What does it mean to write about food today?
GOOD Magazine’s recently launched food section is hosting a blog festival this week! I’m really excited to be a part of an amazing and diverse group of people who will be writing and discussing what it means to write about food today.
When I first moved to New York City, I was so moved by the sights and sounds of my new home that I started chronicling my experiences in an online public journal. The food writing part was purely accidental: I started reading about the new up-and-coming restaurants and I tried to visit as many as I could afford because I wanted to experience them.
As a graduate student in the sciences though, something about food piqued my academic interests. It was mystifying that various ingredients and seasonings can come together into a complex dish but it was especially interesting when a dish had the ability to confuse your senses. Is it the chemistry? Or is it something in the human brain?
I started to read books and articles about food, specifically molecular gastronomy. I was instantly fascinated. The first food post I wrote (on my online journal) was about that play between form and flavors, and the science of the senses and taste. Like many food bloggers, I also wrote about interesting recipes I tried or new recipes I concocted. Writing about my thoughts on food and science was a great outlet for me, particularly at a time when I was writing my thesis. Unsurprisingly, more people became interested in what I had to say about food than my mundane everyday life, and so my online journal became a food blog.
Given my scientific background, I often think about the way that technology has revolutionized academia—particularly the way knowledge is published and acquired. Food writing has also been revolutionized. We can swap new recipes or an innovative cooking technique with the click of a “share” button on our Facebook page. Blogs and forums have given people who might never meet in person the ability to exchange information so everyone can freely discuss or critique anything from the hottest new restaurant to the best way to make fried chicken. We can learn about cooking techniques from our favorite cooking shows and we can learn about where our pork chop comes from by watching a Netflix documentary. We have access to so much information nowadays that we can figure out almost anything, from the nutritional value of peas to the ethical practices of a farm, with the click of a button (or two). Everyone can be an “authority” if they choose to be.
And in today’s culture, in which celebrities are cooks, and chefs are celebrities, you also see food bloggers with book deals and cooking shows. Food is now cool, and cooking is now glamorous in a way that they never were before: in a conversation with Bruce Cole, a former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mario Batali said, “Twenty years ago if you were going to be a cook, it was because you didn’t make it in the army. It was the last stop before you were on the street.”
Alongside this increasing cultural obsession with food comes a shift in what people want to see in food writing. No one wants to learn how to whip up a simple meatball casserole anymore; today, they want to learn how to cook meatballs sous-vide. Forget going to your local supermarket chain, your neighbor just started a community garden on the roof, and now you want to learn how to grow your own tomatoes. While knowledge is now within our reach, finding topics that reach the audience is increasingly difficult because everything can be found on the Internet. How do you write something original that doesn’t make a beginning food enthusiast feel inept but does not insult the chef reader? What food topic has not been excessively talked about? How does one write about culinary trends in a fresh direction?
In a world where information is only a click away, everyone is a critic, and social media platforms offer new technological opportunities, then, perhaps the food writing of the future means creating discussion about food, promoting the exchange of ideas, and building opportunities for community participation? Moving forward, is the primary role of the food writer to facilitate conversation, rather than communicate knowledge?
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