Author of a poetry collection, The End of Spectacle (Carnegie Mellon, 2018), a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017), and three chapbooks, including Empire of Dirt (above/ground press, 2019), Virginia Konchan’s creative and critical work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Believer, Boston Review, and elsewhere.
Here, she talks about the simplicity of spaghetti, recovering from an eating disorder, and putting hot sauce on everything.
On her all-time favorite meal:
This sounds like a question that would be given to a death-row inmate! I find the idea of a favorite meal or last meal (God forbid) intimidating. But I guess if I had to choose, it would be spaghetti, which was one of the only dishes my Dad made growing up, and which my Grandma Ginny (my namesake) also made, although hers was fancier—Pasta Primavera or Fettuccini Alfredo, whereas my Dad would just pour marinara sauce on noodles. I ate pasta a lot growing up, with garlic bread, made by both my Dad and Grandma, a simple meal with lots of carbs, which was beneficial because I played several sports. My Dad used to joke, when asked at parties who made this great dish my Mom had carefully prepared, that he got up at 6am to make it himself, which became a kind of standing joke because the only thing he ever really made was spaghetti, and he definitely didn’t wake up at dawn to make it. But it remains my favorite comfort food to this day. I became a vegetarian at a young age, and my brother and sister quickly followed suit, so while my Mom was a great cook and always experimenting, I think the memories of eating pasta with my family before or after a sports event are profound because it was one of the few vegetarian meals I really enjoyed and could eat a lot of. It was also meaningful that my Dad assumed a care-taking role in this regard: he treated the boiling of noodles reverentially and was proud of his culinary skills, however rudimentary! I feel guilty about my answer—my Mom’s ratatouille and African peanut stew are among my favorite dishes of hers—but because I had a strong bond with my Dad, and he was around much less than my Mom, I think his pasta remains my favorite meal for the sheer fact of its simplicity.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
I don’t eat breakfast (the breakfast gods are cursing me as I speak), so my favorite and sometimes only meal of the day is late lunch or dinner. The light is dim and forgiving: it’s usually midday or just before dusk when I eat. The sun is just beginning to set, the air is balmy (in seasons other than winter), and I can hear the rattling of silverware and plates in neighboring apartments in Montreal as I fix a plate. The low glare from the setting sun gives me permission to engage in self-care in a way that sometimes feels foreign in the harsher lights of day.
On snacking while writing:
Do liquid snacks count? I don’t really eat while writing, no, but I do drink, everything from Perrier to red wine. Sometimes a gin and tonic or beer. I find eating too distracting when I’m focusing on my writing. Having struggled with an eating disorder in my life, eating for me is unfortunately not something I can do very casually. I still can’t really “snack” or graze like a normal person: mealtimes are usually stressful as a result, and I don’t like to carry that stress into other activities, aesthetic or not.
On her go-to late-night snack:
I don’t really snack. Or, to be more precise, my meals are usually snacks. I have lately been on an unintentional mono-diet of crackers and hummus. It’s satisfying and not triggering for me, and once I find a food that is non-triggering, however simple (see above with regard to spaghetti), I will eat it every day for years. I try to balance recovery with widening my food choices, however, so sometimes I will eat rice cakes with hummus instead. God, I sound like a lunatic! I need to expand my repertoire. I do really like broccoli.
On her food quirks:
Hot sauce on EVERYTHING (and I mean everything); placing plates on top of bowls in the refrigerator instead of saran wrap (a childhood tic); and eating out of containers (whoops). The brilliant eating disorder specialist Anita A. Johnston, in her book Eating by the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship to Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling talks about how people crave food sensations that correlate to things they are lacking or desiring in their lives: piquant foods might, for example, indicate a desire for excitement; creamy, rich foods might indicate a desire for nurturance. I think of this book often when I’m engaging in weird food quirks that seem random or compulsive. Highly recommend!
On her final meal request:
Well, I hope this final meal doesn’t take place for another 40 years, but I guess if I had to imagine said meal, it would be lobster poutine (a Montreal delicacy) or something else with shellfish or seafood (I’m now a pescatarian). I’m eating it on a glass-bottomed boat (preferably anchored) in the middle of the ocean, and while I have no way of knowing who I will be eating it with, I would hope it’s someone with whom (on the live to eat or eat to live continuum), food feels like a blissful and sustaining extension of love and life.