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trillium

essays that provoke the most attention

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Hi there,

Thanks for taking time to hang out here.

When I've read your books they reminded me of Roland Barthes and the whole "denunciation of the self proclaimed petit-bourgeois myths", truth vs. rhetoric, writerly vs. readerly text thing, except you write about food instead of Greta Garbo. Why do you think you get the most attention when you skewer female food writers?

regards,

trillium

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Hmm. Is this a loaded question, or what? :unsure: For the record, let me note that I've printed stinging reviews of just as many male food writers, including (most recently) Christopher Kimball and Clifford Wright. However, to try to answer your question: both the essay about Martha Stewart and the one about Paula Wolfert touched a nerve and it wasn't all that surprising to hear from readers who felt that someone had at last put into words what they actually thought...or realized they thought once they read the piece. The interesting thing to me was that Martha Stewart wrote me a letter in reply whereas Paula Wolfert never spoke or wrote to me again, but I found myself being publically chastised (most memorably by Jeffrey Steingarten in Vogue but by others as well) for treating a public treasure so roughly. The only explanation anyone could come up with was that I must be jealous of her. This accusation still makes no sense to me. Jealous of what? It's like a dog being jealous of a cat. So, you're comment about getting the most attention is more of a two-edged blade than you may realize. Roland Barthes' MYTHOLOGIES had a profound influence on me -- I'm truly delighted that you have observed the connection, as tenuous as it is. (Here it is like comparing steel to tin.)

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_Mythologies_ was exactly what I was thinking about when I read _Outlaw Cook_.

I'm very aware that you've written just as stingingly about male food writers, I in no way meant to imply otherwise. I guess what I felt was so interesting was that the essays on Paula Wolfert and Martha Stewart, both female, seemed to garner a lot more attention (both negative and positive) from readers and "the press" then your other work... just look at your bio that was posted here at eGullet!

regards,

trillium

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Trillium, as the compiler of that bio let me say that I hope that gender wasn't the relevant issue. The sense I was trying to convey was: John not only criticised Martha Stewart (after all, lots of people did that) but he also took on Paula Wolfert, whom nobody had dared even to question. If it had been Pepin rather than Wolfert, the same rhetorical purpose would have been served.

That said, John, I share Trillium's curiosity as to why these essays attracted so much attention.


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I got into a correspondence with Jim Harrison about this, pointing out that the literary world was large enough, confident enough, and multifarious enough to support vigorous debate and very different schools of writing. The food world, for the most part, is a large club where you have, for example, Jeffrey Steingarten writing about how wonderful Corby Kummer's new book is almost at the exact time that Corby Kummer is writing about how wonderful Jeffrey Steingarten's new book is. The problem here (assuming that both books are in fact wonderful) is that criticism becomes all about quality of text whereas the most interesting criticism (for me) is that of colliding world views, something that's not going to happen if an editor at the Atlantic Monthly and a columnist (and for all I know, contributing editor) at Vogue get into the ring together. One of the results of this is that there is a lot of gossip and backbiting behind the scenes. When I wote my essay on Paula Wolfert, whom I greatly admire for all her flaws, I received private communications of amazing viciousness about her from people who, in her presence, no doubt act as though they were best friends. This is understandable -- get along to go along -- but it isn't good. And it means that some very good food writing gets left in the shadows. Or, worse still, it doesn't get written because there's really no place for it.

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An interesting footnote. Jeffrey told us at an Oldways conference that he writes, incongruously, for Vogue because the publisher happens to be an enthusiastic fan. There was an occasion on which Jeffrey wrote a particularly stinging condemnation of a food product which lost Vogue an enormous amount of money in pulled advertising, but he only heard about it by accident several months later. Now, that's what I call editorial permissiveness.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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And it means that some very good food writing gets left in the shadows. Or, worse still, it doesn't get written because there's really no place for it.
You'll recall that I was once invited to contribute to a certain prestigious food magazine, and that when I suggested an in-depth piece on you or Alice Waters, you were both dismissed as "predictable visionaries". Sigh.
Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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