6 Valuable Lessons Learned Around the Dinner Table, According to Award-Winning Food Writers

We asked these award-winning writers what food experience they’d do over if given the chance. Their answer? Six stories of fresh and false starts, mulligans, and redemption at the table to savor as we head into the new year

A person garnishing a plate over and over

Simone Massoni

New Year’s in America is indelibly associated with resolutions, fresh starts, and, generally, cleaning up one’s act (eating habits included). But if any of that stuck, why would we need to do it again year after year? How much change—or lasting change—comes of all this resolving? More effective, it seems, would be to alter your past so as to have a meaningful impact on your future.

I asked six writers whose perspectives and ways with words have drawn me to their work to imagine what a do-over might look like for them, one where food is an important part of the story, but not necessarily a primary subject. Their interpretations of that assignment are each distinctive and provocative. Journalist Liana Aghajanian ponders second chances both possible and impossible with the help of a biblical pudding she looks forward to every year. Ever the comedic pragmatist, Samantha Irby knows that what we eat is one of few things we get a do-over on not just annually, but daily; our diets are an everyday re-do opportunity.

Alternatively, in Deesha Philyaw’s rewrite of a date over tacos, food is the only thing she wouldn’t edit.

Sometimes, as for Diep Tran, overhauling the menu is the focal point, while for Megha Majumdar, simply having a menu for even a single guest would have made all the difference. Elsewhere—in Italy, to be precise—Katie Quinn discovered the relationship between grief and joy. Bitter and sweet flavors have left her with an ambivalence about the prospect of a do-over—and with cravings for gelato and spaghetti.

 A few of these essays might defy your expectations of food writing in that they bring up some challenging topics and ask us to confront them head-on. But even in that, they celebrate food and how it permeates every aspect of our lives. We hope you savor these words in all their deliciousness and complexity.

About the Editor: Charlotte Druckman is a New Yorker whose work has appeared in many publications over the years, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Food & Wine. She conceived and edited the collection Women on Food and is the author of Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen. She has also written two cookbooks. Fun fact: She was the creator of Food52’s Tournament of Cookbooks (aka the Piglet, RIP).

How to Blow Off Your New Year's Dieting Resolutions Every Single Day

For comedian and writer Samantha Irby, fad diets are simply small hurdles when French fries and cheese beckon.

A person meditating

Simone Massoni 

January 1, Breakfast: All things seem possible, and the most possible-seeming possibility is that this might be the year I become a person who meal-preps and/or really gets into health food like beans. Yesterday, I was drunk and full of cheeseburgers, but today? Today, I am a person who drinks warm water with lemon to start her day and takes an enormous multivitamin without choking on it before making an adult smoothie that doesn’t have juice and/or ice cream in it and is also green, which = health. — Samantha Irby

What I Learned From My Bitter and Sweet Year in Southern Italy

Katie Quinn's time in Italy left her with difficult memories tempered with anticipation and gratitude.

A dessert sits in a windowsill

Simone Massoni

Is there such thing as a miscarriage mistake? Not the losing of the embryo itself, but in how the miscarriage is handled after the fact? I’ve asked myself that question countless times, wondering how the best year of my life also included the sloppy emotional management of the most painful experience my partner and I had ever faced. — Katie Quinn

Show Me How You Treat Your Waiter, and I Will Tell You Who You Are

After that night, I'm screening dates for homophobia and transphobia before we meet, kiss, or eat tacos.

A couple dining at a bowling alley

Simone Massoni

You were my last date before the pandemic shut the world down. On that date, I discovered two things. One: Our local bowling alley’s tacos are surprisingly good and pair well with Blue Moon. Two: I need to do a better job screening out bigots on dating apps. You told me your name was Mike, that you have a cousin who is gay, and that you’re a long-haul truck driver. But now, I’m pretty sure none of that is true. — Deesha Philyaw

The Day My Cooking Ambitions Got the Best of Me

At 16, I tasted triumph and humiliation at my grandmother’s table.

A person on a pile of dirty dishes holding out a cloche

Simone Massoni

The year was 1988 when Babette’s Feast won the Oscar for best foreign film. It’s set in the 19th century in a Nordic coastal village, and the titular character is a French refugee who wins the lottery and spends the entirety of the kitty on a single grand dinner for a group of aging Lutheran ascetics who eschew corporeal indulgences and live on a mostly unvarying menu of øllebrød, a sourdough rye bread porridge. The win was quite a feat considering that the film is 30% plot and 70% depictions of chores: fetching water from the well; buying fish at the docks; turning mushrooms; plucking quail; cooking stocks, sauces, and, of course, porridge. Sixteen-year-old me, trapped in suburbia with my sexagenarian grandmother, loved every scene. — Diep Tran

You Don’t Need Fancy Tableware and Furnishings to Throw an Unforgettable Dinner Party

My long journey to welcoming others to my table

A group of people sit in a pile of dishes; a teacher lectures a student

Simone Massoni

After college, I lived for a time in a window-less, $450-a-month room in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a residence I was so ashamed of that I never invited friends over. I shared the apartment with the landlady, who watched TV, nonstop, in her bedroom. When the door was left ajar, her room gave the impression of faded florals—the sheets, the stacks of laundry visible on the bed, the curtains. That non-information was more or less all the information I had about her. Ours was a living space carved out of need on both sides, a transaction edged with resentment, my presence reminding the landlady of the person who was absent, a husband gone to China. — Megha Majumdar

How Celebrating Two Christmases Led This Refugee Family to Embrace New Life in America While Continuing Their Armenian Traditions

After moving to Southern California to escape the war in Iran in the 1980's, Liana Aghajanian's family embraced traditions both old and new during the holiday season.

A window showing two horizons, a skyline and a mountain top

Simone Massoni

I always celebrate Christmas twice. Like many people who partake in the holiday on December 25, I attempt, but fail, at the great American pastime of decorating a gingerbread house, eat far too much turkey, and emotionally spiral during the annual viewing of Home Alone. As a child, I remember the conversations of my extended family reverberating through every room, growing increasingly louder as the night wore on, as piles of scrunched-up wrapping paper and dirty dishes dotted the premises. — Liana Aghajanian

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