My First Popsicle – An Anthology of Food and Feelings by Zosia Mamet – how the sensory experience of food can be life defining and bring back memories

My First Popsicle – An Anthology of Food and Feelings Edited by Zosia Mamet

This is a book that reveals and depends on the idea that certain foods and drinks are indelibly associated with certain feelings and memories. This is the true idea that eating certain things, or even smelling them, can bring back the sense of when we first encounter them, the memories of childhood associations, the type of food we grew up eating. This applies to the sort of food we associate with our parents, grandparents and other people who are important to us.  We may have come from the sort of home where most food is out of packets and tins or delivered, or equally where everything was healthy and cooked from scratch, but perhaps lacking in taste or excitement. Food can remind us of relationships, food we cooked with or for a partner, or group of friends. We remember buying it, how it was served, whether we enjoyed it or even hated it. The smell, taste and texture of food can recall someone who is important in our lives, such as making sweet treats with a beloved grandmother, or remind us of a largely absent parent. Obviously, there is special occasion food, the traditional foods for Christmas, or birthday cakes which were basic but elaborately decorated with care and imagination. Food can dominate our senses, smell, sight, taste, texture, even the sounds which we associate with its preparation, or what was happening on certain occasions.

In this book Zosia Mamet, an American actor, has gathered contributions from forty-nine people which expand on their most important, life defining or changing foods and sometimes drinks in short pieces. Some pieces are very short, just a few paragraphs about a certain food or in Kaley Cuocu’s case, a drink that recalls a certain time or person in their lives. Some are longer, amounting to essays on relationships with parents or whole childhoods which are summed up by particular foods, styles of cooking, birthday or Christmas traditions. All the contributors are well known, especially in America, many being involved in the arts, television or films, or are professional chefs or food writers. Some reveal a lot about their childhoods, possibly spent with single parents for whom meatballs were the only thing affordable, or where carers either did the minimum of cooking or made it a special feature of family life. Many of the contributions are accompanied by recipes, idiosyncratic, elaborate with side items, or sketchy. Some are simply how to create the perfect coffee or fast-food snack, others are professionally produced and detailed. They are often in American measurements, or feature items that are not so freely available in the UK at least by that brand name.

I am not an elaborate or particularly skilled cook, and I have not got the sometimes traumatic associations with certain food or eating patterns that are sometimes featured in this book, but I enjoy reading about family traditions and styles. For some of these contributors’ food symbolises a part of their lives, like independence from family cooking, complete ignorance of even basic cooking or trying to cook in inadequate circumstances. I found many of the pieces fascinating, revealing, sometimes funny and sometimes touching. Food can be an expression of love and care for others, self-care and particular emotions, and all these elements are reflected here. This book would appeal to anyone with an interest in what other people eat and why, accounts of other lives, and food in all its wonderful variety and combinations. It is a book which mentions the importance and almost obsession with food in lockdown and challenging recent times. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about the lives of others in contemporary times.