Sunday, November 25, 2001

the other day when i was a-typin' away here, mr. right asked me what i was doing, and i said, just writing about food. . .

this got me to thinking today about how just writing about food was different than being a food writer. because i read a lot of food writing, most of which i just can't stand. odd, isn't it?

food journalism seems boring. objective descriptions -- well, as objective as talking about taste could be -- don't charm me. this is why i hardly ever read the food reviews in newspapers. food journalistm on tv just seems gushy and weirdly bulimic: the talking heads on food tv eat everything, pronounce it uniformly great, and vomit the binge on out to us with little thought. yikes!

food personalities frankly seem unbearably pretentious for the most part. celebrity chefs make me swear to never eat again. i think this unhappiness is widespread, which may be why the new york times, for example, seems to be experimenting with different forms of food writing.

in the sunday magazine section, the times has amanda hesser write a sort of food diary, heavy on emotion and significant relationships, esp. the one with her boyfriend, "mr. latte." alas, i must say that i hate these articles more than a series of rabies vaccinations. amanda & mr. latte never appear to have sex; instead they appear to have meaningful food moments.

in fact, she doesn't seem to allow herself to have genuine feelings about anything, even september 11; it's all displaced onto food. that's really scary to me! in this, hesser reminds me of the food-writing deity, m.f.k. fisher, who also supplanted eroticism and all that other messy human stuff with food. while it made for some vivid, purple prose, i never felt a desire to actually eat the wolf.

in the end, this emotional attitude to food is probably the cause of more eating disorders than all the models in vogue put together. or perhaps i'm just searching for another elizabeth david and all hesser gives me is bridget jones' diary.

david wrote in an honest, practical and common sense way. her recipes are often so sketchy as to be useless: half a wine glass of this, a french pinch of that, cooked in a good-sized dish at lively heat until it bubbles or is as brown as a nut. perhaps her vague instructions were an attempt to get you to really participate in what you were doing and experiment instead of mindlessly following directions, trusting others' wisdom and never your own experience. somehow, you learn so much from her.

she was not without opinions, but certainly lacked snobbery. she wrote about food helpfully and as it was in itself, not as a metaphor or a lens into a deeper personal or social meaning. this may be why i admire the writing of deborah madison so much. madison writes in the same style, but with more realistic recipes.

also, her former colleague, edward espe brown, is the utmost master of talking about food. while he started off perhaps as a wacky hippie/zen cook, he's nowadays grown into a person with something to say about the stuff we all think about. because he talks about food just as food, seeing it for what it is -- then i find the point on my own, without confession or obsession. finally, i also deeply enjoy alton brown, one of the few people who understand that most food talk is too serious and requires the ultimate seasoning: humor.

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