By JAY REED
As I pondered suitable subjects to write about this week, several ideas came to mind, one of which actually developed into a couple of opening paragraphs. Then I began doing a little math. This is not so unnatural: I come from a mathematical family, even married into one. I count pills and milliliters most days at work. I count words as I put together these columns. But this week I counted columns, and guess what I discovered. This is my 100th newspaper column.
For a real journalist, that may not sound like a lot. They probably punch out 100 articles in as many days, but I wouldn’t know — I’m not a real journalist. I’m just a friendly neighborhood pharmacist with an unusual set of taste buds who likes to write about what comes across them. Though I have written and journaled for many years, it was mostly for my own reflection — not for public consumption. As a youngster in Starkville, I would occasionally find my way into the pages of this paper, but in those days, I often wore a different hat — not the baseball cap I don each Wednesday, but one from a marching band uniform (in a distinguished blue and gray.) Back then, who’d a thunk that I would write even one column — about food, at that — much less 100 of them?
Not many, I suppose, because I do get that question a lot: Where did your interest in food come from? I’ve looked back and tried to figure out how I developed into the food enthusiast I have become today. The more I reflect, the more factors I discover that point toward this destination. Ultimately, though, I think I can point to at least three major mileposts: a man, a city and a box.
First, though, a glance at terminology. I have come to prefer the term “food enthusiast,” but I could also accurately be called a “foodie.” According to Wikipedia: “Foodie is an informal term for a particular class of aficionado of food and drink. The word was coined in 1981 by Paul Levy and Ann Barr, who used it in the title of their 1984 book The Official Foodie Handbook.” So that made me about 14 years old when the term was officially developed. I wonder, was I a foodie even then? If you examine photos of our gang on Hiwassee during the elementary school years there may be some evidence. Consider the old phrase: “Never trust a skinny chef.” If the phrase can be adapted to “Never trust a skinny foodie,” then perhaps my beginnings were even earlier than I thought. I possess one picture that particularly stands out in my memory — there are four of us, all about the same age, standing in the yard, and there were three things that set me apart from the herd. To put it poetically, I was “Short, fat, and wore a hair hat.” Only one of those descriptors remains a factor in my life. I grew and my hair has thinned. Your turn to do the math. At least you can trust me as a long-term eater.
The man that truly set me on the rood to food enthusiasm was Calvin Trillin. Mr. Trillin is curmudgeonly, yet incredibly witty. My first introductions to him were as a guest on the Prairie Home Companion radio show and in a book-on-tape I found in a discount box outside a shop in Black Mountain, N.C. It was another chance discovery of one of his travel books in a yard sale or the like that really turned me on to his work. As it happens, Mr. Trillin’s travel tomes tend to focus a great deal on what he eats along the way. In this particular book, he had been to France and was waxing eloquently on his habit of going to French outdoor markets and picking up food for a picnic. Ironically, our family was headed to France shortly thereafter, and finding a market was one of the first things we did. After that trip I began to seek out his other work and was not disappointed. Mr. Trillin seemed to find real joy in seeking out the best and most interesting food in the country, and got paid to write about it! What a concept. Several books later, a seed was firmly planted, and he ultimately helped me understand the role the city of New Orleans had played in my life.
I’ve always enjoyed going to New Orleans. As a kid I went with my parents, as a college drummer with the marching band, and as a honeymooner with my wife (who else?). I’m certain there was no fasting on these early trips, and as time moved on the itineraries began to be set more by the meal plan than the tourist guides. On one trip Little Brother and I had lunch at Paul Prudhomme’s place. On the honeymoon extension friends took The Wife and I to Commander’s Palace when it was considered the best restaurant in America. Beignet, done that. And all this was way before I ever thought about food writing. I have not had the opportunity to return to NOLA since Katrina, but I’m told that there are more restaurants open now than there were before the hurricane. That road trip is way past due. I owe it to New Orleans.
The box? These days it’s less a box and more of a piece of black glass, that TV. From the days of watching “Yan Can Cook” with my father, to investigating qualifications for being “The Next Food Network Star,” I’ve been hooked.
These mileposts do not completely define me, but perhaps they shed a little light on the path. Thanks to all for reading and responding for the past 100 weeks. It has been a great ride so far, with more pit stops to come.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .