You're listening to From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy, a food and culture podcast. I'm Alicia Kennedy, a food writer based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Every week on Wednesdays, I'll be talking to different people in food and culture, about their lives, careers, and how it all fits together and where food comes in.
This week, I'm talking to Millicent Souris, someone I have long wanted to make my friend. Millicent is to me just wildly cool. She talks about food equity and drinking bourbon, and there was no one I would rather talk to you about the dichotomy of being politically engaged with food justice, and also stocking your pantry with very nice olive oil. She's also one of my favorite food writers period; her pieces in Brooklyn Based, Bon Appetit, Diner Journal—they kind of redefined the genre. As a longtime line cook who now runs a soup kitchen and food pantry in New York City, she's someone who simply knows food—its highs and lows and is cool as hell. Did I say that already?
Alicia Kennedy: Hi, Millicent. How are you, Millicent?
Millicent Souris: I'm doing all right. How are you, Alicia?
Alicia: Did I say your name right?
Alicia: Actually, we should have done that before. [Laughs.]
Millicent: I know. Yeah, my name is Millicent. And is Alicia correct for you?
Alicia: Yes. Alicia is correct.
Alicia: Yeah, I'm Alicia sometimes, but only if you're a Spaniard. [Laughs.]
Millicent: Fair, I'm not going to pretend…
Alicia: Yeah, yeah…well, can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate?
Millicent: Yeah, I grew up in Baltimore County, north of Baltimore City, and in Towson, Maryland, and Lutherville, Maryland—which is of course home to John Waters and Divine, and also in North Baltimore County.
So my dad's parents had immigrated from Greece, so I grew up eating Greek food. And then my mom's family had a dairy farm, so I grew up drinking—when I was up there—unpasteurized milk, which I would say about 10 years ago, I made the connection was raw milk. And country food, you know—my grandfather would grow his own corn and tomatoes and zucchini, and that would be summertime. We ate a lot of crabs in the summer, because it's Maryland, and then also, like, oysters were definitely a part of my mom's family. Like we'd have oysters stuffing and raw oysters at Thanksgiving, because her dad would bring them and shuck them.
But then also because it's the ’70s and ’80s, straight-up s****y American processed food, was a gift, you know, for our household because my mom worked and my dad worked, and there's three of us. And, you know, even on the farm, my uncle and his wife, they would buy Steak-umms, even though they had ground beef from the steers that they sent to slaughter. You know, we would drink Tang, and we ate Stouffer’s lasagna, so it was a real hodgepodge, I think, of all that stuff.
And then there was, when my mom left my dad and there was the episode called “divorce food,” which was Lean Cuisines and Hamburger Helper and La Choy and a lot of Mandarin oranges in tins.
Alicia: Wow. Yeah. Was that on behalf of your mom’s side?
Millicent: That was on my mom's side. And then my dad would just take us to his friends’ restaurants or bars and we’d eat there.
Alicia: [Laughs.] My parents, when they got divorced, I always say, when I knew something was going wrong was when my mom started to make instant mashed potatoes.
Alicia: I was already like, 20. So it wasn't like I was a kid. But you know it was always seared in my mind that the instant mashed potatoes were the beginning of the end.
Millicent: It's the tell…it’s the tell… except I, when I did eat instant mashed potatoes and I think I was 21 I first had them, I was like, What is this magical stuff that just turns into mashed potatoes?
Alicia: No, it's super cool.
Millicent: It's…I mean, science. It's science.
Alicia: Yeah, well, you know, as you were just talking abou