Faith Shearin’s “A Few Things I Ate” (+ a recipe!)

Lucky me, poet friend and kindred spirit Andrea Potos had the Poetry East Spring 2017 Food Issue sent to me shortly after it came out last year. You can bet I’ve been savoring and feasting on it ever since (thanks again, Andrea!).

This special issue, published by DePaul University, contains 49 poems presented in seven courses (truly the perfect meal), along with seven delectable recipes and a bevy of beautiful fine art paintings.

In the Main Course section, I was especially taken with Faith Shearin’s poem, “A Few Things I Ate.” The conversational style drew me in immediately, and I love how Faith built a captivating narrative with an embellished list of telling details, how she subtly wove in deeper regrets as well as fond memories. It’s wonderful how carefully chosen specifics can be so universally relatable.

Are we not all a product of what we’ve eaten throughout our lives? The countless foods, with their why’s and whens and wherefores, reveal our unique, personal stories.

I thank Faith for permission to share her poem, for answering my questions about it, and for her yummy recipe. Enjoy!


Tailleuses de soupe by François Barraud (1933)


by Faith Shearin

There are a few things I’m sorry I ate: a piece of fried chicken
in an all-night diner that bled when I cut into it,
a soup in an elegant French restaurant where I encountered
a mysterious ring of plastic. Also: a bowl of spaghetti served
with so many long strands of hair I wondered who,
in the kitchen, had gone bald. I’m sorry I ate the fast food
cookies that tasted like paper the same way I am sorry
I let certain men kiss me or hold my hand. I’m especially sorry
I ate a certain hot dog on a train that had been twirling for days
on a lukewarm display. Forgive me for all that cafeteria food
in college: packaged, bland, frozen so long it could not
remember flavor. And, hungry in my dorm, I ate bags
of stale lies from vending machines, once even a pair
of expired Twinkies filled with a terrible chemical cream
I am still digesting. After my daughter was born I bought
so much organic baby food my husband found the jars
everywhere: little glass wishes. One winter I ate exotic fruits
from upscale stores so expensive I might have flown instead
to a distant tropical island. Then, careless, I ate
from containers only my microwave understood. I know
what food is supposed to be but often isn’t; I know
who I might have been if I ate whatever I should have eaten.
Remember the time we ate Ethiopian food and spent
a week dreaming so vividly our real life grew pale?
Or the day we ate so much spice in our Thai food
that our mouths were softer? I’m not sorry I ate
all those ice cream sandwiches from my grandmother’s
freezer and drank those Pepsis with her on the way
to Kmart to buy more pink, plastic toys. She liked
the way sugar made me lively, and anyway,
she was suggesting the possibility of pleasure.
She made a vegetable soup that simmered all day
on the stove: growing deeper, more convincing,
and a carrot cake with cream cheese icing that floated
on my tongue like love. Now I am middle-aged. I am fat
and eating salads or, before bed, talking myself
into rice cakes that taste like despair. My father
is diabetic and must have everything whole wheat
and lean and my sister can’t have any salt. I’m sorry
I ate all that cereal when we first got married,
by myself in the kitchen, the milk pale and worried.
Remember how I covered my fruit with cheese
and mayonnaise? I’m not sorry, whatever
you might say. Then there were the lunches
we ate on the beach, watching the seals
sun themselves: thick chicken sandwiches wrapped
in a foil so silver they must have been valuable.

~ posted by permission of the author, © Poetry East: No. 90 (Food), Spring 2017.



Each item cited in this poem is a story unto itself. Are most of the details autobiographical or invented?

The details in the poem are a mix of autobiography and invention. My grandmother, for instance, did cook the foods I mention, and I did buy too many jars of organic baby food after my daughter was born; the year we got married my husband and I did eat chicken sandwiches for lunch while watching seals sun themselves on a beach.

What initially inspired this poem?

I often work on a series of poems in a notebook in my purse; this particular poem was part of a group I was fashioning from lists: failures, places I’d lived, pets I’d owned, objects I had lost.

Can you tell us a little about your process? Did you have to revise heavily to create the spontaneous, conversational style of the speaker?

I tend to write too much, make a big mess, and doodle in the margins. Then, I type the poem up, print it, and cross out the weaker lines. I keep a folder of these unwieldy attempts and later, with a clearer head, I take them out and clean up the ideas and images that have some emotional intensity or spark.

What do you hope readers will take away from your poem about the complex relationship between food and emotions?

A person must do a lot of eating to stay alive. I like literature that mentions food: I like how Hobbits eat six meals a day in Tolkien’s books, and A. A. Milne’s Pooh enjoys a little smackerel of honey at eleven o’ clock.

A person’s relationship to food is revealing. Most of my friends and family feel strongly about what they eat and why. My brother is a runner and he is devoted to organic foods with dense nutrient content. My husband is from Michigan and he is partial to food he ate during his childhood: pasties, cherries, beef with noodles, a certain brand of ginger ale. My sister and father have health problems that mean they adhere to strict diets; my mother favors chocolate when she is nervous.

I like to cook but I also like to eat out, particularly in cities, where I am always looking for good Japanese or Indian food. I like Whole Foods though I know it’s overpriced and the food is probably just lit and packaged nicely; somehow, when I’m there, eating kale from the food bar, I imagine I am improving myself.

I like the Virginia Woolf quote: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well…” I had a friend in college who pointed out to me that the grilled cheese he was eating was about to become him. “A Few Things I Ate” began as a list of foods I’d eaten but became, for me, an exploration of how those foods, as they vanished, became part of my story, part of who I am.

Do you have a favorite recipe you could share with us?

I like to make flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies in winter. They are not too sweet and I snack on them for a full week after making a batch.

Faith Shearin's Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies


  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1-1/2 cups peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Stir ingredients together in a bowl.

Scoop dough by the rounded tablespoonful onto a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before eating.

~ Recipe shared by poet Faith Shearin, as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.


Faith Shearin is the author of five books of poetry: The Owl Question (Swenson Poetry Award), The Empty House, Moving the Piano, Telling the Bees, and Orpheus Turning (2015 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize). Recent work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review and Poetry East, and has been read aloud by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. She is the recipient of awards from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work also appears in The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poets and Good Poems, American Places. She lives with her husband and daughter on top of a mountain in West Virginia.

Ice Storm on North Mountain (photo by Faith Shearin)



Thanks to all for commenting on my post about LIBBA: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.

Happy to report that the person who will be receiving a brand new copy of this fabulous book is:




Please send along your snail mail address to receive your book. 🙂 🙂 🙂

* Next Giveaway will be on Friday, March 16, for When Paul Met Artie by G. Neri and David Litchfield.


The beautiful and talented Michelle H. Barnes is hosting the Roundup at Today’s Little Ditty. Tango on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Have a nice weekend!


Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

43 thoughts on “Faith Shearin’s “A Few Things I Ate” (+ a recipe!)

  1. This is so thrilling to see Jama and Faith! I have always loved Faith’s work and love this poem. And I appreciate hearing about the writing process. . . I envy the poet who can write on and on and be forced to cut lines. . . (I’m the opposite hahaha).

    Thank you for this beautiful post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you again for the Food issue, Andrea. Love it (and your salad poem) and hope to share more poems from it in the future. 🙂


  2. Such a meaningful post, Jama – a topic that touches each of us several times a day if we’re lucky. Thanks to you and to Faith for sharing. Those last gorgeous lines of the poem took me right to the day my hubby proposed to me on a mountainside – he’d made a picnic lunch with sandwiches and little bottles of Welch grape juice and I don’t know what else. But there must have been silver foil, and a gold ring!
    (Also, re. the grilled cheese, Rudy Mancke, a naturalist on SC public radio here, shares “NatureNotes,” and he often refers to one creature eating another as “xx being recycled into a xx” – a welcome perspective!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a romantic way to propose, Robyn! Love those little bottles of grape juice. 🙂 “recycling” is one way to look at it . . .


  3. I’m inspired by this post so much that I started making a list of things I might put to verse including the ones Faith presented. I just happened to make a free verse poem on Chocolate Chip Cookies when making so many batches for Christmas bazaars and family. My history is steeped in good food and recipes. Thanks for the nudge Jama and Faith. My writing life is renewed!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the perspective of “who I am” through food, and Faith’s wonderful way of telling us about those bites, too, like “little glass wishes” and “bags of stale lies”. It makes me travel through my own eating life, wondering how I got from “there” to “here”. Thanks for a very edible post, Jama, and Faith for reminding us to look at what we eat much more closely. FYI – I had those “Pepsi times” with a grandma, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our identities are inextricably linked with our food histories. Faith’s poem got me thinking about college food too — all those packages of ramen and cup noodles, and the stash of reese’s peanut butter cups I kept in my dorm room. I like how she wove in deeper regrets as she reflected on her past.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you, Jama! What a pleasure to read this poem and your interview with Faith. There’s much here I can relate to—I found myself mm-hmming, grimacing, smiling, and nodding throughout. What I find most appealing however, are two points that you mention… the fact that it’s so conversational, so approachable, and also the fact that each line is a story unto itself. Makes me want to read more of her work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She could write a poem from each of those lines. Love the storytelling aspect of her work. Definitely need to read more of her poems.


  6. I regret drinking Tab with skim milk in it in college – trying to convince myself it was like a root beer float.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Julie — you didn’t! Tab on its own was pretty hard to swallow for me, but with skim milk? What a memory. I think you should treat yourself to a real root beer float this weekend. 😀


  7. Thanks for introducing me to Faith Shearin! Love her humour and conversational style. And I can see by her book titles–The Owl Question and Moving the Piano–that I need to check out her other poetry. We are obviously kindred spirits. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Loved this poem as well as the interview, Jama. It says in a much more elegant way, you are what you eat ;). I also loved her picnic poem which you shared last year. Her words sing. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Such a good poem. My dad is from Michigan and he still talks about his mother’s pasties. No one we know can make them. I’ve looked them up, and it seems they came over with the influx of Cornish miners to the copper mines. Food gives us fascinating connections.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s really interesting, Brenda. Of course your mention of Cornish pasties made me think of Poldark, and now I’m all aswoon over Aidan Turner. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for sharing this inspirational poem. There are so many memories tied up in the food we eat. So many regrets, so many celebrations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that one too. I always find it interesting how details that are so specific and personal could also be so universal.


    1. Glad you enjoyed Faith’s poem, Michelle. Help yourself to another bite of carrot cake. 🙂

      I know you’ll like the Libba book. Congrats again!


  11. Faith’s poem is wonderful. I don’t regret nearly as much that I’ve eaten as I should, I’m sure. There are two memorable blue snowcones that were eaten right before I went on a fair ride, twice. Those were much lamented.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Inspired by Faith, I have started several lists in my notebook.

    That photo of the ice cream sandwich elicited several visceral memories: the way my fingers would stick to the cookie part, the way the whole thing would sometimes smoosh together and squirt ice cream out the sides when you bit down, the faintly freezer burned taste of the one forgotten in the back of the freezer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The cookie part loves to stick to fingers and sometimes to the wrapper so you have to lick it off. I like making lists :)!


  13. Right from the first chicken image, I was hooked. It sent me back to 1971 when a college friend invited me to her first apartment for a meal. It was chicken. And, it was a little bloody. I ate it to be polite, but gag every time I think about undercooked chicken.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love this poem for all the reasons you mention, Jama. Faith’s writing is so inviting, just as a good hostess and meal should be. What an fascinating way to inventory a life! Thank you for introducingme to Faith’s poetry!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Now I REALLY want an ice cream sandwich! Certain foods you rarely have are just perfect every once in a while: definitely ice cream sandwiches, and also grape soda. My food regrets mostly have to do with going out to eat and actually eating everything on a giant plate instead of taking half home. (Especially fettuccine alfredo.) But there are so many happy food memories, like eating fresh blueberries, or, when I was a kid, my mom’s sausage rice casserole. Anyway, such a fun and lovely poem! Off to see if my library carries Faith’s books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sausage rice casserole — now you have me drooling. I have many good ice cream sandwich memories from childhood, also creamsicles. 🙂


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