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Ebert Explores Food and Memory

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jan 8, 2010 5:30PM

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The key to being a writer is simple: you just do it.

Of course, there is some study involved. We prefer to study writers we admire. One of them is Roger Ebert, Our Town's greatest living writer. Say what you will about his taste in film, it takes discipline and skill to make those reviews feel as though you're eavesdropping on cocktail party chatter. Ebert's health problems in recent years, leading to the loss of his ability to speak, is well documented; his writing has since taken on a sharper focus and clarity as it's become his primary means of communication.

Yesterday Ebert explored the connections between food and memory on his Sun-Times blog. Ebert's health problems also took from him the ability to eat or drink — he receives nutrition through a tube. He admitted that he didn't miss eating or drinking, especially when his memories of certain moments in his life resonate as vividly as a visit to an A&W with his father as a child:

"...(T)he frosted mug evoked for me a long-buried memory of my father and I driving in his old Plymouth to the A&W Root Beer stand (gravel driveways, carhop service, window trays) and his voice saying '...and a five-cent beer for the boy.' The smoke from his Lucky Strike in the car. The heavy summer heat.

"For nights I would wake up already focused on that small but heavy glass mug with the ice sliding from it, and the first sip of root beer. I took that sip over and over. The ice slid down across my fingers again and again. But never again."

From there, Ebert guides the reader through vivid descriptions of such simple pleasures as a burger from Steak n' Shake, candy, and a dinner in Paris. It would be easy for Ebert to paint the story as an example of not knowing what one has until it's gone, but he never gives in to the temptation to take the essay in that direction. He does allow for one aspect of eating that he misses: the social interaction during a lunch or dinner. Which is one of many reasons he's dived so heartily into social media.

It's a compelling read that, twelve months from now, may still wind up being the best piece of food writing we'll find this year.

Nil By Mouth [Roger Ebert]