked me to write a column about my travels and food. And so Confessions of a Hungry Woman became my way of writing about our adventures abroad, the people we met and the food we ate. It also became a tribute to those I love, because food is intrinsically linked with those we love. Once I started, it seemed natural to write about food. I’ve never professed to be a great cook, in fact, if I had to define myself, it would be to say I’m a comfortable cook. But I do love food and the happy-sad-mystery of life and, somehow, for me the two have always been intertwined.
And eventually the monthly column also morphed into a blog by the same name. It’s a diary I visit occasionally. I really should do so more often. We all should because blogging reaches people, it is personal and immediate and something that appeals to all voyeurs. And who amongst us are not voyeurs? I like looking into people’s houses when I walk past, like to imagine their lives inside. With blogging you don’t need to imagine. Blogging also works on the Karma principal. Act like an arsehole, and you’ll attract arseholes. But if you write and publish with good intent you will experience the beautiful kindness of strangers. Here endeth the lesson….
The Hungry Woman’s Literary Hot List

In Gael Greene’s Insatiable – Tales from a Life of Excess, she writes about what happened to her after a sexual encounter with Elvis Presley.
‘As I picked up my purse, wondering if a good-bye kiss would be appropriate, Elvis opened his eyes, blinked, as if he wasn’t sure for a moment what I was doing there. He twitched a shoulder toward the phone. “Would you mind calling room service and ordering me a fried egg sandwich?” The fried egg sandwich – that part I remember. I can’t remember how big it was, how long the sex lasted, or even who was on top (probably me). But I have never forgotten the fried egg sandwich.’
AA Gill writing about eating a pomegranates for the first time when he was a young boy in boarding school in Table Talk.
‘The flavor of pomegranate is ineffably sad. It’s the taste of mourning, of grief mixed with happy memory. I couldn’t have picked a better metaphor for how I felt about being away from home, about the girl who kissed me, about my life and body changing from boy to young man. I’d like to say that I understood all this, that I realized that the fruit was a symbolic catharsis, an allegory, but I didn’t. I did, however, learn that nice things given when you’re unhappy can make you sadder, and that the flavor of sweetness counterpoints bitter-salt sourness.’
Isabel Allende’s opening sentence in Aphrodite – the love of food & the food of love – is one my favourite sentences of all time.
‘I repent of my diets, the delicious dishes rejected out of vanity, as much as I lament the opportunities for making love that I let go by because of pressing tasks or puritanical virtue.’
Nigel Slater in Toast – the story of a boy’s hunger – writes heartbreaking stuff.
‘My mother is buttering bread for England. The vigour with which she slathers soft yellow fat on to thinly sliced white pap is as near as she gets to the pleasure that is cooking for someone you love.’
Ruth Reichl throws down the gauntlet in Garlic and Sapphires – the secret life of a critic in disguise – with the following:
“ ‘You gonna eat that?’
The woman is eyeing the tray the flight attendant has just set before me. I can’t tell if she wants reassurance that I find it as repellent as she does or if she is simply hungry and hopeful that I will hand my food over. I loosen my seatbelt, swivel in my narrow seat, and see that her face holds a challenge. Is she daring me to eat the food?”
Anthony Bourdain being surprisingly gentle in Medium Raw – a bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook -  writes about the pains raisins of a small Parisian boulangerie:
‘The baguettes are ready – piping-hot from the brick oven, fabulously, deliberately ugly and uneven in shape, slashed crudely across the top. They’re too hot to eat but you grab one anyway, tearing it open gingerly, then dropping two fingers full of butter inside. It instantly melts into liquid – running into the grooves and inner spaces of white interior. You grab it like a sandwich and bite, teeth making a cracking sound as you crunch through the crust. The reaction is violent. It hurts. Butter floods your head and you think for a second you’re going to black out.’


Great article, Sam. I love your perception on blogging. And the confidence in writing - perhaps all writers have that same secret conviction that their words aren't really good enough.. but they steel themselves to put them out there anyway.

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