What Makes a Good Food Memoir (besides recipes)

Holiday meals tend to be full of traditional family dishes, and they have their stories. Where did they come from, how long have they been in the family, have they evolved, and most important, what memories do they bring up? Who is the source of your memories about these foods and do you want to capture the recipes and stories into a book for the family?

Recipe books are popular but so are food memoirs which bring life and history to recipes. Years ago I interviewed my mother-in-law, raised in the West Tennessee countryside and known for her wonderful southern cooking, to write a little memoir to go along with some of our favorite recipes of hers. The memoir tells her stories of growing up poor in a farming family and working hard in the fields even as a small child. Stories that hold history and rural southern culture lead to recipes. While I and my girls may not ever use most of her recipes (lest we gain too much weight!), we do use some and treasure them all as they remind us of her and the wonderful meals she has blessed us with.

This post was prompted by a “Book Riot” post of the same title “What Makes a Good Food Memoir,” by Jaime Herndon, November 26, 2021. She says, “Food memoirs aren’t just about the food itself or just about how much one likes a certain food. They dig in to the emotional aspect of food, cooking, and eating.” And so if you save the family recipes, why not add commentary about who made the dish special and the memories the food conjures. What are the stories around it. Instead of having just a recipe, make it into a savory story for the generations.

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Tell the Family Stories at Thanksgiving

November is Family Stories Month for a reason! We’ve been looking forward to this week of traditional family gathering. Even while we may not yet have “normal” gatherings, we can still count our blessings and share our love (and hopefully not sickness). This is the time to ask for stories of when our parents and grandparents were young. That was a different world then, sometimes even a different culture whether that be a different country, a different region, or even a different environment such as city or countryside. What are your youthful stories? Do your siblings agree on the details of your childhood stories? Everyone has their own perspective, their own remembering, but don’t fight about it as it’s YOUR OWN memories that have shaped you.

November is also National Novel Writing Month – NANOWRIMO – but I like to call it NA-ME-WRI-MO for National Memoir Writing Month. While you are sharing stories together, jot down notes or even record the sharing by video or audio. Don’t lose your lived family history!

Happy Thanksgiving! May you realize the many blessings you have, large and small. Counting our blessings reminds us to be grateful. And a grateful heart is a joyful heart.

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Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans in WWII and the hidden stories

The traveling Smithsonian exhibit Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and WWII is here at our local Soldiers Memorial. I was aware of most of this information (after discovered this shocking episode in US history while researching for my mother’s WWII in Japan memoir), but only recently learned about Latin American Japanese sent to the US for internment. Seems some of the Latin American countries had the same attitudes about their Japanese-heritage residents as the Americans on our West Coast—deep prejudice and resentment of their successes despite discrimination. The US government gave these countries an excuse to get rid of them.

The US pressured some of the Latin American countries, especially Peru, to round up their Japanese, who were shipped to a Crystal City, Texas, “camp,” their passports confiscated. Some Italians and Germans were there, too, but apparently none of them were later deported to Italy or Germany. During the war, the US sent 800 of these Japanese campers to Japan in prisoner exchanges. After the war, the US deported about 1,000 to Japan as their home countries refused to take them back. Many of those sent to Japan had never lived in Japan, not to mention Japan was devastated by war, many people starving. Others fought to remain in the US despite being considered “illegal aliens.”

Imagine being innocent of crime and forcefully removed to another country that imprisoned you and then called you illegal – and therefore not qualified to receive the $20,000 per person the American Japanese eventually received in hard-won reparations. But, in another ten years the ones that remained in the US won $5,000 each. Some tried to fight for the full $20,000, to no avail. Who knows what happened to the ones sent to war-torn Japan or back to their countries.

This bit of history, what the US government did to Latin Americans of Japanese heritage, is little known, apparently not worth mentioning. Did any of these internees write their stories? Do any books mention much about them – anything? This wrong was never actually righted. Not that money can give back years of imprisonment because of fear and prejudice, or pay for a pre-war life destroyed for nothing. Their stories should be told as a part of the internment camp story, as warnings of what we are capable of doing to others and hopefully will not do again. Internment camp is quite a euphemism, isn’t it.

(The Smithsonian exhibit is going to Albuquerque NM later in October)

Learn more about the Latin American Japanese in this BBC news article:

The Japanese Peruvians interned in the US during WWII

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