Food is any nutrient-rich material consumed by animals or plants in order to sustain life and keep body functions working properly. It is a basic human need and an important aspect of culture, religion, and tradition. Food is also a major topic of debate and discussion regarding nutrition, health, obesity, sustainability, environmental issues, and globalization.
The food system involves a complex network of producers, processors, transporters, and consumers. It affects the environment, economic development, social and political policies, and individual health. Because of its central role in every society, it is a rich source of stories and ideas for writing. The possibilities for a wide range of worthy topics are limitless: food reviews, blogs, long and short journalism (from profiles to investigative pieces), culinary fiction, memoir, the culinary mystery, non-fiction food history, and foodways (with a full-on anthropological concentration).
In many parts of the world, access to adequate food is limited by poverty, unemployment, climate change, and geographic factors. In addition, food security has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused reduced incomes, higher food prices, and rerouting of freight.
Food has always been an integral part of culture, not just a way to survive but a source of comfort and celebration. The early humans were hunter-gatherers, depending on the natural food resources in their immediate environment; later, they developed agriculture and animal husbandry. The food habits of people vary from region to region, reflecting their cultural values and social status.
When it comes to food writing, the key is in finding a fresh angle that will engage the reader’s sense of smell, sight, taste and touch. Think beyond the standard descriptions of a dish, and consider who prepared it and its ingredients; what about the surroundings and atmosphere contributes to its overall experience? This can be especially helpful in describing ethnic and regional dishes, where the emphasis is on preserving traditional practices.
Avoid using words like “odd,” “strange,” and “weird” when referring to a particular cuisine or meal, because these can imply a lack of understanding of the culture, traditions, and values of the people who practice that cuisine. The goal of good food writing is to give readers a multi-sensory, authentic experience that enables them to imagine themselves in the place and time where the dish originated. This can be accomplished by using vivid, sensory language and a keen sensitivity to the context of the food you’re discussing. The more you open up to this approach, the more interesting your writing will be! And who knows, you might even start to enjoy cooking and eating more! -Meredith G. Williams, Associate Editor