My Kitchen Wars

October 31, 1999

by Betty Fussell

October 1999

A good memoir can be written about a series of interesting events, but the best memoirs have a unifying theme. Betty Fussell, food writer and food history expert, has written a unique memoir about her life in food and war. Reading My Kitchen Wars is as enjoyable as watching a gourmet cook or listening to an artist talk about her passions.

Fussell is not the first to relate food to war: the French refer to cooking utensils as batterie de cuisine, literally, the artillery of the kitchen. Fussell’s first months in the kitchen were indeed a struggle. She was “no bargain” of a wife and didn’t even know how to cook spaghetti. Her journey from simple macaroni and cheese to the awesomely elaborate menus of her dinner parties will impress and inspire. By the time women are taking off their symbolic aprons and leaving the kitchen, Fussell doesn’t want to, and you applaud her, because you know it’s a conscious choice.

It’s fascinating to see how much things have changed since Fussell was a young woman. She describes her personal experience in terms of the general social trends of each decade, relating especially interesting and outdated tidbits, like Julia Child’s recommendation for an asbestos sheet in the oven, or the fact that men haven’t always been tending the barbecue.

My Kitchen Wars is also about the separation of men and women. The first real wall Fussell sees between them is war, which marks the men with an experience the women cannot know. They are divided once again and forever by domestic duty.

Fussell’s humor is wry and tongue-in-cheek, and she takes even the most painful events in stride. She frequently names the one thing she hopes to find in life: “a sure Place.” She has found it in food writing, which keeps her “gut and brain connected to each other as well as to the realities of the world outside.” Let the reader beware: this combination of body and mind is powerful—Don’t read My Kitchen Wars on an empty stomach!

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