Deep Fried Diaries

The insider's scoop on food, travel & southern culture

SIMONE SEZ: Food Writing, For Dummies

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In the world we have become, everything seems to be expressed in 140 characters or less. I fear for the future of writing—particularly, food writing.

In the past few weeks, two very close friends of mine (both acclaimed food editors at national publications) were let go in an effort to downsize and streamline. At a time when the printed word seems in dire jeopardy, I can’t say I’m surprised. Saddened is more like it.

Is it me, or are professional food writers rapidly being replaced…? In my local weekly paper, the whole food section is being dumbed down to the lowest common denominator of food “journalists.” I laughed at a couple of the articles, only to see them appear in the printed paper. —Uptown Kevin, Chow discussion forum.

For the past few years, journalism has dealt with the rise of the blogosphere and challenges of adapting to online spaces. A host of new media platforms now allow us to interact and share within niche-based food communities, which has lead to a democratization of content, recipes and reviews. Bloggers rise to stardom with their “10-minute meals,” and review sites garner critiques from restaurant-loving laypeople, like you and me. What’s so bad about that?

(Walt Disney/Everett) WSJ's "In Praise of the Endangered Restaurant Critic"

(Walt Disney/Everett) WSJ’s “In Praise of the Endangered Restaurant Critic”

Along with these new platforms has dawned a new model of communication. Brevity, simplicity and anonymity have taken precedent over descriptive language and attention to detail. Perhaps it’s an effective model for breaking news, but it’s now permeated the realm of food writing. Gone are the days when we measured a message by its words. Now we measure in characters.

Words! Words are what we use describe the way a buttery crust flakes off an apple pie, or how a cafe’s warmth reminisces the trattorias of Rome. With such writing, words allow us to taste and smell. Yet if you think I’m arguing for superfluity, then you’re missing the point.

raymondI can remember a few years ago, it was an end to the dynasty of Raymond Sokolov—a long-time, acclaimed food critic of the Wall Street Journal (photo from Talking Writing Magazine). The average foodie probably didn’t bat an eye, but I can remember a Time article that seemed to convey the true tragedy in the decline of quality food writers:

When you like a food [writer], you trust his judgement… He’s proved himself over a long period. You know what he likes or dislikes. You get him. Maybe you don’t always agree; but when you’re looking at getting a babysitter and maybe dropping [a few] bills on dinner, you need to minimize risk. For that, the user reviews on Citysearch or Yelp are beyond useless and contradictory—and the same goes for blogs. So there, in that whirlwind of trends and fad ingredients and hype and backlash, are a few immense ancient trees, with sturdy roots and massive trunks to hew to. —Josh Ozersky, Time U.S.

Thus, all I argue for is a face and a soul behind today’s writing. The new media environment is both inevitable and exciting. I have no doubt that platforms like blogs and social media can be used to enhance and share in the true artistry of food. After all, here I am (on my blog) talking to you about food, and here you are reading it.

With so many personal and professional ties to all things food & food writing, I can’t help but hazard a guess at the future. Current trends are certainly unnerving, but I’d like to think there’s hope within this next tier of food writers to not lose that appreciation for creativity and prowess.

Let’s hope my prophecy can withstand the heat of the kitchen.

(Stay tuned this week for Part 2)

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