Food is not just something we consume to sustain our bodies and minds; it can also tell a story of our culture, history and ourselves. Whether we’re writing a restaurant review, a piece of culinary fiction or an academic research paper, all the rules that apply to any other kind of writing — voice, style, description and accuracy, knowledge and research — apply to writing about food.
People have many different diets around the world, and these are influenced by many factors, including geography and culture, climate and availability of crops and animals. For example, in cool regions with short growing seasons, people eat more root vegetables and winter squash; in warm, wet lowlands, rice is a staple. Within a country, people’s diets can differ widely between regions, cities and families.
Good nutrition requires a balance of different foods to supply all the essential nutrients that humans and animals need. The major sources of food are plants and animals. Animals, such as cattle and poultry, provide most of the meat consumed in the world. They are also a significant source of milk and eggs. Plants are the primary source of protein for all organisms, and they provide energy by converting solar energy into a form that can be used by organisms.
All foods are processed in some way, and the degree of processing depends on the intended use of the food. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy, and meats. Processed foods are those that have been modified by freezing, canning, cooking, salting, or smoking, and that may also contain additives to enhance flavor or improve texture or preservation. Examples of processed foods include cookies, candies, soda, and junk food.
The food we eat says a lot about our culture and lifestyle, and it’s an important part of our daily lives. The choices we make about what to eat say even more about ourselves. For instance, a person who prefers spicy foods might have a preference for spice that is a result of learning to love spicy foods as a child. The fact that someone has a food allergy or intolerance can be a personal story in and of itself, as well.
In general, writing about food should avoid using cliched or overused words such as “delicious” and “tasty.” Writing that is too simplistic or glib can come across as inauthentic and unprofessional. It is especially important to not trivialize or exploit the cultural significance of a particular cuisine by using derogatory or stereotypical names, and to avoid any kind of discrimination in discussing the preparation and consumption of food. This is particularly important in writing about ethnic and indigenous cuisines, where the use of stereotyped language can contribute to feelings of alienation and exclusion. In addition, it is generally not appropriate to refer to a cuisine that has been discovered by outsiders as being “unique” or “new,” as this can have connotations of colonialism and imperialism.