Eating Authors: Terri Favro

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Terri Favro

As you know, Bob, yesterday was World Elephant Day. Tomorrow is the release of The Moons of Barsk, my second novel featuring anthropomorphic elephants. But let’s stay in the present and talk about the elephant in the room (for want of a better segue), which is this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Terri Favro.

Terri lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. She produces copy and content for everything from direct mail ads to websites to print and radio. She’s writes essays and graphic novels and novels. Last month, her novel Sputnik’s Children, landed her on the short list for the Sunburst Awards, which are given out in recognition of Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Really, that’s all the endorsement you should need to go pick up a copy.

Earlier this year she released Generation Robot, a nonfiction volume looking at the history of our ever-changing relationship with robotics and technology that will change the way you envision the future (not to mention your household appliances).

LMS: Welcome, Terri. Let’s talk about your most memorable meal.

TF: I’m Italian. Okay, not a real Italian: I was born in Canada – near Niagara Falls – to parents from the Old Country who grew up (as my relatives in Torino liked to put it) “under the Queen”. Our status as British subjects was their way of distinguishing us from my mother’s American cousins, who ran a restaurant in (ironically) Queens, New York: all of us in the New World were, to the Italian way of thinking, “Americans.”

Sputnik's Children

But other than a taste for Red Rose Tea (a brand only available in Canada, so Mom was in the bizarre habit of carrying tea bags in her purse whenever she and Dad travelled to Italy), my parents were, as all real Italians are, food snobs. My mother judged people by what they cooked and what she saw in their kitchens. A jar of mayonnaise or a potato salad marked you out as déclassé. We lived in an immigrant neighbourhood of Italians, Poles and Ukrainians, and Mom was not above making snide remarks about the neighbours’ perogi and cabbage rolls. Outside of a nice, hot cuppa tea, British cuisine was marked out for particular scorn. Yorkshire Pudding was a mysterious menu item we saw on our occasional trips to restaurants in the big city (Toronto); I assumed it was a dessert until I was invited home for Sunday dinner by an English-born boyfriend in university and discovered it was a cream puff full of gravy. I found it exotic.

Because of my Italian-ish-ness (and despite the Britishness of the long-lost Canada of my youth), life for me has been a series of spectacular meals. My Nonna’s tortellini al brodo and penne arrabbiatta were so good that they set a high bar below which my Nonno refused to limbo: any meal served to him that he judged inferior to Nonna’s, he would throw out the nearest window – and yes, I actually saw him do it. My mother’s polenta with sauce, risotto Milanese, minestrone, creamy Alfredo sauce and the salads she made from dandelion leaves picked near our backyard vineyard were amazing. And those were just day-to-day meals. A special occasion meant she hauled out the big guns, like stuffed manicotti, baked cannelloni or a big, crazy lasagna that was an all-hands-on-deck enterprise for everyone in the family.

Once Upon a Time in West Toronto

So my most memorable meal is not one of the great ones, but the first truly tragic one. It was the one I ate after my grandfather died and my mother was too upset to cook. Neighours rushed to our door laden with home cooked meals (mostly the aforementioned perogis and cabbage rolls) as well as delicacies I had never had before, jello salad being a standout. (Peas and carrots suspended in green transparent slime, like sea monkeys in the backs of comic books – I thought this was very cool an space age-y, if devoid of actual taste.)

But at some point in the grieving process, possibly before the neighbours arrived with real food, we did something that we had never done before: we ordered a meal from a take-out chain: a bucket of Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In the midst of all the sadness, the appearance of the bucket was thrilling. The greasy, bony, stringy chicken eaten with my fingers. The fake-tasting coating. The French fries – chips were a rare treat, something even my mother approved of, but never made.

After consuming all that greasy deliciousness, I was made to wash my hands, put on a scratchy dress and go to the funeral home. I was seven years old. I was shocked by the sight of my grandfather’s corpse stretched out on white satin with a rosary snaking through his fingers, even though he wasn’t particularly religious. Nonno was a much loved storyteller in our family whose recounting of grisly, magical and strangely sexy Italian fairytales probably set me on my way to becoming a writer of grisly, magical and strangely sexy novels. The room was a fug of roses, holy water and old lady perfume.

Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation

The sight of my dead grandfather, the heaviness of the air, the sweetness of the flowers – I didn’t throw up exactly – well, maybe a little bit in my mouth – but I must have looked ill because someone ushered me into the foyer where there were fewer smells and less people. No one comforted me: I was left to cry it out alone, a bundle of queasy grief. And at the back of my mouth was the unmistakable aftertaste of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

There have been two long-term consequences from this experience. One was that the scene in the funeral home imprinted itself not only on my memory but on the work that I would write as an adult: a meal of take-out fried chicken, followed by a funeral, has appeared more than once in my fiction, non-fiction and even a digital storytelling series on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).

And the other thing: not surprisingly, I can’t eat KFC. I can’t even pass one of their stores and smell that distinctive fragrance of grease and artificial spices without feeling that a tragedy of operatic proportions is about to take place.

Thanks, Terri. Just goes to show, there was a time I did my writing, five or six days a week, at a corner booth of a KFC. This went on for more than two years. So, I think I’ve eaten your share.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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author photo by Ayelet Tsabari.

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