Kim Severson set out to simply write about female cookbook authors. But the result was her memoir “Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Changed My Life,” the compelling tale of how lessons learned at the table helped her cope with alcohol addiction, drug use, coming out, and more.
Released in April 2010, “Spoon Fed” drew instant praise for Severson, who has worked as a journalist and food writer for newspapers in Alaska and California, and finally for the New York Times.
In November, Severson became the Atlanta bureau chief for the New York Times, and now lives in Decatur with her partner and their daughter. She reads from “Spoon Fed” Aug. 25 at Atlanta’s feminist bookstore, Charis Books & More.
‘Spoon Fed’ details lesbian writer’s hunger for meaning in food and life
Kim Severson reads ‘Spoon Fed’ Thursday, Aug. 25, 7:30 pm. Charis Books & More 1189 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30307 www.chariscircle.org
When you set out to write “Spoon Fed,” did you intend for it be a memoir?
Kim Severson: I didn’t. It was intended as a profile of some of the great woman cookbook authors who changed how we eat. These are women like Marion Cunningham, who got famous before the Food Network exploded and everyone started cooking like it was a competition.
You write very honestly about your struggles with alcoholism and other issues. After so many years as a journalist covering other people’s stories and problems, what was it like revealing your own?
It was really grueling, being one’s own source material. But once I started, I realized I had to tell the truth and just go for it or the story wouldn’t be any good. But there was a moment, when I saw it al together for the first time, that I thought, “What the hell have I done?” I told another author who said I just had to put on my big girl panties and stand behind my story. That helped.
How has “Spoon Fed” been received so far?
It’s really been something. I have heard from a number of people in recovery, from people whose mothers had recently died, from gay folks and, of course, from cooks.
How does Atlanta compare to other places you have lived, including Alaska, California and New York? Any Southern stereotype that turned out to be true (or not true)?
Well, I have learned that not every barbecue place is a good one. And on the bright side, I have learned that the south can rival California when it comes to the care and cooking of vegetables. As a whole, though, the restaurants in Atlanta aren’t on par with New York. But who could expect them to be. That being said, I have had some great meals here.
You live here with your partner and daughter. How have you found the city to be as a home for two moms raising a child?
It’s great. We live in Decatur so being a two-mommy family is nothing new or different. We have had nothing but the most gracious welcome. And a wonderful thing is that Atlanta offers so much space for a kid to run and play.
As a food critic and writer, do people expect you to also be an excellent cook yourself?
I do feel a little pressure when people come to dinner or I have to take food to a potluck. But I like to cook, and I am happy to feed people, so that helps with the cook’s anxiety. I’ve found that if you prepare something you love and pay some attention to it, people are happy to eat it.
Some people also assume food critics to have very sophisticated dining tastes. What is one of your favorite foods that might surprise people with its simplicity? Would we find Easy Cheese and Fritos in your pantry?
Well, I do like Fritos now and then. And good pork rinds. And the occasional bag of peanut M&Ms. I am not opposed to Sonic tater tots, either.
What is next for you as a writer?
I’m working on a cookbook with my good pal Julia Moskin, a food writer for the times and my unofficial work wife. We do a series of competitive meals. I, of course, win every one. (Not).