Words & Cuisine: Where Fine Food & Literature Meet

Below are a few thoughts on an event I chaired for Listowel Food Fair, called Words & Cuisine: Where Fine Food and Literature Meet. A presentation on this exotic, undiscovered country of a subject, was followed by an interview with the ever effervescent Jillian Godsil, journalist, broadcaster and writer.

The inter-connections of food and literature? The banquet table as a symbol of society? Surely literature and food are diametrically opposed. Surely reading is ethereal, disembodied, pure, and the enjoyment of food is quite the opposite; the obtainment of pleasure for sating an animal need?

I had these doubts, and many more, when the suggestion of staging an event celebrating precisely that, the inter-connections of cuisine and literature, was made. I am very happy to say I was completely wrong. Food is a wonderful and accessible way to explore the history of literature, as well as various cultures and societies.

The event happened, I am glad to say, at the 25th anniversary of the wonderful Listowel Food Fair. On Saturday November 9th, at 5pm to be precise, in Listowel's Kerry Writers' Museum

Jeremy Murphy, writer, editor and literary agent with Jillian Godsil, writer, broadcaster and journalist.
Jeremy Murphy, editor, writer and literary agent, with Jillian Godsil, writer, journalist and broadcaster at Words & Cuisine: Where Fine Food & Literature Meet, a celebration of the inter-connections between food and literature, staged for the Listowel Food Fair, 2019.

(Note: The Below article originally appeared in the November 20th editor of the Kerryman newspaper, and I am enormously grateful to Donal Nolan and all the Kerryman team for running the piece!)

We all love nice food, and food is therefore the perfect way of exploring a variety of subjects. We learned how banquets, feasts and dinner parties are used to symbolise society. Think about it: who sits at the head of the dinner table, who serves the food and who is outside in the cold not invited, is an effective symbol for the wider social structure. Novelists like Joyce, Flaubert and Mann have reaped this to great advantage.

Brendan Kennelly’s poem Bread is masterful; from the baking and kneading of bread he constructs a beautiful allegory, but the poem also bristles with visceral emotion.  

Reciting Kavanagh’s lyrically guttural verse in an area that had been scourged by the Great Famine was humbling.

Inviting the wonderful Jillian Godsil down to Listowel for Listowel Food Fair was a real honour. I had worked with Jillian previously, in the capacity as an editor and literary agent, but I had always wanted to interview her. I knew Jillian’s extraordinary story, how she went from a tough divorce, battling the bank for her house and fighting elections, to being what she is today, an award-winning writer and broadcaster, would resonate.

If I have one regret it is that Words and Cuisine was too short; there was so many subjects I wanted to broach with Jillian. She had written so well on everything from snail-farm start-ups in Killkenny to contrasting depictions of stout in Irish literature, but we didn’t quite have the time.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received about staging events, is keep the audience happy; on topic, off topic, once they are happy that is all that matters.

Since they were such a great and kind audience, I hope I achieved that - the talented and generous Michael Pixie O’Gorman has captured the event for posterity, so we shall see. Gapo’s Restaurant Listowel, who kindly provided desert tapas in the form of cognac-flavoured cheesecake, certainly helped in that regard.

Watching people react afterwards, I had one reflection: Irish people, despite their dark past, do have a healthy attitude to food. They don’t waste, they share and they enjoy. We also like the big, joyous communal feast - it is our Celtic/Viking blood. We have a healthy attitude to food, even if we are still haunted by ‘the drink’.

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