Plenty: A Memoir of Food and Family

Plenty is about food people. Not just about any food people but my food people. And not just my food people but my food women.

Plenty author, Hannah Howard on finding her food people (mostly women), article @ Salon

I sneak in reading from Hannah Howard’s Plenty: A Memoir of Food and Family (this is her second memoir, the first being Feast). between looking up who teaches what at culinary arts and hospitality programs for my marketing day job. Her writing is warm and inviting. Rich. The polar opposite of what I am doing for work.

I got my Kindle copy for FREE (which after going to Howard’s website and reading the September 2021 release date, realize is an “advance copy”)as part of First Reads, from Amazon.

The article on Salon hinted that this would be a book that I would enjoy. But honestly I was not sure as “portraits of food women” conjured up stilted vignettes like the ones compiled for culinary textbooks, and appearing in shaded boxes and oft called “Case Study”? In textbooks, these are part of textbooks’ “bells and whistles” designed to engage students and make the topic “interesting.”

But more often than not, they are boring.

Howard’s voice and experiences are mesmerizing. And this IS a book about “food women. ” And not the usual suspects, many whose celebrity status was created thanks to Food Network. In this book, the women are unknown and unsung to me and others outside the tight knit food community. So I click on the link to the book at the bottom of the page. And when I get there, I learn that I can order the book for free being an Amazon Prime member. The program is called First Reads.

I have nothing to lose except adding one more title to my Kindle library that I delve into excitedly at first. Then abandon after a few pages.

I am not disappointed. I am enchanted.

Each chapter refers to a significant “food woman” in Hannah Brown’s life, rendered so vividly you feel like you are living her experience right along with her. I soak up her descriptions of foods and dishes, like lampredotto, a “Florentine street food,” made with tripe.

Lampredotto Photo credit: Atlas Obscura

I learn stuff. I should have know that terrior applies to cheese, but embarrassingly, this never occurred to me. Howard talks about a job at Murray Cheese (in the chapter, Allison). I discovered this venerable food institution while completing an assignment for gastronomy class, sinking into mouth watering photos and descriptions of cheeses known and foreign (which was remarkable given I have here before never been a cheese person). In her book, I learn that Murray Cheese was bought by Kroger’s grocery chain (I have found fabulous food finds at Food for Less, so this does not bother me like Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods did).

Readers will fall in love with Howard’s astute perspective on food, love, and the richness both bring to life.”

— Publisher’s Weekly


Plenty also makes me sad. It takes me into my own memories, many connected to my vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies. Hannah got over her body issues and disordered eating (though these are the memories that she recounts in Feast).

At this ripened older age, I am still working on mine.

I have a pity party remembering how NYC has long been a foodie and cultural beacon for me. These are experiences that I would have loved, so I read with a bit of envy and jealousy. And while moving there probably wasn’t realistic as a very young and little monied, single mother, why did it not occur to me to move there later.

That said, Chicago was and remains a foodie town, and because I worked downtown and lived in Wrigleyville/Boy’s Town, frequenting hot foodie spots Lincoln Park, I remind myself that I have had more than a few delicious and new-to-me food experiences.

Still, I cannot help but wonder if I am fronting when I call myself a gourmet. For example, I have seen tripe on my grocery stores shelves, but I saunter right past with little inclination to take it home and cook a distinctive dish of it.

The good of it is that the immersive experience of being part of a larger food scene through books like Plenty: A Memoir of Food and Family by Hannah Howard, feed the aspirational part of myself.

And I think, “It is NOT too late for me.

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