Ross Gay is the author of three books: Against Which, Bringing the Shovel Down, and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. He is also the co-author, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, of the chapbook “Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens,” in addition to being co-author, with Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., of the chapbook, “River.” He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin’, in addition to being an editor with the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press. Ross is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ross teaches at Indiana University.
Here, he talks about the impossibility of choosing a favorite meal, slathering apples in peanut butter, and death in the summertime.
On his all-time favorite meal:
That’s a ridiculous question. I mean, it’s a great question if someone can answer it, but it’s ridiculous! How does someone decide?! Maybe I’m just wishy-washy. I have so many favorite meals, so so many. Let’s see…oh, my buddy Dave makes this big old mess of collards or kale and sweet potatoes and eggplant and those field roast vegan sausages, goddamn that’s good. It’s not fancy, mostly nothing I love is. Don’t know when I first ate it, and no real story behind it, except maybe we ate it while watching a basketball game on his little fuzzy TV.
And then I get good meals at my partner’s vegetarian restaurant in New Jersey, Pulp—they have this marinated tempeh burger with caramelized onions and avocado, and I know you’re scrunching your face up and thinking or even saying something like “Gross! Tempeh!” but this is actually really, really good. My buddy Pat once was visiting me in Bloomington and made this okra and tofu and this and that thing that was incredible, love that, been copying it ever since.
And Chris has made me so many things, but this vegan gumbo with chicken of the woods mushrooms, c’mon! My mother has made me thousands of my favorite meals, no kidding, these days she makes me a really light pasta with fresh tomatoes and lots of garlic and garlic bread, or a black bean soup with garlic bread, or something else with garlic bread. And she makes apple or peach crisp, which is the best thing. The food at a few restaurants in my town, in Bloomington, lord. And Pho Xe Lua on 9th and Race in Philadelphia, the sautéed snow pea greens and pad thai, forget about it. And my dad made me fried fish and French fries and greens and corn bread the night I got out of hernia surgery, and I hold that as one of my favorite meals. And the big group meals we’d have with my pal Jay’s family at Thai Lake also in Philly, so so good. And the dosa joint in Jersey City. Oh! Nicole’s in Jersey City! Veggie Roti!
On snacking while writing:
I eat all the time, and I eat whatever I eat. I mean, it’s nothing special or different.
On what the light looks like during his favorite meal of the day:
All my meals are my favorite of the day, but since these days I’ve been loving riding my bike home real late at night from my office in Cambridge, and snatching a couple apples off the tree that grows over the sidewalk—some of the best apples, no kidding, tart and crisp and kind of dense, a real goddamn apple—sticking them in my pockets, going into my room, and slathering them with peanut butter or cashew butter, I’ll tell you, I turn on the lamp next to my bed and there’s a streetlight out the window that kind of drifts in through the blinds across the room. Also, I had a great bubble tea the other night, just a plain old oolong with the bubbles, and the light in there was this kind of awful fluorescent stuff that I enjoyed very much for the little while I was there.
On his go-to late-night snack:
Different stuff, but I have a very serious grape habit these days. But I usually eat dinner late enough that that’s my late night snack. And the apple and peanut butter thing. Love that anytime of day, really.
On his final meal request:
Again, a ridiculous question that I’m glad you asked, even though my answer might be kind of stupid. I mean, would I want some kind of big dumb meal, eat until my stomach’s hurting and everything? I don’t think so. If I could have a tiny bit of my mother’s peach crisp from peaches from my garden, that’d be swell. As long as she died before me, because I really really don’t want to die before my mom. (For her sake, not mine.) Or a supernatural peach crisp, she could come back and make it. Maybe I’d cook something out of my garden, make a thing of greens or something. Some of my famous oven-baked French fries. A sweet potato with a little bit of coconut oil. Or one of my sweetie’s scones fresh out of the oven with some jam by one of my jam-making friends.
If I was lucky some of the trees would be ready with fruit—a summer death I hope for! Or early fall for the figs to be ready. Or late spring very early summer so I could die eating some strawberries. Or it’d be fun to kick it while eating the goumis off my bushes, yeah, that would be good—if I could’ve died this summer when I’d get caught by those bushes and eat and eat and eat and forget I had any other obligation in my life for I don’t know how long, that would’ve been a fun way to go. A small bowl of the dal from Samira in my town. One of the Asian pears out back. A couple fresh spears of asparagus, a little soil still on the snapped-off bottoms, which are in my hand as I’m sprawled face down next to the currant, that impossibly beautiful fragrance guiding me along, and when you turn me over a little smile on my face, a little see you soon. And then all the people I’ve ever loved or will ever love will eat the rest of the asparagus (they’ll have to share, because it’s a little patch). And anything else they want!