July 3rd: Franz Kafka & M.F.K. Fisher

The latest U.S. Google Doodle was posted while I was on vacation, so I’m just getting to it now!

On July 3rd, a Doodle celebrated the birthday of Franz Kakfa. I’m looking in an entirely different direction, at food and travel writer M.F.K. Fisher. Like others I’ve written about here at Speaking Up, M.F.K. Fisher is a Doodle-Worthy Woman about whom I knew nothing before I started searching for information about her — but her story and personality quickly drew me in.

Fisher was born on July 3rd, 1908, in Michigan, and reported being passionate and inquisitive about cuisine from a young age. Like others before her and since, she spent time in France in her early 20s, affording her the opportunity to learn about and experiment with food. In her career, she traveled extensively and published memoirs, translations, novels, and nonfiction tomes on various subjects related to food, eventually publishing over 27 books. Fisher is considered the founder of the culinary memoir genre that we take for granted today (think Eat, Pray, Love, but 70 years earlier, and written in prose that W.H. Auden called the best of its era).

Her subjects varied broadly; for instance, one book, Consider the Oyster, comprehensively covered the oyster as both a food and a creature (how can you not love this line? “An oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life”). Another, How to Cook a Wolf, published during World War II, offered advice on making the most of humble ingredients during times of scarcity. Supplementing her books, Fisher wrote hundreds of essays and articles for publication in periodicals. Her writing received high praise, though her work was also sometimes dismissed as being focused on “women’s interests.” From our vantage point, we can see that she created and sustained what remains a vibrant genre to this day.

After a lifetime of travel and living throughout Europe and the United States, Fisher settled in California in 1970, and lived out her life in the very fitting environment of a vineyard. In her honor, the James Beard Foundation awards a biannual prize for excellence in culinary writing.

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