Miss me? Yes, I’ve been gone a month. Sat at the computer in February and thought yeah, I need a break. The posts felt stale, my writing felt stale, my spirit felt stale. Every word out of my mouth felt rehashed. Despite my best efforts I’m still caving to what I “think” (notice the quotes) my audience wants rather than speaking what I know to be true. Once again I’m a slave to the hit counter, a servant of search engines. Ick.
I drift aimlessly about the Interwebs and all I see is an ocean of sometimes good but mostly bad food bloggery. How do I stand out while still retaining my unique voice? Is it even unique? I’m not saying anything others haven’t said better. Millions spouting off about organic or Monsanto or microgreens or nuclear dry ice gastronomy or pickled lamb intestines. It’s boring. Especially to my gadabout ADHD mind which flits along, attempting to find something new and interesting on the Interwebs related to food.
Today marks the 4th anniversary of this blog, which began as “edible cville” a space for a then-new Cvillian to jot down thoughts on restaurants. To her joy she also found talented purveyors of artisanal food, passionate brewers of beer and cider, elegant growers of wine and uber-passionate chefs. Expanding the site was in order, adding local food news, recipes, and musings. Further down the line a name change to reflect the owner’s personality. Along the way she fought to define and stand by her voice despite the numerous requests to become Charlottesville’s food source warehouse as well as repeated requests to review food apps and Kraft-produced products, ‘cause that ain’t quite how she rolls.
What now? My gut told me I needed an inspiration break. A time to reflect and re-evaluate, and find a reminder why I was still doing this. When you spend an afternoon Pinteresting your food pictures then surfing through hundreds of popular food blogs shaking your head at the shitty content you get a little discouraged. You need a nice inspirational kick in the ass to get you back on your feet. To stop writing and instead fill your soul with the stuff that inspired you.
That stuff? Food writing. Not the blurbs and snippets you find on the Interwebs but full-fledged pieces, by writers like M.F.K. Fischer, A.J. Liebling, Calvin Trillin and Joseph Mitchell. I re-read them, studied them, listened to their voice, their word choice, where they were coming from, and what they were trying to say. By the end of March, I found inspiration enough to stand tall as a writer, to push away all the “oh so helpful” suggestions for how my blog could be better, attract more readers, appear higher in search engines, have more likes, yadda yadda. I don’t care about that shit. All I want is to have good content. That’s it. To be able to read something I wrote and think, “Yes, this is good.” To not be afraid to fail. To ignore the naysayers of which there’s always a few, and to continually eat food, write about it, and never get discouraged or lose my passion.
Food writing brought me to this place. Real, fully-realized food writing is a beautiful thing. I still can’t believe it took me 30+ years to discover it. With my first reading of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential I marveled at the content while lamenting not once had I come close to this subject matter during my time as an English major. I felt betrayed by my professors for not showing me the way and hated myself because um, DUH, of course food writing beyond cookbooks exists. In a big way. If you can have an entire bookstore full of travel books (Notting Hill anyone?) why not food? Not cookbooks, but food WRITING, the eating of food, the production of food, the process of creating good food, the memoir of food. I was so ignorant I didn’t even know what a Proustian Moment was (look it up kids).
Bourdain’s book changed everything. I searched out others, and to my delight found enough food writing to last me the rest of my life, enough to fill 3 bookstores. Re-reading my favorites brought me back to myself and once again reminded me why the hell I’m doing this. Do yourself a favor if you’re a foodie. Pick up one or all of these books and read them immediately. You won’t regret it.
SEVEN ESSENTIAL PIECES OF FOOD WRITING
Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
The second book I read, and still my absolute favorite. Michael Ruhlman masterfully describes the world of Chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame, the early career of Michael Symon, and three chefs’ attempts to become Certified Masters at the Culinary Institute of America. After I finished I was ready to run off to culinary school. I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for this book because it was the one which convinced me to become a food writer.
Best Food Writing _____ (fill in a year)
I love this series, and always pack one for vacation reading. Each year a different editor selected from the food world collects the best articles printed from magazines, newspapers, and increasingly, blogs. The best of the best in one nice, neat little package. Always wonderful. I love re-reading the old ones to see how certain food trends fall in and out of fashion (i.e., molecular gastronomy, cupcakes, and shiso)
Consider The Oyster by M.F.K. Fisher
M.F.K. Fisher’s masterpiece on the mollusk. A compact little book on how oysters are grown, harvested, cooked and eaten. Poetic and wonderful and hilariously funny. Whenever my prose feels stale I pick up this book and let it fall open to any page. Fisher’s writing is sparkling like the champagne she imbibes with each briny treasure.
Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
By far Bourdain’s best. At this point I’ve poured over every word the man has put to paper (including his fiction). I loved A Cook’s Tour, but Medium Raw gets my vote. Someone said all the best artists steal and I’ll fully admit, when I write I’m constantly attempting to emulate the man’s honesty and grit. He pulls no punches and holds nothing back. I aspire to do the same. What I love about Medium Raw is you can hear Bourdain’s voice softening somewhat with the advent of fatherhood, but he still retains his coarse, opinionated charged use of words. He’s still got that edge but now it has a touch more depth. Nice.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s Paris in all its glory. I adored this book in college for its manly prose. I’d never been to Paris, but reading Hemingway helped me imagine I was there. It wasn’t until years later I realized the real reason I loved this book was for its description of eating white wine with oysters in a Paris bistro. Still the most perfect piece of food writing I’ve ever read anywhere. Fuck Proust, Hemingway embodied the moment like nobody else and I’ve never been able to eat oysters the same way again.
Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink
Eighty years of food and drink articles from The New Yorker collected into one behemoth of a book. I opened this book at Christmas and clapped my hands like I’d just won the lottery. I still love when a book I imagine in my head, one I never thought existed, suddenly appears as if by magic. I poured over its 600 pages in a month and am ready to do so again. All the greats are here: Buford, Mitchell, McPhee, Bourdain, Gladwell, even Dorothy Parker. A food writer’s paradise.
The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin
The best, best, BEST autobiography of anyone in the food industry. Chef Pépin’s beautiful writing style and heartfelt life story will have you wanting to move to France. Or at least give him a great big ol’ hug should you ever have the good fortune to meet him. An instant classic.
There are HUNDREDS of others. Penguin has even put out a “Great Food Series” a group of some of the best and brightest over the past 150 years or so. Pick one up sometime.
Part of what makes fully-realized food writing special is that it’s hard to find. Aside from short “blurbs” in food magazines and food trending snippets in the paper, food STORIES are hidden. Jeffrey Steingarten’s food writing appears in Vogue almost every month, there’s the occasional piece in The New York Times Magazine, and various nuggets of food writing deliciousness appear in places like The Wall Street Journal, Wired, or even Playboy. I like that food writing offline is not so omnipresent. You have to look for it. And the quality is always 150 percent better. Finding a great food article is like finding an extra fry in the bottom of the carton you thought was empty. A treat and a treasure.
Stepping off my soapbox now. But one last item of business.
When I started the blog I figured I’d put together some words a few times a week and call it a day. I never expected the intense highs and lows. It’s a tough business, like plate spinning. If you don’t keep ‘em spinning or look away, they fall and your spectators wander off, or give oh-so-helpful suggestions on how you can spin plates better. I applaud anyone who attempts blogging because it takes courage, a thick skin, and tenacity. Readers can be merciless.
By the same token when you publish a piece that resonates, it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s why I keep doing this. It’s not about hits or likes or marketability. It’s about connection. If I can make that connection even once out of every 1,000 times I sit and do this thing then I’ve succeeded.
Meeting so many amazing new people, experiencing and learning so much about food, and forging so many connections have been the greatest of rewards, ones I never expected but value so very much. Moving forward I will continue to re-evaluate occasionally, just to keep my hand on the rudder to know what journey this blog is taking. I never want to post blindly or allow the crowd to direct my content. I’m steering my own ship.
I’m forever grateful and thankful to you dear reader for your support on this journey. Without you, your opinions, your questions, your concerns, and your attention, I’d be talking to the great void. So thank you. Thank you. And thank you. Thank you for reading these past 4 years. Let’s raise a glass to at least 4 more…
What are your favorite pieces of food writing?