Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Food and writing

One a favorite blog, a recent post related the interview of a noted food writer and editor. She comments that prospective food writers must elicit all 5 senses, not merely that of taste.

While a great deal of food writing revolves around cookbooks, travel books (with a focus on food and travel), or blogs and magazines that are food-centric, there are many books, literary in scope which call to the food lover in all of us. Sometimes, it is only the reference to a sweet or savory that reminds us of a writer (Proust would be the most famous of that lot). Growing up, a memorable passage in a semi-autobiographical series about a Yorkshire vet was reading how he managed to down a plate of lard placed in front of him by friendly farmers by partnering each forkful with pickled vegetables.

On a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, a writer came up with his favorite references to food in literature. I agree that Like Water for Chocolate has to be there. But what of Chocolat? I remember my salivary glands going into overdrive while reading that book (it was on a plane going to the US and being deprived of a decent meal may have made it worse).

In the New Yorker, a more in depth essay about food and writing is worth a long leisurely read for lines like:

"Cooking is to our literature what sex was to the writing of the sixties and seventies, the thing worth stopping the story for to share, so to speak, with the reader."

The writer details the four kinds of literary food writing: that used as mere furniture in a piece, the form that takes a social or symbolic reference to the characters, the obsessed reference to food and sharing of it with readers, and finally, food as part of the essence of the book, if not a main character. And he also relates his attempts to recreate dishes portrayed in literature, like the bouillabaisse in McEwan's "Saturday". I've read of similar attempts, having dinners inspired by food from the Bible, or a Shakesperean buffet. I have yet to attempt a recreation from a favorite book.

"The that we find in modern literature ...represents, rather than actually reproduces, our mental life—a modelled illusion, rather than a snapshot of the thing."

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Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies