Writing About Food

Food is any nutrient-rich material eaten by organisms for energy and sustenance. The human consumption of food has a profound effect on global ecology, cultural diversity and social history. There are many different forms of food writing, including food reviews, blogs, long and short journalism (from profiles to investigative pieces), memoir, culinary mysteries, non-fiction food history and foodways (with a full-on anthropological concentration). All the same rules of good writing apply to all these genres of writing: voice, style, description, accuracy, knowledge and research, grammar and punctuation, and diction and tone.

Food has always played a central role in human society, providing not just nourishment but also a means of expression of culture and identity, as well as a marker of class and status. Prehistoric humans were hunter-gatherers and relied on the bounty of nature for their meals. When agriculture and animal husbandry began to develop, humans had the ability to rely more on crops and other cultivated foods.

In recent times, the development of genetic engineering and molecular gastronomy has opened new avenues for preparing and presenting food. For example, the use of DNA sequencing has allowed the identification of rare species and the creation of new food products based on their genetic makeup. Other developments have included the development of microwave-based cooking, the creation of food processing and packaging technologies, and new ways of preserving and storing foods.

When food is written about, it should be primarily about the experience of eating that food rather than simply its ingredients and properties. Writing that focuses solely on the flavor, texture and appearance of a dish can quickly become dull. A great way to avoid this is to focus on what happens as the dish is being consumed, such as when Richman describes the sausage: “the squirt of oil, the slurp of juice, the flash of a tooth against flesh.”

Aside from creating a multi-sensory experience for readers, focusing on the process of eating can also make an article more interesting and informative. For example, Murakami’s descriptions of the process of frying eggs and the way in which the aromas rise up through the kitchen window are intriguing and help to bring readers into the moment.

One thing to keep in mind when describing food is that it’s important to avoid the use of derogatory words when referring to other cultures’ cuisines. Although it may be tempting to describe a foreign dish as odd, strange or weird, such language can carry negative connotations and indicate an insufficient worldview on the part of the writer. Instead, it is more ethical to focus on how a particular cuisine has been traditionally prepared and enjoyed by the people who have made it part of their culture.