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Jonathan Day

The choices of a food writer

59 posts in this topic

John I've spoken to Jason Perlow, our founder, on your behalf and he has agreed to grant you a free subscription to eGullet so that you can post here anytime you want.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I wish I could be more articulate regarding this topic. I read "food writing" voraciously, and I am more often unsatisfied than otherwise with it. However, there are exceptions. I read Calvon Trillin, and, once I stop laughing and dry my eyes, I come away thinking this man knows and loves food more than anyone, and some of that enthusiasm has rubbed off on me. I read Thorne and come away breathless at the erudition, historical depth and philosophical perspective he brings to the table. Ed Behr, on the other hand, leaves me cold. His knowledge about and commitment to food is unquestioned, but his essays are deadly dull. Laurie Colwin's short gems are well worth a second or third read. Cook's Illustrated reads like so many lab experiment worksheets. MFK Fisher's writing is just plain awesome, even if it is in large part "reporting". But it is also so much more.

I don't look for mere reporting. Any hack can competently tell me what a visit to this or that restaurant is like, or what Spring in Les Marches has to offer. If I trust the hack's taste, his reports can be useful, but I wouldn't otherwise value the writing per se. This is why food mags in general are impossible to read and enjoy. There is way too much reportage being written and far too few stories or reflections based on personal experiences and struggles.


Edited by spqr (log)

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You can't do that with [M.F.K. Fisher's] writing; it just stands there like a rock. And a rock is something that you notice, even admire, but steer around and keep going.

You make it sound like an obstruction in a highway, something to be avoided. Is that what you meant? I would've said a buoy marking a channel, or perhaps a monument on a vast plain in the desert that serves as a beacon for future travellers to navigate by. You take your bearings (and keep going).

There are monuments of various sizes in that desert, but some are bigger than others and therefore easier to navigate by. And travellers who try to chip away at the monuments of others have less time to build their own. Just a thought. :smile:

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I wrote that last night just before going to bed, and my thoughts were a little slow. I think your description is great: if you're the right sort of person, they're there to ponder, admire, puzzle about, even, yes, navigate by, as I have used Richard Olney and Patience Gray both. M.F.K. Fisher, like the other two, actually, were (are) subscribers; I wrote an essay, "Loving to Cook," immediately after reading Fisher's essay in the first edition of The Journal of Gastronomy. It wasn't written in imitation or in homage or in argument; it just came bursting out. Maybe a little of all three, but not intentionally. Thanks.

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Good food writing is like pornography. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

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spqr....Thank you for (unknowingly) expressing my thoughts much better than I could have. I echo you completely.


Lobster.

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It strikes me that we're all speaking of "food writing" as if it's a homogeneous category, when there are really many different species of food writing, all with different qualities. ...

I'd bet that if we chose a topic at random and each of us here wrote about it, we'd all write something good, but there'd be nothing in common among our results except the general subject. And that's what's so wonderful about "food writing"; there's room for just about anything as long as it's well done.

I agree. I love food: I love cooking it, I love eating it, I love shopping for it, I love reading recipes. But I'm also interested in food from a ...I guess an analytical, or sociological perspective. I'm interested in food in itself, and also in how it relates to other stuff. And I don't think that one approach is somehow more or less legitimate than another.

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