Monday, May 9, 2011

Novelist, poet, food writer. Huh? What's a food writer?

You ARE a writer!

That was perhaps the main message from a three hour seminar I attended last Saturday on food writing. Although the official title included "What Makes Good Food Writing," I wondered more about what makes food writing good, but that's more philosophical. I also wondered if anyone else in the room actually writes regularly, since if you don't write, you're not a writer. Writers write, ne?

Food writing. It's really just writing, though. Same rules. The ones I'm breaking in this paragraph, in fact. It can be academic, fiction, non-fiction, humorous or deadly serious. And yes, it can be mortally boring if not done correctly.

This genre may not even explicitly name the food, its preparation or even delve into culinary depths.  Then there are works like Como Agua para Chocolate that are all about food, but aren't really. The food and social interactions just carry the main story line. Are they food writing or social commentary? How many literary genre tags can you slap onto something before they start to blur into a haze of meaningless babble?

According to the lecture, this genre of writing goes back a long way, with an illustrious history. Hemingway himself was mentioned as being a food writer. I guess the Old Man and the Sea really was about food since he wasn't in that boat for a whale watching expedition. Right? What would Hemingway have thought about being named a food writer, right up there with Betty Crocker?

So, a short essay. Food writing or not?

The boy sat on a weathered log as the sun sank beneath a far-off ridge, carefully unscrewing his last Oreo. He scraped the frosting off with his new upper teeth, savoring the grainy cream as he chewed slowly. He bit into the chocolate, now a bit stale after two days in his pocket. As night fell, he moved back into his shelter in the rocks, hugging his jacket tightly. Once again, he asked himself why he had to leave the trail to chase a dragonfly.

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