City Cast

3 Questions About Food and Trauma with Writer Kim Foster

Sonja Cho Swanson
Sonja Cho Swanson
Posted on October 10
In a darkened kitchen, a small child aged perhaps 7 or 8, holds open a freezer door. The inside is mostly bare, aside from a plastic-wrapped loaf of bread, and one other small package.

What does hunger in Las Vegas look like? (Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty)

Kim Foster is a Vegas-based writer whose subject matter looks beyond the typical associations of food and joy. She’ll be reading from her memoir, "The Meth Lunches: Food and Longing in an American City," at the Writer’s Block this Thursday, October 12, at 7 p.m.

Your book comes out today. Can you break down the title for us? Is Food and Longing a play on Fear and Loathing?

It is! And when we originally conceived the tagline, we wanted it to be “food and longing in Las Vegas.” But I think the publisher felt that “in an American City” would be more broadly accepted as a national book because they were very clear with me that this was not a Vegas book, that this is a national book. But no one could come up with a tagline, like publishing New York, no one could come up with it. And Noreen from Please Send Noodles was like, Oh, I know what it is. It's “food and longing in Las Vegas.” And I was like, Oh my God, that's perfect.

And then the Meth Lunches is, of course, the title of your essay that won the James Beard Award.

Correct. And that was about the lunches that we ate with a handyman who was meth addicted when we first moved to Las Vegas and were, you know, just trying to move into our house and make it habitable.

Do you have a story from the book that’s near and dear to your heart?

Yeah, I think one of my most beloved chapters in the book is about a woman named Johnnie who works at the Smith's downtown. She and I ended up getting into this conversation in which she told me that as a child, she had been locked in a closet and starved. I started interviewing her, and I really got to know Johnnie while writing that story.

When our son came to us through foster care, he had also been in a situation where he had come from scarcity and it was Johnnie who really taught me about what hunger can do to behavior and how she ate to comfort herself — because we know from research that the effects of hunger are transferred through a thrifty metabolism in the pregnant woman's body and can be passed on over generations. We know that actual hunger and scarcity infects people's brains and changes how they act in the world.

And so I ended up interviewing her for this. But in the end, she just ended up teaching me about how to support our son and I'm so grateful for that.

Has writing this book changed your relationship with food?

Yes, totally. So I used to be really dedicated to hunger relief, and I now sort of see it as a way to enable the government to not do their job. The fact that we land so much of this important stuff that builds equity and trust in our communities and that we leave it for, you know, random people to do, like myself, is really problematic because at the end of the day, no one should be hungry. But why is it on the community to make sure that people aren't hungry? For me, the government isn't doing its job. And I see that much more clearly now having written the book.

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