Food writing

Food writing is a genre of writing that includes recipes , food blogs , food and restaurant critiques , and print and online medium . If you are interested in learning how to write your own recipes, create your own food blog, or write critiques of other restaurants, this Wikiversity page is here to help! We also help you to break down whether your own personal food writing works best either online or in print!

  • 1.1 History of the Recipe
  • 2 Food Blogs
  • 3 Food and Restaurant Critics
  • 4 Differences between Online and Printed Media
  • 5 References

Recipes [ edit | edit source ]

food writing definition

Recipe-writing is a crucial and integral part of the food-writing process. Without recipes, it would be impossible to create uniformity within dishes and share them with others! In order to write a structured and successful recipe, there are several conventions of the genre that should be adhered to:

  • Recipes typically begin with a brief description of the food and, if applicable, a brief history of the food. This informs those who are new to the recipe of the basic components and previous uses of the food.
  • Secondly, a list of ingredients is given. Typically, the more descriptive, the better. Divide the recipe into mandatory ingredients and optional ingredients (such as for toppings, sauce, etc.), and list the ingredients in the order of which they appear in the recipe. Include specific units of measurement, fully spelt out. Some sources encourage using small steps in the list of ingredients, i.e. "2 eggs, beaten."
  • Next, describe the cooking procedure. Again, be as specific and descriptive as possible. Include prep time and cook time, and use baking temperatures where applicable. As always, write the cooking procedure in the order of the procedure.
  • You're done! Some online resources include picture tutorials (and even video tutorials)! Be as creative as possible. Some recipes include extra tips, recommendations for side dishes, and give alternatives for your recipe if wanted (i.e. a vegetarian option, a gluten-free option, etc).

History of the Recipe [ edit | edit source ]

Recipes have existed as early as 1600 BC, when there was more diverse access to foods. Some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics show the preparation of food and others were written on tablets [[[Wikipedia:Recipe|1]]] . The establishment of the printing press in the 17th century [[[Wikipedia:Printing press|2]]] allowed recipes to be printed more widely and liberally, in addition to the advent of the cookbook [[[Wikibooks:Cookbook:Table of Contents|3]]] — a collection of recipes, usually containing a single theme.

Food Blogs [ edit | edit source ]

Aside from writing recipe books and getting them published, which would require extra work, most food writers and critics find easier and faster ways to get to their audiences. Recently, blogs have been on the raise as a new public platform for writers to connect to their audience. Most food writers and critics freelance for magazines and newspapers but others start their own blogs to better suit their needs as well as the needs of their readers. Because of their freelancing, food writers and critics are able to have a vast reader base by the time they decide to start their own blog.

There are a few things that you need to know before starting your food blog:

  • Having a background in Culinary arts helps. Your readers will trust you if you know what it is you are talking about.
  • Being professional (In other words, no slang and check for grammatical and/or spelling errors before posting.)
  • Knowing the rhetorical situation is a must.
  • Building a relationship between you and your readers is important.
  • Choose a specific type of food that you would want to focus on in your blog.

The tips listed above would be helpful to you in your planning process so that your blog comes out the way that you and your readers are hoping for. With that being said, looking at other blogs as guides could be useful.

Google search is a helpful resource when trying to find examples of food blogs. Some websites show you how to create a food blog step by step and others give you tips for having a successful as well as professional food blog. Some examples of food blogs would be David Lebovitz , Amateur Gourmet and I am a Food Blog (just to name a few). Using other food blogs as a template could be helpful to you in your process. Overall, the next generation is becoming more technologically advanced which means, in order to accommodate, you as a food writer and/or critic need to be prepared to reach your general audience.

Food and Restaurant Critics [ edit | edit source ]

The food and beverage industry is a unique sector that seems to be getting a lot more prestige lately. Professional chefs and mixologists have emerged from behind the scenes and have gained a lot of popularity. In years prior these kind of jobs were ones that no one saw and were regarded as low income, while in today’s world people are going to school for these professions and they are highly respected and regarded. Many food enthusiasts have helped shine light on the food and beverage industry in many ways, but mainly through television shows. Whether it be the Food Network, Esquire Channel, or the Travel Channel, people are devoting their life to teaching about the food and beverage industry. One of the founding fathers in this segment is Anthony Bourdain who has many shows on the Travel Channel. He is a food writer, food critic, and major foodie who travels the world learning and writing about the insides and outs of the food industry. Bourdain started as a line cook at age 18 and has moved his way through the ranks to be regarded as a top notch professional chef. He travels around the world learning about different cultures and how food plays such an integral role in their culture. Along with Bourdain many others have helped to develop the food and beverage industry such as, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Adam Richmond, and Andrew Zimmerman. Each person contributes to the F&B industry in different ways and does much more than just write recipes. They educate about food and cultures and focus more on why things are done in a certain way, as opposed to how things are done. Today’s world has such a global focus and it can be seen in the kind of cuisine that is popular. Most of the popular cuisines in F&B are extending far from just the typical US foods and have focused on different methods and ingredients. Many spokespeople for the industry, like Bourdain, have helped to familiarize people to these different cultures and these are major trends that can make restaurateurs millions of dollars.

Differences between Online and Printed Media [ edit | edit source ]

Whether reading a magazine or scrolling on an iPad, food writing seems to be a popular subject these days. The way such articles are written can vary greatly depending on if the article is to be published in print or online. In order to successfully reach intended audiences, writers should recognize the differences in food writing for print and online and write accordingly.

Online readers typically scan the page to find what they need as opposed to reading it all the way through. When designing the article, be sure to structure the text in a way that will catch the reader’s attention. This can be achieved by using images, bold font, subheadings, and catchy headlines.

Web content should have roughy 50% of the count of the same article in print, as most web users will not read the entire page and will often go to another page if the website they are on is too text heavy. Even if users do read an entire page, most only absorb 75% of the information.

Online, the reader has more power to pick and choose what they read, instead of being guided through the document. This is all the more reason to thoroughly organize a document by making important points stand out.

Readers who prefer printed material typically have a more reliable source of information. Anyone can start a food blog or write a review, however, it takes experience and time to be published in a printed piece, so print writers are more likely to be educated in food.

Food writing in the printed format can essentially act as a monthly cookbook or weekly recipe, which users can continuously refer back to with ease. This is partly due to publishers investing a great deal of money into making these works visually appealing with photos, catchy headings, and subheadings.

These works additionally offer thorough introductions and conclusions, as printed media allows the writer to control the reader by organizing the document in a specific way.

No matter where the work will be published, be sure to write for the intended audience, not for yourself. The goal is to have readers read the article, not just the headline.

References [ edit | edit source ]

  • Gillingham, Sara Kate. "How To Write A Recipe Like A Professional." The Kitchn. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2015.
  • Hardwick, Natalie. "How to Write a Recipe." BBC Good Food. BBC, n.d. Web. 05 May 2015.
  • "Cookbook:Table of Contents." Wikibooks. Wikibooks, n.d. Web. 05 May 2015.
  • "Recipe." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 May 2015.
  • McCord, Garrett. "11 Tips to Improve Your Blog Writing." Food Blog Alliance. Food Blog Alliance, n.d. Web. 12 May 2015.
  • "How to Write a Rockin' Food Post and Get Readers To Your Blog." The SITS Girls. The SITS Girls, n.d. Web 12 May 2015.
  • Suss, Jessica. "Why Food Magazines (the Ones Written on Actual Paper) Could Endure." American Journalism Review. American Journalism Review, 7 May 2014. Web. 10 May 2015.
  • Shaviv, Miriam. "How to write well on digital: It's not like print." LinkedIn Pulse. LinkedIn, 1 Apr 2014. Web. 10 May 2015.
  • Redshaw, Kerry. "Web Writing vs Print Writing." Kerry Redshaw. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2015
  • Sebellin-Ross, S.J. "How to Write about Food: How to Become a Published Restaurant Critic, Food Journalist, Cookbook Author, and Food Blogger." Amazon. 2015

The hyper-linked names in the Food Blog section takes you directly to examples of Food Blogs that can be used as guides.

food writing definition

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Everything You Need to Know About Food Writing (tips + jobs + samples)

Do you want to know more about food writing if yes, you are not alone. in recent times, writing about food has grown in popularity. food writers are in high demand and food writing contests award the best entrants with cash prizes..

One thing you need to know as a food writer is that you can build a lucrative career in it. According to the latest statistics , food writers on the average make about $60,000 a year. Those who are new in this genre earn much less than those who have established their authority in the industry.

Perhaps it is for this reason that more people ask “what is food writing?” and “how can one become a food writer?”

In this article, we shall answer these questions and more. You’ll learn everything you need to know on writing about food, including:

  • Tips for succeeding in the niche.
  • How to land jobs as a food writer.
  • What courses can help you succeed?
  • And sample essays and stories that might serve as a guide.

What is Food Writing

Food writing is a type of writing that has food as its central theme. It can manifest in different genres of writing, like fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. 

Although the writing is about food, it aims to provide readers with an aesthetic experience that goes beyond food.

The rising popularity of this writing genre can be linked to the globalization of the food industry. A growing body of evidence also suggests that more people desire to experience worlds that are different from theirs. One way to accomplish this is to experiment with other cuisines. But some people go beyond eating; they share their culinary experiences with the world.

Earning a living from writing about food is another matter altogether. It requires a lot of expertise and strategic planning. But before we discuss these, let’s explore writing about food in detail.

Types of Food Writing

Food writing is just a subgenre. It can be written as fiction, creative nonfiction/essay and poetry. It is, therefore, very diverse and can take many shapes and forms. 

Below are some of the more popular types of food writing.

Food Memoir

A food memoir is a type of writing about an author’s autobiographical experiences with food. Food memoirs comprise narratives about food memories from a writer’s perspective. Authors of food memoirs share their food memories and also their respective food cultures and identities.

Restaurant Review

We can describe a restaurant review as a type of writing that critiques and rates a restaurant on its quality of food, service, and prices.

Food lovers depend on restaurant reviews to make informed decisions on where to have the best food experience.

Restaurant owners also rely on restaurant reviews for information and feedback that will help them improve their food and services.

Restaurant review writing can come in different forms. While some restaurant review writers focus on the food served, others concentrate on the food environment and how the food is presented.

Recipe Writing

Recipe writing comprises a set of information and instruction on how to prepare a dish, drink, or food. Many people rely on food recipes as a guide to prepare food, dishes, or drinks they are not familiar with. 

A recipe contains a recipe name, the ingredients, and instructions on how and when to combine the ingredients.

Some experts advocate that recipe writers should know their audience so they can communicate in a language they will understand.

Food History

Those involved in food history writing focus on the cultural, environmental, economic, and sociological impact of food on our lives.

Food history writers believe that issues surrounding food matter and go beyond what happens in the kitchen and at dinner tables. Reading food history writing can reveal much about a society’s cultural norms.

While some food writers have advanced degrees on the subject, others just write about their culinary heritage. One of the most important things to be a successful food writer is to have deep knowledge about what you are writing about.

There are different kinds of food history writing, including foodstuff history, dietary history, culinary history, nutritional history, and dining history.

How to Become a Food Writer

Research of successful food writers will reveal that many took different pathways to launch their writing careers.

However, there are some attributes that every writer needs to break even and become successful as a food writer. 

Learn How to Write

The first port of call for anyone who wants to be a successful food writer is to learn and master the art of writing.

If you have great food experiences but do not know how to write, it will be hard to share them with the rest of the world.

Your writings about food must elicit positive emotions in your readers to make them want to experience it with you.

Improving your writing skills will make it easy to express your thoughts to your readers.

There are several ways to improve your writing skills and write eloquently . Many food writers choose to get a degree or certificate from an educational institution. Other writers opt for in-person or online courses. You can also improve your writing by reading and studying the writing styles of different food writers.

But whatever you do, don’t take the easy route of using online AI paraphrasing tools or AI writing tools to help you write better. Yes, they will help you create content faster, but your writing will be bland and you definitely won’t become a better writer by letting AI write for you when you feel stuck.

Study the Food Industry

Learning about the food industry is vital because it exposes a writer to the business, culture, and art of food consumption.

A deep knowledge of the creativity and traditions behind some food cultures and restaurants will set your writing apart.

What they say about being a jack of all trades and master of none is true about food essays and writing. 

People who write about food do that from various angles. Although there are several ways to write about food, it is better to focus on the area(s) where you have the strongest passion.

Determining the area or areas you want to focus on depends on where you have a strong comparative advantage. For example, if you have experience in the tourism sector, it will make sense to focus on food tourism.

You can write about your local dish, the various ways to prepare it, and its cultural significance. Experts believe that those with an emotional attachment to a particular food are in the best position to write about it.

There are many advantages when you focus on writing about the food you are familiar with. Writing about the food you know and enjoy gives you an edge over someone who is not familiar with it. Writing of any kind is difficult. Choosing a food niche you are passionate about will keep you writing when the going gets tough.

Employ your Descriptive Skills

One thing that sets successful food writers apart from the rest of the pack is their powerful descriptive skills.

Unlike video content, where the audience can see what is going on, the readers of food essays and writing depend on the writer’s descriptions.

The food experience goes beyond what you can taste with your tongue and includes other sensory organs of touch, smell, and hearing. 

Experts believe food writers should focus on the five senses. A writer’s ability to use descriptive adjectives to explain how the senses perceive food makes reading enjoyable.

A writer should bring to life and describe to readers all the experiences involved in a particular food culture.

When a food writer captures and describes the food environment, the readers can visualize and partake in that experience.

Readers want to know how the food and the food environment look, smell, feel like, taste, and even sound during preparation. A writer can achieve all these through a careful choice of descriptive words.

Focus on those Behind the Food

Good food essays and writing is about food and those behind it. Therefore, you should not limit your writing to the food itself.

Writing about the people behind the food and the special relationship they have with the processes of making the food is vital.

If a particular restaurant has a chef who has a unique way of preparing a meal, it makes sense to explore and share that with readers.

Writing about food is fascinating when a writer explores the relationship and the personal connection people have with their food.

The worst mistake you can make as a food writer is to misrepresent facts in your writing. Food is an aspect of culture and you cannot afford to offend people in your writing by misrepresenting food facts.

Misrepresenting facts about food is common among writers with little or no experience with a particular food culture.

One thing to do to avoid this error is to research your food subject. The research will reveal facts that may not be obvious to the casual observer.

Another thing you can do to avoid mistakes in your writing is to feature experts familiar with that food subject.

Successful food writers must be knowledgeable about their subject and be abreast of the latest food trends. Misrepresenting food facts can be controversial, especially if you are an outsider.

How to Start Writing About Food

So now you have gained the education and experience and are ready to write about food. Where do you start?

Below are a couple of ways to kick-start your writing career.

Start a Food Blog 

Thanks to the liberalization of the internet, writers can freely share their works without the bottlenecks of publishing bureaucracies.

Blogging is the best way for aspiring writers to build their writing resumes. You will have enough materials to show prospective clients and employers when you consistently publish your writings.

Another benefit of blogging is that it provides a platform to connect and interact directly with your readers.

The feedback you get from your readers will give you great insights and help you improve your writing.

Pitch your Writings

Apart from blogging, sending your articles to both online and print food magazines is a great way to build your writing career.

Fortunately, we have a plethora of food-writing magazines constantly searching for new and interesting food articles.

As long as you do not give up after a few pitches, there are food magazines that will take a chance on you.

Food Writing Jobs

If you decide to be a food writer, there is no shortage of job opportunities for you in the food industry.

You can decide to be a freelancer and work at your own pace or pitch your tent with an organization.

Here are some writing jobs to pursue as a career.

  • Food Journalist — work for news organizations or agencies and write about food trends in society.
  • Food Writing Editor — can work in food publication organizations, and their primary responsibilities are to write, edit and review food articles.
  • Food Content Writer — Thanks to the internet, content writing has become a lucrative career for many professionals. Most food content writers are freelancers who write content for websites and food blogs.
  • Food Copywriter — Food copywriters specialize in creating persuasive content aimed at eliciting positive emotions about food products and services. The difference between a food content writer and a food copywriter is that the latter focuses on marketing a brand.

Food Writing Examples

A good food writer must use words that elicit a sense of tension and suspense in the reader. Below are some good examples. 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle By Haruki Murakami

Murakami’s description of the food menu and the cooking process is simple and takes the reader through a mouthwatering reading experience. Below is an excerpt from his book “ The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle ”.

Haruki Murakami Food Writing

The Girl Who Was Afraid of an Egg By Yemisi Aribisala

In the excerpt below, Aribisala uses fresh metaphors and creative language to help the reader picture the color and perceive the aroma in the process of frying eggs.

The Girl Who Was Afraid of an Egg By Yemisi Aribisala

I Remember Nothing, and Other Reflections, By Nora Ephron

What sets Ephron’s writing apart is the expertise with which she delicately blends sophistication and creativity. The following is an excerpt from her book “ I Remember Nothing, and Other Reflections”

I Remember Nothing, and Other Reflections, By Nora Ephron

Swann’s Way By Marcel Proust

Proust’s use of descriptive words to explain the food process can make that experience memorable for the reader. Here’s a paragraph from Proust’s book, “Swann’s Way”.

Swann’s Way By Marcel Proust

Finally thoughts

Few activities bring people, families, and friends together more than when they enjoy food.

Food symbolizes much more than just a biological necessity. It is now part of our social, cultural, religious, and national identity.

If you love food and writing and would love to share your experience with the rest of the world, you can benefit from the tips in this article.

Although it seems daunting, especially for the uninitiated, you can start today by taking those first steps towards building a successful writing career. 

All you need is a passion for food and writing and a desire to learn what it takes to succeed in the food writing industry.

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food writing definition

What is Food Writing?

Food writing is all about passion – a passion for food, for tastes, and for the senses. Food writers are a diverse class of writers much like the multi-faceted shapes, angles and images represented in a kaleidoscope. Food writing has a wide spectrum: from novelists and historians, to reporters and restaurant consultants, and from daily bloggers to photography enthusiasts. The common theme in food writing may be food, but it is also about life, the lifespan of food, and the passion every food writer has about the delicious world they live in.

The easiest and most identifiable form of food writing is found in restaurant reviews. Critics who review the latest restaurant openings, trends, and chefs are an important factor in food writing. Certain restaurant reviewers focus solely on the dishes served, while other food writers branch out to detail ambience, service, and featured cuisines. Notable writers in this genre of food writing include Phyllis Richmann and Tom Sietsema.

Food journalists are also important to food writing. These can be regularly featured columnists in a newspaper or magazine, or feature writers for specialty publications. Food journalists report in both AP-style format and first-person narrative. They may opine on a subject or remain objective. Some food journalists are able to blend travel writing and adventure while reporting their stories. Well known food journalists include Jeffrey Steingarten, Ruth Reichl, and Jonathan Gold.

Food novelists are also represented in food writing. Food novelists create novels that weave storylines with delicious and delectable dishes. Some food novelists use their imagination to write, others will use personal experience. Masterful writers such as M.K. Fisher, Laura Esquivel, and Peter Mayle are good examples of food novelists.

Cookbooks are the dominant products of food writing. There are endless cookbooks dedicated to numerous cuisines and styles of cooking. Most food writers are avid cooks or recipe collectors, and therefore, fantastic cookbook authors. Instructional food writers are also found among cookbook writers. They can be authors of culinary arts textbooks, how-to guides, and hobby related websites. James Peterson, Fannie Farmer, and Julia Child are exceptional cookbook and recipe authors.

Food historians cultivate the history of food products. Whether chronologically tracking the history of agriculture or documenting legislation that affects food distribution, food historians are a special part of food writing. Some food historians write in a straight-forward, textbook manner, others prefer to incorporate elements of fiction . If you are ever curious about how a certain food came to be, or how one dish evolves into another, a food historian will have the answer. William Woys Weaver, Michael Pollan, and Francine Segan are leading authorities on food writing and culinary history.

Restaurant consultants, particularly menu writers and marketing specialists, also participate in food writing. These professionals translate a chef’s vision for a dish into tempting descriptions, while also enticing readers to become regular patrons. Generally, these food writers perform their work with little fanfare, preferring to write behind the scenes.

Food writing is a wide assortment of individuals who wish to express their passion for food through literature, journalism, marketing, and recipe writing. The only requirement to be a food writer is to have a passion for food and the written word.

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Discussion Comments

Post your comments.

  • By: Vivian Seefeld A food writer who creates recipes may need specialty training.
  • By: HLPhoto A photo of a plate of chicken piccata, which could accompany a restaurant review.
  • By: by-studio Many newspapers have food columns.
  • By: nyul Food writers may blog about a restaurant immediately on location.
  • By: CandyBox Images Some food writers focus on creating cookbooks that are dedicated to different courses or types of cuisines.

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Food writing

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Culinary Arts: A Guide to the Literature (April 2016): Food Writing & Memoirs

  • Important Early Works
  • Food History
  • Culinary Reference Books
  • Standard Culinary Textbooks
  • The United States & Its Cuisines
  • International Cuisines
  • Nutrition & Culinary Management

Food Writing & Memoirs

Works cited.

Food writing is a catch-all term, used across many disciplines, to describe writing that may be memoir, travel piece, or literary examination (to name the most common).  Food writing may have food at its core or present food as a major but not central player.  Among the fine examples of food writing is the annual collection Best Food Writing , a reader that is modest in cost and surveys the flavors of the year, so to speak.  Single-subject food books are now in vogue.  These tend to be slim, inexpensive volumes on a single food (tomatoes, chocolate), and they incorporate history, lore, and a few recipes.  The “Edible” series, edited by Andrew F. Smith, from Reaktion Books, is typical of the genre.  Though some titles in the series are lengthy, most are quick takes on a particular food.  For a deeper cultural perspective on any of the cuisines mentioned in this essay, readers may wish to investigate titles in the ABC-CLIO/Greenwood “Food Culture around the World” series.

Comprising a lively subgenre of culinary literature, culinary memoirs are rather new on the scene.  They are often written in a noir style, with drink, drugs, and depravity as central themes.  One of the first, and probably still the most widely read, of these was Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly .  Bourdain’s outré descriptions of life in the kitchen rang true for many professional cooks, and the book spawned a legion of followers.  Other memoirs useful to those interested in the culinary arts include Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef , which provides a female view of the boys club atmosphere of most commercial kitchens; Matthew Evans’s Never Order Chicken on a Monday: Kitchen Chronicles of an Undercover Food Critic , which is similar in tone to Bourdain’s; and Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America , which gives readers an insight into the rigors of formal culinary education at the CIA.

Today, the culinary arts are fully integrated into American life.  Most newspapers have a weekly food section, food television flourishes, restaurant critics are among the most widely read and respected of the professional critics in media, and Americans now spend more than 50 percent of their food dollar on items prepared primarily outside the home kitchen.  In other words, the culinary arts are firmly entrenched as a topic of interest to Americans and as a viable and sought-after career choice.  The literature on culinary arts has grown exponentially since the mid-twentieth century, and that growth will continue, particularly as Americans set their sights on healthier eating.

  • Best Food Writing Publication Date: 2008-

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food writing definition

Food Writing So Good You Can Taste It by Dianne Jacob


Dianne Jacob

  • 22 December 2021

American author Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More, is an essential reference book for food writers and food bloggers that has won two international awards from the Cordon D’Or and the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. In this piece from the archives, we asked Dianne what the essential ingredients for successful food writing are.

Most food writing is about eating, so your challenge is to express yourself without resorting to cliché or an endless string of adjectives. The successful food writing techniques and practices listed below give you endless ways to describe a dish or the experience of eating. Once you discover a few simple rules of the craft, you’ll feel more confident immediately. So whether you’re looking to get started, improve your skills, or expand the writing you’re already doing, put down your spatula, pull up a chair, and let’s get cooking.

Step 1. Cook up a sensuous feast.

What makes food writing different from other forms of writing is its focus on the senses and the pleasure and enjoyment that ensues. You want readers to see the colors of a ripe peach, feel its fuzzy down, smell its ripeness, hear the tearing crunch when biting into it, and taste its tangy flesh. While it’s easy to focus on taste, when combined with smell, the two senses can produce emotions, feelings of nostalgia, and involuntary memories.

This response has a name. It’s called the Proustian effect, for Marcel Proust’s wistful passage about eating a madeleine in his novel, Swann’s Way: “But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, admit the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure or recollection.”

Translation: If you remember the punch in the gut you experienced when tasting or smelling a food that takes you back to childhood, that’s what Proust means. It’s harder to communicate this effect so viscerally in writing, but it’s not necessary. He’s saying that using your senses to access food is evocative. Your goal is to transport readers to a place and time, to experience a scent or taste for themselves. That’s better than just reading about how you experienced it, which is not nearly as satisfying, and creates distance between you and them.

Here’s an example from M.F.K. Fisher, one of food writing’s most revered icons: “The first thing I remember tasting and then wanting to taste again is the grayish-pink fuzz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam. I suppose I was about four.” At first you may feel repelled by the notion of tasting “fuzz.” But you’re also intrigued, and transported to a kitchen from long ago, perhaps your own memory standing in for hers.

Some writers think the least important sense is sound. But consider how it enlivens the experience in Alan Richman’s essay, “The Great Texas Barbecue Secret:” Because the meat is seldom pricked during cooking, the fat accumulates, sizzling and bubbling. Slice, and the drama unfolds. Think of a bursting water pipe. Better yet, imagine a Brahman bull exploding from the gate at a rodeo.”

It might sound overdone, but you’ve got to give Richman credit for imaginative writing about what could otherwise be a dull topic. He is, after all, describing what happens when he cuts into a sausage. Yet Richman excels at translating his excitement onto the page, and has won more than a dozen national awards for his essays in magazines such as  GQ , where he is a contributing writer.

food writing definition

Look back at Richman’s description of the sausage. See any adjectives? I don’t. Adjectives, however, are the crack of food writing. You might be tempted to use several to describe, say, the pork tenderloin with pears and shallots you devoured at a restaurant last night. But in truth, adjectives weaken writing and cause reader fatigue.

Take note of what else happened during the meal. You want to get across your pleasure and enjoyment by telling a story about the people at the next table, rather than sentence after sentence of description. Or try Richman’s technique of using metaphor, the art of referring to something (a sausage) as something it is not (a water pipe or a Brahman bull).

You might start out with strings of adjectives in an early draft. That’s normal. Examine them all and see what happens if you select only one. You’ll find that your sentence becomes more powerful when pared back to the essence of the dish.

What if the only adjective you allowed yourself, to describe the pear, was “silky?” It reads better than “the brown buttery silky pear.” After so many adjectives, readers get confused. They have to parse all those descriptors and try to imagine what the pear tastes like, deciding which adjective is most important. “Silky,” on the other hand, gives them one clear and concise word. Less is more, when it comes to adjectives.

Step 3. Describe the dish with specifics.

Just as it’s best to be judicious with adjectives, you’ll also a huge improvement in your writing when using specific language. People who read my blog and book know that one of my pet peeves is the word “delicious.” It’s a vague way to describe what you’re eating, and tells the reader nothing, other than you really liked it. Other words in this category are “tasty” and “yummy.” Most of the time you can just edit these words out of your drafts and you’ll have a more solid piece of writing immediately.

Look for vague or general words in your draft and replace them with more specific ones, such as “kitchen” for “room.” Even when it comes to adjectives, “salty” or “velvety” gives the reader a better idea than “delicious.”

Step 4. Stir well with action verbs.

Another way to keep food writing from becoming a string of description is to go for action, just as Richman did. He didn’t focus on how the sausage tasted, but on what happened when he cut into it. If you slow down and describe what’s happening as you consume food, you create a mini movie in readers’ minds.

Here’s how authors Jane and Michael Stern describe slicing into a piece of apple pie: “The crust is as crunchy as a butter cookie, so brittle that it cracks audibly when you press it with your fork; grains of cinnamon sugar bounce off the surface as it shatters.” They’ve slowed down the action so you can picture what happens when the fork cuts into the pie. Action verbs like cracks, press, bounce, and shatters go a long way towards painting a vivid picture. The authors haven’t described how the apple pie tastes yet, but I’ll bet you’re salivating.

Step 4. Spice up the sauce with a few similes.

Since describing food is a big part of food writing, you need as many tools as possible to get the job done. Similes compare two unlike things, using “like” or “as.” They’re fun and imaginative, giving you the chance to insert images that might seem a little incongruous, but work well anyway.

Here’s an example from  New York Times  dining editor Pete Wells: “First we’ll get the grill going hotter than a blacksmith’s forge…as usual, the tongs won’t be long enough to keep my hands from scorching like bare feet on the beach parking lot.”

You might not know how hot a blacksmith’s forge gets, or even what the heck a forge is. It doesn’t matter. You understand that the forge is red hot, and that’s all Well needs to make his point. Similarly, you might not think of bare feet on a beach parking lot when grilling meat. But suddenly, you’ve got a pleasant if slightly painful memory. A simple story about grilling becomes an evocative look at a fun part a summer everyone can relate to, a little piece of our collective past.

Similes are a little different than metaphors I mentioned in Step 2. Similes compare two things (burning bare feet and grilling), as opposed to referring to the object directly as something else. In the Richman example, he says a cut sausage is a bursting water pipe, as opposed to saying it’s “like” a bursting water pipe. The pipe is the metaphor for the sausage.

No matter which technique you employ from this list, and no matter which medium you choose to tell your story, food writing is similar to other kinds of narrative writing. It focuses on evocative storytelling and context, rather than on exactly how the spaghetti sauce tasted. While that’s certainly part of the story, it’s more important to evoke an emotional response in the reader by making them imagine a bucking bull or a hot day at the beach. Think of food writing as a type of cooking: you try a little of this a little of that, and soon you have a dish. By consistently driving your story forward with the techniques I’ve outlined, you’ll find creative new ways to express your thoughts about food, and cook up an audience that can’t wait to read more.

Choose Your Style of Food Writing

Food writing is not just the provenance of national magazines like  Bon Appetit,  nor limited to the cookbook department of bookstores. It’s everywhere, appearing in thousands of blogs and websites, newspaper and magazine features, e-newsletters, recipe databases, and fiction writing.

Food writing also takes many shapes, including

  • Memoir and personal essay
  • Restaurant reviewing
  • Recipe writing
  • Food history
  • Food politics
  • Profiles of chefs and farmers
  • Travel writing and guides
  • Food reference
  • Cookbook reviews.

Where might you start? Many writers want to capture their own experiences, and for that, blogs are an easy place to get published. Plus, you can experiment with any of the forms mentioned above on a blog.

Recipe Writing That Works

Recipes are a form of technical writing because of the exacting way they are written. They have four parts: the title, the headnote, the ingredients list, and the method, which explains how to make the dish.

You start in the kitchen, making a dish more than once to get the best flavor and texture combinations. Keep notes by the stove about measurements and amounts, techniques, and any other details critical to the dish’s success, then write up your recipe when you’re certain of its success.

Here are a few fail-proof rules to observe:

  • Start with a descriptive, enticing title. Classic Strawberry Shortcake, for example, tells readers exactly what they’ll get: a rich biscuit with saucy fresh strawberries and whipped cream.
  • Draw readers in with the headnote. Tell a personal story about how you made your first omelette, explain the perfect balance of flavors in a fruity ice cream, the history of your mother-in-law’s potato salad, or the no-fail technique you use for roasted asparagus.
  • List ingredients in the order used. Your recipe might feature lamb chops, but if the first thing you do is heat olive oil in a skillet, that’s where to start.
  • Do the prep in your ingredients list. The French call it  mise en place . Get all your ingredients chopped, measured and ready to go before firing up the stovetop. Use the method to explain what to do with 1 onion, sliced; or ½ cup chopped parsley.
  • Test and retest your recipe to make sure it works. Make sure you’re not writing in shorthand, skipping a step, or leaving out an ingredient.

(c) Diane Jacob

Diane Jacob is the American author of the award-winning Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir and More. She is also the co-author of the cookbook Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas, and blogs on food writing at

This article first appeared in  magazine.

For more than 15 years, writing coach, editor, and blogger Dianne Jacob has taught food lovers how to take their passion from the plate to the page. Now, Jacob has revised and updated her award-winning guide. Whether you’ve been writing for years or are just starting out, Will Write for Food offers what you need to know to succeed and thrive, including:- A new chapter dedicated to making an income from food writing- Updated information about self-publishing and cookbook production- Tips on creating and sustaining an irresistible blog with gorgeous photos- The keys to successful freelancing and reviewing- Advice from award-winning writers, editors, and agents- Engaging, fun writing exercises to get the juices flowing.

Dianne’s book is a very popular reference book for food writers and food bloggers. It has won two international awards from the Cordon D’Or and the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Order your copy online here .

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