I absolutely love the concept behind Eat Joy. Food — and often, the act of preparing it — brings more than mere physical nourishment. It brings memories, emotions, and often a strong, ineffable bond of connection.
As a physical object, the book is also beautiful. It’s the kind of book I’d see in a store and purchase as a gift for food lovers in my life, especially since it’s somewhat more unusual than the typical cookbook gift item.
However, I didn’t love this book as much as I thought I would. I’m a fairly quick reader, but it took me almost three full months to finish the book, and I almost gave up on it at times. As with any anthology, some stories were more engaging than others, and some recipes more mouthwatering.
Mostly, I think I failed to connect with this book because of the expectations I had coming in. With a title like Eat Joy and a concept like personal stories about comfort food, I expected the collection to be a celebration of food, and of the connections that food can foster within communities. I expected loving descriptions of the act of making food, and delicious recipes that make me long for home and for the people I love.
Instead, I found the book pretty bleak, and the food almost secondary, even an afterthought in some of the stories. The stories explore themes such as loss, loneliness and heartbreak. And while some of the recipes were interesting (I loved Lev Grossman’s General Tso tofu), other stories featured recipes like Duncan Hines brownie mix. This may be true-to-life — in times of sorrow, sometimes packaged brownie mix is the best source of comfort — but it’s a bit of a letdown in a food book.
That being said, one of my favourite stories — ‘A Grain of Comfort’ by Edwidge Danticat — features a bowl of steamed white rice. Edwidge Danticat writes about one of the last meals she had with her father, when he was too weak to eat anything richer than plain white rice, and the story almost made me cry.
I also really liked the first story, ‘Leaves’ by Diana Abu-Jaber, about how food is one of the ways in which children of immigrants try to honour their parents’ homelands. Diana talks about her family’s recipes, and the questions around how much she can play with the flavours while still keeping the taste of her parents’ home alive. Her writing is beautiful, and I related so hard to her story.
Thank you to Publishers Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.