Food for Thought
Five tips for better food writing
The editor-in-chief of Air Canada's enRoute magazine, Ilana Weitzman, has served up features so delicious, they've won a slew of honours—including a Bert Greene award, the gold standard in food journalism. Here, Ilana offers some wisdom on how to boost the calorie count of your next story.
1. Everything happens over dinner. Marriage proposals. Family feuds. Choking incidents. It's the perfect way to get all your characters in a room and then see what happens. (We've used the "dinner party" set up in enRoute many times, like we did in this story about an ice fishing potluck). For a quick tutorial, watch the classic of the genre, Thomas Vinterberg's film Festen (The Celebration), wherein a family sits down to celebrate a patriarch's 60th birthday and no one can leave until every dark family secret is served up. Perhaps the world's most successful mix of claustrophobia and food.
2. It's not a "wonderful" world. When a food feature lands in my inbox, my first job as an editor is to strip away at least 80% of the adjectives. (I have a personal hate-on for the word sumptuous, for instance.) If the writing is solid, then my work on the piece is practically done. If not, then the writing was never there to begin with.
3. Food writing shouldn't read like a Dutch still life. Who wants the text equivalent of an elaborately rendered bowl of fruit? As in the original story about the apple, the
point is not the food itself; it's what that forbidden fruit shows about the characters. Avoid relegating food to mere set dressing or ornamentation. Make it do something. See also my note about sumptuous, above.
4. Take a page from Ratatouille. Chefs make great characters. Because they are great characters, even in real life. They're funny. They're creative. They're smart. As in the literary reference above, you love them even when they're rodents. Enough with the stories about soldiers and farmers and doctors and artists.
5. You are what you eat. What characters put in their mouths says a lot about them. When you read a profile in a magazine, often you'll be told what people are eating during the interview. Why? Put a cheeseburger in someone's mouth and even a superstar becomes someone you can relate to. The same is true any time you're telling someone's story - even your own.
Ilana Weitzman is the editor-in-chief of enRoute, Air Canada's award-winning magazine, and content director for Air Canada Media. Many of the food pieces she has edited have been included in the Best Food Writing anthology alongside work from Gourmet and Bon Appetit. She has won Gold and Silver National Magazine Awards for her reporting and editing, along with an award of merit from the North American Travel Journalists Association.
Ice fishing image courtesy of enRoute. Ratatouille image courtesy of Disney.