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Posts Tagged ‘food writing’

Food for Thought

November 12, 2014 | by


From the jacket of the first hardcover edition of The Supper of the Lamb.

Recently, I was putting together a list of good food writers for a group of students. I didn’t have Robert Farrar Capon on the list, then I added him, then I removed him again. He seemed not just too religious, but too—specific, somehow.

Capon, who died last year, was an Episcopal priest, and he wrote a lot about his high-church beliefs, but you don’t need to be devout to read him. Believe me: the sum total of my theological training took place ten years ago, when I attended the introductory session for a Christian education class at a large Manhattan church. It was held by the parish theologian in a halogen-lit room that bore very little resemblance to the Gothic house of worship. It contained a circle of music-class folding chairs, an industrial coffee urn, a handful of engaged couples, and at least one mentally-ill person. I was doing a little half-assed spiritual seeking at the time, trying to redress what I then saw as my parents’ joint educational neglect. (It was the same impulse that had led me, several months prior, to become the class dunce in Introduction to Yiddish at the 92nd Street Y.)

I don’t know what I expected, although I’m sure my fantasy involved no actual religion; I was probably hoping for Barbara Pym–like busybodies, homemade cake, and very possibly a secret religious awakening that didn’t actually infringe on my life or challenge anything I already thought. I’m sure I wore some kind of demure costume. In actual fact, a man wandered in, took a large handful of animal crackers, and left. Another woman in a faux fur rested her chin on her bosom and promptly fell asleep. One guy asked a lot of really stupid questions. The teacher did a good job fielding them, actually, and I told myself I’d come back and knew perfectly well that I wouldn’t. I still get e-mails announcing lectures on Ecclesiastes or C. S. Lewis, and I can’t bring myself to get off the mailing list. I mean, no one made me go there. Read More »


June 6, 2014 | by


Albert Roosenboom, The Tempting Cake (detail), nineteenth century.

On Wednesday, I mentioned to you a certain menu description. This description caused something of an existential crisis. I wept; I ranted; I pondered existence. But life is not just a vale of tears!

I might still be lying in bed, paralyzed by the enormity of everything, had I not been saved by yet another piece of food-related writing. This one came courtesy of a slightly outdated gourmet-store catalogue I picked up at the airport last week. I say “outdated” because it contained a number of Easter and Passover treats available for purchase. I always find looking at food relaxing, but when I opened it, I found that this catalogue was much more than just pretty pictures and appetizing captions. It was riveting.

The prose was bold, even dashing. Also, bizarre. Here is a description of all-butter croissants:

Boasting French connections of the cuisine nature, they immediately bring to mind afternoons on the Seine. Indeed, it is their verity that affords them this intensely delicious recall.

On a certain flowering tree, sold in the garden center: Read More »

Good Food Writing; Crazy People

May 20, 2011 | by

Since being diagnosed with various health and digestive problems, I’ve had to change my diet and lifestyle drastically. In order to feel more as if it’s my decision and not my doctor’s, I have read various books on diet and nutrition, like Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet and Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. But diet and nutrition books are one thing. Now I’ve discovered the amazing thing that is food writing, through my reading of Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat. Who needs to eat bad food when you can read delicious descriptions of good food? I’m officially converted, but I don’t know enough about food writing to know where to turn next. Can you recommend some good food books? —Hannah Gómez

Dear Hannah,

To answer your question, we enlisted Gena Hamshaw, who for years maintained a double life as a brilliant book editor and a plant-based nutritionist. She kindly sent us the following:

Isn’t it amazing to discover how much nutrition writing pales in comparison to really wonderful food writing?

If you’re just getting into the world of gastronomical prose, you should probably begin by reading everything M. F. K. Fisher ever wrote. And if that’s too much, do at least read The Gastronomical Me, How to Cook a Wolf, and An Alphabet for Gourmets. They’re all exquisitely written, brilliant, and sumptuous, but never precious (which is a rare balance in the world of food writing).

When you’ve finished devouring the Fisher oeuvre, you may want to explore some of Elizabeth David’s work, which is a little more exacting but no less smart. French Country Cooking and French Provincial Cooking are the real stars, but if you’ve had enough of France, Italian Food is great, too. A little more contemporary but just as compelling are Laurie Colwin’s food books; Home Cooking is a must read. And if you’re interested in the politics of food just as much as its pleasures, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is fairly indispensable.

Of course, lots of cookbooks feature writing that’s fine enough to stand apart from the mouth-watering photos and instructions. I’m thinking in particular of Anna Thomas’s The New Vegetarian Epicure, which might as well be an essay collection, Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (don’t let the candid and modest attitude fool you; the writing is superb), and most anything by Alice Waters. Mark Bittman’s writing is direct but sparkling with wit.

Keep in mind, though, that some of today’s best food writing is on the web. Food blogs are tremendous resources, not only of recipes, but also of passionate and erudite food writing. I recommend Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate and Zucchini, Shauna Ahern’s Gluten Free Girl, Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette, and, if you’ve got the patience for a perspective that’s as far from Paleo as can be, you can poke around my blog, Choosing Raw. Explore blogrolls and comments: the food-blog world is rich and full of excited writers.

Happy reading,


As a general rule of thumb, how can you tell if a crazy person is too crazy? —Going Nuts

Boredom. At least this is the view I heard years ago from a psychiatrist who spent his career treating schizophrenia. The tell-tale sign of insanity (he said) is to be profoundly boring to other people. There are some obvious holes in this theory; still, I like it on pragmatic grounds. Let’s say a crazy person may be too crazy, but he or she interests you. Then you may want to say “too crazy for what?” Whereas, if somebody’s droning on till you think you might cry—even if that person’s in his or her right mind, who cares? It may not be grounds for committal, but you still want to get off the phone.

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