3 tips for aspiring food writers

I recently received this question from @rudysbowl on Instagram:

While I’m not a food blogger, nor have I written any cookbooks, I did spend some time doing communications in the culinary hospitality industry. During that stint I picked up a few food writing best practices that I think might be handy for anyone looking to dabble in the genre.

Food is sensory

When I first started in this role, one thing that struck me (and, I’ll admit, annoyed the hell out of me) was the fact that every communications rule I had learned about plain language seemed to get tossed out the window. Take the press releases we wrote for example: they were packed with purple prose and jargon! Generally, a press release sticks to the facts and tells the reader (i.e. members of the media) only what they need to know. But our releases were overflowing with flowery language and foreign words (often French), and at first I didn’t understand why.

The truth is, food is one of the few topics that demands more from the words we use to talk about it. From aromas to taste and even the way a dish is presented, cooking and eating are deeply sensory experiences. As writers, it’s our job to evoke those senses in our readers, which is where the hyper-descriptive and often over-the-top language in food writing comes in.

That said, it’s always important to remember who you’re writing for. Elegant prose may lend itself well to fine dining but might feel pretentious if you’re writing about, say, food trucks. You want to ensure your language matches the subject matter while still painting a sensory picture for your reader.

Food tells a story

Every culture around the world lays claim to their own culinary histories. Almost every tradition includes some element of food preparation and/or consumption. Hell, even just getting together with friends often involves eating. Food is deeply rooted in the stories of us as people, which is why I think we enjoy hearing about where dishes originate from, how ingredients are collected, or what inspired a chef to start their journey. Balance is key, but providing a bit of narrative adds depth to food writing, giving your readers’ brains something to chew on (Ha! Food puns).

Food is visual

People love to make jokes about those of us who take pictures of our food before we eat. “No one cares what you’re having for lunch,” they say as their fellow diners post their best shots to Instagram. Of course, we know that’s not true. As I mentioned before, food is sensory, and with the boom in food photography, today it’s quite rare not to have imagery included alongside food writing. (At the job I mentioned above, we never sent out a press release without a glamour shot.)

While professional photographers are called in during the publication of professional cookbooks, food bloggers and even some food journalists (Yes, it’s a job!) often need to rely on their own handiwork behind the lens. So, brush up on those photography skills! (A tip from the trenches: good lighting makes all the difference.)

Have a writing topic you’d like me to tackle? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail!

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