Food for Thought
Ilana Weitzman: Food writing to die for
As part of our "Food for Thought" series on great food writing, the editor-in-chief of Air Canada's enRoute magazine serves up some lethal food writing, courtesy of Carol Shields.
There was roast beef and mash and gravy, and a choice of Brussels sprouts or runner beans. There was horseradish sauce served in a little sweet-dish, a wedding gift. And for pudding a homemade sponge topped with golden syrup.
It was a blessing, people said afterward, that they didn't all choose beans over sprouts. Only Mum Weller helped herself, and rather generously, to the beans...
Yes, one of the most memorable pieces of food writing in the Canadian literary canon is about botulism. You can learn a lot from the unfortunate story of canned runner beans gone wrong in Carol Shields' Larry's Party, wherein Larry's mother, Dot, famously poisons her mother-in-law with Sunday dinner. What I love is how Shields sets the table like a murder scene whodunit. (Was it the gravy or the homemade sponge?) This is clearly a meal loaded with significance - you can tell from that detail about Dot bringing out the good china, a wedding gift. While amateur food writers might pile up the adjectives like a multiple car crash, Shields' description is spare but manages to be both tragic and funny at once. In those few sentences, you could cut through the tension with a carving knife.
Larry's Party reminds us that food is intimate. Even if food criticism is the most visible form of food writing, most of our indelible food experiences happen in the home, not a restaurant. We can all relate to a meal; we all have to eat. Shields taught me that writers can use that emotional opening for more than just "food writing."
Ilana Weitzman is the editor-in-chief of enRoute, Air Canada's award-winning magazine. Many of the food pieces she has edited have been included in the Best Food Writing anthology alongside work from Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and several have been nominated for National Magazine Awards. 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.
Photo credit: Malina Corpadean