Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Food writing

Food writing

Ask a question about 'Food writing'
Start a new discussion about 'Food writing'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
Food writing is writing that focuses on the topic of food
Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals...

, both widely and narrowly defined.


Food writer Mark Kurlansky
Mark Kurlansky
Mark Kurlansky is an American journalist and writer of general interest non-fiction. He is especially known for titles on eclectic topics, such as cod or salt....

 gives the scope of food writing when he observes: “Food is about agriculture, about ecology, about man’s relationship with nature, about the climate, about nation-building, cultural struggles, friends and enemies, alliances, wars, religion. It is about memory and tradition and, at times, even about sex.” Food writing regards food not only as a substance, but also as a cultural phenomenon.

Because food writing is topic centered, it is not a genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 in itself, but writing that utilizes a wide range of traditional genres, including recipes
A recipe is a set of instructions that describe how to prepare or make something, especially a culinary dish.-Components:Modern culinary recipes normally consist of several components*The name of the dish...

, journalism
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...

, memoir
A memoir , is a literary genre, forming a subclass of autobiography – although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are almost interchangeable. Memoir is autobiographical writing, but not all autobiographical writing follows the criteria for memoir set out below...

, and travelogues
Travelogue is the second full-length studio album released by the British synthpop band The Human League, released in May 1980 before the band achieved any degree of commercial success....

. Food writing can also refer to poetry and fiction, such as Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), with its famous passage in which the narrator recollects his childhood memories as a result of sipping tea and eating a madeleine.

Often, however, food writing is used to specify writing that takes a more literary approach to food, such as that of the famous American food writer M.F.K. Fisher, who describes her writing about food as follows:
It seems to me our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it . . . and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied . . . and it is all one.

In this literary sense, food writing aspires toward more than merely communicating information about food; it also aims to provide readers with an aesthetic experience. Food writer Adam Gopnik
Adam Gopnik
Adam Gopnik, is an American writer, essayist and commentator. He is best known as a staff writer for The New Yorker—to which he has contributed non-fiction, fiction, memoir and criticism—and as the author of the essay collection Paris to the Moon, an account of five years that Gopnik, his wife...

 divides such food writing into two categories, "the mock epic and the mystical microcosmic," and provides examples of their most noted practitioners:
The mock epic (A. J. Liebling
A. J. Liebling
Abbott Joseph Liebling was an American journalist who was closely associated with The New Yorker from 1935 until his death.-Biography:...

, Calvin Trillin
Calvin Trillin
Calvin Marshall Trillin is an American journalist, humorist, food writer, poet, memoirist and novelist.-Biography:Trillin attended public schools in Kansas City and went on to Yale University, where he served as chairman of the Yale Daily News and was a member of Scroll and Key before graduating...

, the French writer Robert Courtine
Robert Courtine
Robert Julien Courtine was a French food writer who also wrote under the pen names "La Reynière" and "Savarin".-Background:...

, and any good restaurant critic) is essentially comic and treats the small ambitions of the greedy eater as though they were big and noble, spoofing the idea of the heroic while raising the minor subject to at least temporary greatness. The mystical microcosmic, of which Elizabeth David
Elizabeth David
Elizabeth David CBE was a British cookery writer who, in the mid-20th century, strongly influenced the revitalisation of the art of home cookery with articles and books about European cuisines and traditional British dishes.Born to an upper-class family, David rebelled against social norms of the...

 and M. F. K. Fisher are the masters, is essentially poetic, and turns every remembered recipe into a meditation on hunger and the transience of its fulfillment.

Examples of contemporary food writers working in this mode include Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl - pronounced RYE-chil - is an American food writer, co-producer of PBS's Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, culinary editor for the Modern Library, host of PBS's Gourmet's Adventures With Ruth, and the last editor-in-chief of the now shuttered Gourmet magazine...

, Betty MacDonald
Betty MacDonald
Betty MacDonald was an American author who specialized in humorous autobiographical tales, and is best known for her book The Egg and I. She also wrote the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series of children's books...

, and Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison
James "Jim" Harrison is an American author known for his poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and writings about food. He has been called "a force of nature", and his work has been compared to that of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway...


As a term, “food writing” is a relatively new descriptor. It came into wide use in the 1990s and, unlike “sports writing,” or “nature writing,” has yet to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

. Consequently, definitions of food writing when applied to historical works are retrospective. Classics of food writing, such as the 18th century French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), predate the term and have helped to shape its meaning.


A list of some prominent writers on food
Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals...

, cooking
Cooking is the process of preparing food by use of heat. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions. Cooks themselves also vary widely in skill and training...

, dining
Eating is the ingestion of food to provide for all organisms their nutritional needs, particularly for energy and growth. Animals and other heterotrophs must eat in order to survive: carnivores eat other animals, herbivores eat plants, omnivores consume a mixture of both plant and animal matter,...

, and cultural history related to food.

External links

  • Books for Cooks An online exhibit of historical cookbooks at the British Library.

  • "In Defense of Food Writing: A Reader’s Manifesto" A defense of the genre by Eric LeMay based on Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food
    In Defense of Food
    In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto is a 2008 book by journalist and activist Michael Pollan. It was number one on the New York Times Non-Fiction Best Seller List for six weeks. The book grew out of Pollan's 2007 essay Unhappy Meals published in the New York Times Magazine...