In MFK Fisher’s book, The Gastronomical Me, she begins her forward with these paragraphs:
People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?
They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.
The words struck me, because they are something I have pondered much over the years … and, with slightly different words, I am often asked about as well. After beginning as a newspaper reporter who focused on crime, punishment and politics, my career took a dramatic shift when I traded that for food writing. It seems like a fabulous writing prompt. So, here it goes …
Why I Write about Food and Eating
Crafting an answer to this question is much like the chicken and egg debate: which came first? My interest or my passion? My intent or the strong pull? The need or the want? It’s really hard to say.
But at its most basic level, I write about food because it’s happy, life-affirming and something enjoyed by many (myself included, of course). While food politics can polarize us in unbelievable ways, food itself brings people together — families over Sunday dinner, friends for a birthday celebration, coworkers for lunch. Food is something we need to survive, and also take pleasure in enjoying.
Of course, there is more to it than that. I began writing about food because I needed to do something other than writing about people at their lowest lows. Becoming a mother changed me, and I could no longer stomach the ins and outs of researching, interviewing and reporting on crime, punishment and politics. (And although the final one is a separate topic than the first two, it is more closely related than it appears.) Sure, I wrote plenty about urban development, an admittedly less macabre subject, but it didn’t lessen the need to find a new writing passion.
But writing about food wasn’t just an out for me — it was a whole new outlet. It allowed me to explore my craft in a way I never had before: with passion, feeling and emotion. While journalism is dry, food writing is explosive. The creative surge that comes with describing a tender, irresistible souffle was a greater pleasure than anything I’d experienced in writing before. It was, to borrow a phrase from Trent Reznor, the perfect drug. Once I started, I couldn’t imagine giving it up.
Moreover though, my passion is about the eating. More specifically, eating together. Food has, throughout my life, brought me together with my friends and family. Wings at a favorite bar. Shared platters of wat and tibs, served with warm injera. Olives eaten off fingertips. Bowls of sizzling Bi Bim Bap. Perfectly seared steaks. Creamy risottos, brimming with artichokes, herbs and olives. Food is love.
Food has its dark side too – the stories of hunger, of school lunches that fail to nourish, of waste and pollution, of life-threatening allergies … and I don’t shy from that aspect. It would be grossly unfair to write about the joys of food and eating without acknowledging the challenges and dangers too many face. Those are important and necessary pursuits in a food writing career as well.
But when I write about food, most often it’s about nourishing and the enjoyment factor. Those are, without a doubt, my favorite aspects about the pursuit. Writing about food, by extension, just makes me happy.
Readers, I am turning this back to you: If you are a food writer, why do you write about food? If you are a food writing reader, why do you read it? Share in the comments!