I selected Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood as my first pick for our newly launched Universal Heart Book Club. It's a beautiful collection of essays and recipes about food, family, finding a sense of community and ways of expressing our inner being through cooking.
In a culture where we have largely forgotten ways of expressing our love for the people in our lives, Charlotte has managed to remind us that food, one of the most traditional expressions of love, still has a place, and might indeed be the perfect solution for those of us who are shy and tongue-twisted when it comes to emotion.
Charlotte Wood is an acclaimed Australian novelist, someone whose work I have read and followed over many years. When I discovered she was working on a book about food I couldn't wait to see what she would make of this increasingly popular subject. I never expected to be so thoroughly moved and inspired by it, however. She writes with utter simplicity and without the pretension that seems to so easily attach to discussions of food and eating.
We live in a society that has elevated food to a semi-divine status, and our screens are filled with celebrity chefs and suburban hopefuls willing to humiliate themselves on TV in order to stake a claim as Masterchef. Never has so much food been so lushly prepared with such detail right before our very eyes, and it seems that everyone now is "plating" their evening meal. Love & Hunger is the ultimate counter to all this. Charlotte Wood encourages the reader to leave things lopsided and occasionally flawed, so long as they are delicious and prepared with love and attention.We can be imperfect in our preparation of food and yet still offer it as a gesture of love.
It is a book, too, about effort. In an age devoted to speed and instant gratification, many of us (and here I hold my hand up) have abandoned the trouble of cooking our own food, let alone preparing it for others. Charlotte Wood reminds us that the simple but consistent effort of preparing food for others is by itself a profoundly spiritual act. It's the slowness of cooking we have left behind, and we chafe against the lack of any guarantees when it comes to preparing even deceptively simple dishes. And as Charlotte points out, never have more wannabe cooks been defeated than in the face of a chicken roast, that greatest of Sunday dinners prepared by generations of home cooks. We have forgotten how to prepare food easily and offer it unselfconsciously. Love & Hunger helps us to remember some of this.
I know that after reading it I am keen to get brining my meats, preparing my own pastry, cooking cold pork pies and just seeking to express my love for food less through its consumption and more through its careful and loving preparation.
Perfectly structured, very nicely written and constantly fascinating, I think that anyone who loves food will enjoy Love & Hunger.