What does it mean to write about food today?

This is such a great question. I’ve been asked by Good Magazine to marinate on it.  It’s interesting timing as I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I would say that food writing today is an intellectual and emotional funnel to some of the most fundamental issues of our time.

For me food has never been just food, a way to sate physical appetite.  It’s been a way to learn to cook, learn about the world, make friends, build self-esteem, be social, create networks, and most importantly for me personally, give wing to dreams and intellect.  I was considered a geek and a freak.  After all, I grew up during a period when women were getting out of the kitchen like they were making a jailbreak and I was struggling to get in.  Friends were outside hanging from trees and rowing in Echo Park.  I was cooking and feeding, and reading about cooking and feeding, and reading about how cooking and feeding expresses humanity.  This last is key.

Writing about food has the abillity to connect the corporeal, the intellectual and the spiritual worlds we inhabit.  That’s why food writing is so important now.  The different expressions of the discipline (see below) have the ability to connect the mundane to the vitally important.  For how we feed ourselves, in the 21st century in the first world is a choice that has huge moral consequences.  For many, the idea that it’s a choice may be news.  For most, daily eating is a choice of the default, eg. the industrial or “Big Ag”.  There is no intention connected to it.  And yet choosing the default today with the knowledge we have of the general unsustainability of current food systems is almost an amoral choice.

So reading food writing is essential.  It encourages you to think about many seemingly disconnected threads that we weave into a whole.  Whether that whole is sustainable and delicious or horrifying and degenerative is a choice. And it can all begin with a bite of something you love and a few well chosen words on a page.

Different Expressions of the Discipline
Yummyness vs Yuckiness
Cooking Food vs Buying Food
Health vs Illness
Life or Death?  Connection vs Disconnection?
Participating in a Huge Chain of Injustice vs Sleeping at Night?

  • I think that writing about food is a way to tap into our deepest emotions and associations. Ask people about politics, their childhood, their marriage, and they will clam up. But ask them about food and ALL their feelings about all of the above will come flowing out. Food, our memories of it, our loves and hates, permeate all of our lives if only we can be asked to think about it. We can talk about our upbringing, our grandparents and parents, our geography, our fears and hopes and loves and hates. All by talking about food! And then all we writers have to do is… write about what we hear. And what we feel ourselves.

  • Christian Sedelmyer

    Evan – I agree: We make our own decisions about how we wish to consume and relate to the world and those decisions then impact the larger community. But I also think that the process of writing itself, choosing arguments to support one's purpose, is in many ways much the same. There are always various reasons to prefer a certain practice (eg. consuming from Big Ag because it's “easy” versus eating healthily and sustainably because one is educated about the moral and health consequences of doing otherwise). Likewise, there are always various methods of persuasion one can choose while writing to a certain end.

    Noting that most eat as a ‘choice of the default’, I believe it equally important for us food writers to express to people not only the moral and health consequences of choosing unsustainability, but also the ease with which one can break the habit of “the default.” For if most people make their food decisions with no connected intention, then all of the possible incentives that can be offered for people to reconsider their eating habits are both good and necessary to relay. These should certainly include moral and health concerns, but also practical and monetary concerns (cooking healthy food that was produced in a sustainable way is easier than you think and with a minimal amount of effort and foresight, can still be done on a budget). For many, the intention of grocery shopping may merely be to provide enough food for one’s family at the cheapest prices available.

    Because this is a challenge I believe food writing needs to readily address, it is also a challenge that enhances the importance of writing about food today.

    Christian Sedelmyer

  • I would like to offer several articles on food from the very pertinent angle above on food writing. I write a column called TASTE for http://www.theamericanmagazine.com and I believe many will share my ideas about food and how it relates often to preservation of essential elements, such as water ((!), one's health, and one's well-being among friends. I would love comments at ssdunaway@aol.com

  • I agree with you, Evan. Food is a vital and multilayered topic.

    I admit that sometimes I cringe when I say I'm a "food writer" (which, actually, I rarely do; I'm a writer who happens to write about food, among other topics). The term "food writer" just sounds like it's all caviar and champagne, all fluff and indulgence.

    In reality, I feel like the topic of food connects to every aspect of our lives: health, politics, social justice, culture and traditions, resource allocation, the environment.

    At the end of the day, it is one of our greatest needs: food, water, shelter.

  • Hi Evan, I loved your post and have read it several times.

    America is more obsessed with food than ever, and we can use it to our advantage to cover just about any story. It seems that there is no medium that does not cover food. Food stories hit the front page of papers and magazine covers like Time. They are blog posts that gets thousands of hits. It's a heady time. I hope we're making progress.