Eat, memory

When readers get Proustian, we’re right there with them.

I’ve long had my suspicions about you readers, and now I’m sure.

Let me begin at the beginning. We love to get letters to the editor. The first missive to hit the Magazine’s in-box after each issue goes out into the world is, for us, akin to the first robin in spring or a new green shoot—a happy sign of life and, we hope, a harbinger of more to follow. Even when the words are harsh, we want to hear from you.

But what makes readers write? Like anything one cares about a lot, we turn this question over and over, reason and hypothesize and predict. Those predictions are frequently off the mark. Last year, following an issue that covered the early months of COVID-19, medical imaging breakthroughs, and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalism, I noted to friends that we received more letters about Ribs ’n’ Bibs, the much-lamented 53rd Street barbeque joint, than about any other topic.

One year later, the evidence has become conclusive. The encomiums to Morry’s and Salonica in this issue’s Letters section, heartfelt and eloquent, tell the tale: nothing gets your fingers typing more than when we invoke Hyde Park eating establishments.

And hooray for that. If University of Chicago alumni love their food memories, well, don’t we all? One of my favorite writers, M. F. K. Fisher, points out in the foreword to The Gastronomical Me (1943) that our memories of the meals we’ve eaten are tightly tangled with our whole life stories. “It seems to me,” she writes, “that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.” That has rung true to me since I first read it.

So when you find yourself in a Medici reverie, a T-Hut trance, or a Shake Day daydream, free associate from there and, if the spirit moves, write us about it. We and your fellow hungry readers will eat it up.

Oh, and me? I will never stop missing Caffe Florian’s veggie pizza and hope I never have to start missing Jimmy’s grilled cheese and fries.