Eating Words: A Norton Anthology of Food Writing edited by Sandra M. Gilbert and Roger J. Porter, a book showcasing impactful works from many talented authors and poets, highlights a chapter in Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. The chapter titled “Spices” immerses the audience in Lorde’s world through the use of imagery and indirect character details that reveal how the preparation of souse, a cultural meal, taught her more than words ever could.
Audre Lorde was the daughter of West Indian immigrant parents and was raised in New York. From a young age, she battled diversity with her sexuality and heritage, yet it only made her stronger. She went on to confront social injustices by participating in several protests and using her creative talents to further address the problems in the world. Lorde shared her wisdom and experiences with the world through teaching, publishing, and speaking out. This inspired a new generation comparable to how the women in her life shaped her.
A meal such as souse, one packed with flavor from spices and culture, can teach humans more valuable lessons than a book possibly ever could. From the ingredients down to the tools and techniques being used, Audre Lorde is someone who illustrates the importance of valuing
customs and the people who passed them down because, in turn, these morals benefited her future self and were arguably the main reason why she became the successful woman she was.
The chapter opens with Lorde describing her mother’s mortar, a tool used for pounding spices. She professes, “To my child eyes, the outside was carved in an intricate and most enticing manner” (Lorde 109). Recognizing that Lorde is narrating this story through the lens of her as a child, readers can truly grasp the impact this mortar had on her, so much that she remembers the “foreign fragrant wood” (Lorde 109) and how the “wooden object always made her feel secure and somehow full” (Lorde 110). These, as well as other details in the piece, engulf the audience, allowing them to experience similar sensations of nostalgia as the author did. This breaks down a wall, revealing the message and purpose behind Zami overall. Lorde’s fondness and appreciation for the mortar show how she valued her culture and her mother’s strong-willed nature. She considered her a role model, proving that even as a child, Lorde was observant, causing her to acquire those unique qualities of her mother. In her later years, these attributes led to her becoming an activist.
Lorde was taught to be assertive and proud by her mother, which was shown through their interactions in the kitchen. In the first paragraph, “home” was where the finest mortars were bought, and “whatever came from ‘home’ was bound to be special” (Lorde 109). Lorde’s mother evidently educated her daughters about her native land, proclaiming her heritage and culture. She continued to do so by cooking meals she had grown up with and requiring all three daughters to help prepare, giving them a taste of “home.” At a future time, Lorde would travel to the Caribbean and West Africa to fully submerge herself deeper into her ethnic roots.