The Art Of The Food Essay

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The Art Of The Food Essay

This article is available for use online and in print as long as thebyline and bio at the end are intact. I would love to know if andwhere this is used.The Art of the Food Essayby Pam WhiteThe muddy earth is spotted red and green. No perfect, waxedapples will do. I take a brown paper bag and pick up thesmall, often pitted, apples with their matte finish anduneven sides. The scent of Empire, McIntosh and North Spiessweep over me; I am transported to the backyard of the housemy mother lived, and died, in.The final year of her life, I traveled cross-country manytimes, with two babies as my constant companions. I cookedfor her, but only the simple meals she could eat. The firsttwo weeks of September were so draining and sad that itwasn't until the day she died that I saw the trees weredropping their apples.Needing some comfort and a way to comfort others, I put onan apron and lifted the skirt for carrying the apples backto the kitchen. I remember standing at the sink, too wearyto feel tired, looking into the back yard at those twistedtrunks, peeling apples, measuring flour, sugar, cinnamon,rolling pie crust and crimping edges.And so a food essay is born.Think of an essay as an article turned personal. Instead ofwriting objectively about events, people and news, an essayrequires the writer's emotional involvement. The individualvoice, and the writer's passion, are what make the essay socompelling to read, and to write. I find weaving together astory, written with the immediacy of the experience, is oneof the most honest and rewarding ways to write about food.Writing an article provides the writer with the opportunityfor detaching from the material. Reviewing a restaurantrequires an analytical objectivity that still allows thewriter to pen the piece from a distance.The essayist writes from emotions, ordinary or raw, takingthe reader along with her. Writing the food essay goes onebetter; we provide entertainment, memories and enlightenmentabout food history, cuisines, recipes and ingredients.Essays tell stories but they differ from journalism orcritical writing. Essays are narratives, with distinctive,intelligent and individual voices. Essays are born of rawmaterial available to each of us, and refined in thewriting. An advantages of writing food essays is that youcan write them where you are. No thriving metropolitanbackdrop is required; no whirlwind tour of other continentsis needed for the foundation of your essay. Write what youlike, make, bake and dream about.In the essay we tell the truth about the world we know butthe essay combines the factual and the literary. In _EndlessFeasts_, "Down East Breakfast" by Robert P. Coffin openswith "Weather, mother of good poetry, is also mother of goodbreakfasts." With one sentence he lets the reader know wherehe is going. A second essay, "Two for the Road: Havana,North Dakota," by Jane and Michael Stern, paints thefollowing scene, "As dawn's mist lifts away from the blackearth west of the Bois de Sioux River and rows of sunflowerscoil up to face the daybreak like solders coming toattention, a pot of coffee is put on to brew at the Farmer'sInn." I love it, don't you? It is clear what's important tothe writer, that the story they are spinning is just wakingup. Like these essayists, you will write from yourparticular point of view.Experiment with inventive devices to hook the reader orillustrate your story. Write love poems to your favoritesweets or a limerick about Irish stew. Turn yourself into acharacter in the story. Exaggerate, create a funny endingthat never took place, be playful. Take your reality and becreative. Share recipes to illustrate your family's bestcookies. Write of epiphanies when you realized thatcombining mango with chipotle chili powder made your cornmuffins award-winning.While there are as many variations on food essays as thereare food writers, here are some categories to get youreflecting on what you have to offer as an essayist.Writing food memories can take you back to birthday dinners,eating fresh picked corn, baking cookies with your children,Thanksgiving cranberry dishes. Magazines from Women's Day to

Saveur publish food memoirs. The writer shares a moment intime symbolized by the food cooked or eaten. Share a part ofyour family's culinary history, or new things you've learnedthat changed the way you share cooking with your friends andfamily. The articles can vary between a first experiencewith pistachios to a family recipe for milk-soaked bread.The food doesn't have to be gourmet, or even edible.Make the story you are telling filled with suspense, orlaugh out loud funny. Tell the story, filling it withsuspense, building up to the laugh when the reader realizesthe punchline, that the guest from England actually crunchedher way through the shell of the unfamiliar pistachio nuts.Or tell the tale of a family tradition of eating plumpudding on Christmas day through the eyes of a child.Compare how it was to share the pudding when young to how itfeels to be the parent, passing on traditions.Write nostalgic pieces on the processed foods of yesteryear,TV dinners, road houses that faded away with theencroachment of the Interstate. Write about penny candiesincluding those before your time; let the reader relive joysof childhood. Interpret your life stories, family mythologyor future dreams through food.Humor sells. Face it, food is fun. Celebrate it. Make youressays funny as well as fun to read. Cooking with children,eating fair food, scrambling pancakes and burning throughpans may be more messy, nauseating, embarrassing andfrustrating than it is laughable when you are in the middleof it. The humor often comes from how closely readers relateto the writing. You aren't the only one who's lost threefoot-longs from the top of a ferris wheel, or caughtpancakes on fire.Jeffrey Steingarten's witty personality shines in thisopening paragraph from "Pain Without Gain," in _The Man WhoAte Everything_, and he lets his wife join in on the fun:"Last night I played the neatest trick on my wife. I grilleda slice of my best homemade French country bread, spread itthick with Promise Ultra Fat-Free nonfat margarine, set iton the counter, sat back and waited. Soon the toasty aromadrew my wife into the kitchen. Seeing the bread, she smiledbroadly and took a bite. I'll never forget the way her smilefroze, as she gagged, stumbled over to the kitchen sink, andgave up her mouthful of bread covered with Promise UltraFat-Free nonfat margarine. What fun we have together!"Write where you are. Essays allow you to enjoy food writingsuccess wherever you are. You don't have to reviewrestaurants in a specific location, nor do you have totravel to exotic locales to write up national cuisines. Walkaround your neighborhood. What is unique to your town orregion, can be unique to your writing. Church dinners,birthday parties, local diners, ethnic neighborhoods are allopen to each writer's individual interpretation.Get out there and use who you are. Your daily life is filledwith usable material. Look for the food in movies you watch,dinners you make (or just eat), your life as a chef, catereror food stylist. Do research to authenticate and enhanceyour essay.Include recipes when appropriate. Have fun. Your readerswill have fun too.Pamela White, author of "Become a Food Writer," publishes anewsletter on food writing and teaches online courses on the topic.Visit her and subscribe to the newsletter at

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