The non-fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: I was struck by the sentence “And if I would stay here in this life, I would keep writing unfinished essays.” Was this the catalyst for writing this particular essay?
Kelsey Liebenson-Morse: I was attempting to give voice to the frustration I felt when I was working taxing hours to survive in New York. As a result my writing was being neglected in the wake of living. New York is intoxicating, magical and full of endless distractions. As delighted as I was by the city, I wanted to pursue writing in a structured environment. By deciding to go to graduate school I felt like I was accepting the opportunity of time to truly commit to writing, in hopes that I would start “finishing” essays while also sacrificing a place and a person I cherished and desired. This essay is very much about making a big change in order to pursue an impulse that felt somewhat imperative while also feeling as though I was losing parts of myself in the process.
RR: Do you find eating and sharing in food a sensual experience usually, or was that just in the context of this relationship?
KLM: I grew up in a food-centric family and so food was approached with interest and appreciation. My Mom is an accomplished cook, baker and foodie so from a young age I was involved in the process of creating meals. For me, love and food are tied together, whether or not in the context of romantic love. When someone prepares food for you, they are expressing their love. Food ties us to memories and experiences with the potential to act as a powerful symbol of sensuality and passion. Both food and love need passion to succeed. In this particular essay I wanted to explore the overlap between being nourished physically and emotionally by examining the ways in which different relationships feed you.
RR: You mention reading Joan Didion; who else would you recommend for fantastic non-fiction?
KLM: This year I read Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping. I devoured it in three days. I’ve always been inspired by Vivian Gornick’s Approaching Eye Level and recently, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. Confession: Jon Krakauer is my guilty literary pleasure.
RR: Writing and cooking are both forms of composition. How do you think this lent to the relationship you detail in this essay or the construction of the essay itself? I loved your food language (esp. your artichoke paragraph) and the way you allegorize food and sex. Is food something you like to use as figurative language tool in your other writing?
KLM: I’ve recently started to lean heavily on food as a tool in my writing and being a cook and a baker I often find the process of writing and preparing food compliment and reflect one another. When I’m having trouble writing I bake because the results of my labors are tangible. Line editing on the other hand doesn’t give you instant gratification. When it comes to food I can remember details about meals easily (perhaps because I am obsessed with all things food…) which lends to accessibility when composing essays involving past events. For example, I recently started an essay about living in Eastern Europe when I was eighteen. To situate myself back in that experience, I started writing about octopus and cabbage as an entry point into the essay. In constructing “What You Feed Me” I knew I wanted to give the food itself as much credit as it deserved and being so close to a professional chef I felt like I developed the language to give the beauty of his food compositions due credit. And as I wrote the food, retelling the relationship became easier.
“What You Feed Me” appears in Rappahannock Review Issue 2.2
Kelsey Liebenson-Morse lives in Morgantown, West Virginia where she is currently working on completing her M.F.A.. She is an amateur baker and loves everything about food. This is her first publication