It might come as a surprise, but food writing is not really about food. Food is not usually the main focus. More often, food writing is about people and their experiences of growing, sourcing, cooking, offering and eating food; it’s about their relationships with food, their memories associated with food, the place of food in their lives. Writing about food is writing about life.
Food writing can take many forms, from restaurant reviews to travel-and-eating stories, from memoir and fiction to recipes and market descriptions. It can explore the origins of a particular dish or explain the evolution of certain culinary traditions. Why did parsley and garlic come to represent à la provençale? Is laksa derived from a Chinese noodle soup? And when and where were noodles invented?
Food writing can be imaginative or persuasive, sensuous or educational. Food can be as much a means of expression as the focus of the writing. It might have the role of nuancing character – the choices a person makes, the way she eats – or of enhancing a setting. It can help create tension in a story: how will he react to the dish she has spent the whole day cooking? In these contexts food is less the topic than a tool of expression.
Above all, food writing should be enjoyable to read and appeal to a broad audience – hence the importance of describing flavours and textures in an honest, lively way that engages readers’ senses.
The workshop I’m running on 17 November will review a variety of styles and forms of writing about food, examining why the authors have included food and how they have written about it. It will discuss the ways to express a taste experience in words, the value of metaphor and the clichés to avoid. You’ll be asked to taste and describe a mystery food and complete a couple of brief writing tasks which will also serve as editing exercises. At the end of the day you should have a better understanding of the role of food in enhancing the appeal of your writing. Bookings are essential for this workshop.
Barbara Santich is an internationally renowned food historian and food writer. She’s the author of six books, including the award-winning Looking for Flavour, The Original Mediterranean Cuisine, and In the Land of the Magic Pudding: A Gastronomic Miscellany. Her latest book, Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage was shortlisted in the nonfiction category of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.