Is there too much sanctimony in today’s food writing?

Stephen Budiansky in The Wall Street Journal has a thought-provoking article about today’s food writing. Among the disturbing traits he notices is the use of the word “preferably,” as in “1 teaspoon paprika, preferably sweet Spanish pimentón dulce”  –  a sure sign of pretentiousness. And there’s the hectoring that accompanies too many recipes, “½ cup brown sugar, preferably fair-trade organic.”

To expand upon his argument that food writing is missing an essential element of humor, he reviews four new cookbooks: Change Comes to Dinner by Katherine Gustafson, Culinary Intelligence  by Peter Kaminsky, The Locavore’s Dilemma by Pierre Desrochers & Hiroko Shimizu, and The Taste of Tomorrow by Josh Schonwald.

Budiansky introduces the books with a note that “Making a cause out of epicurean pleasure has become equally de rigueur in food books. Four new ones all follow the basic template: to amalgamate personal stories of culinary discovery with exhortations to treat food as something meaningful and earnest.”  Among the themes he finds in these books are a surprising dislike of eating, self-absorption, and a nanny approach. In short, as he writes, “…even with the best of intentions, making a cause out of what we eat has a way of coming back to bite us. And likewise that in place of so much earnestness, the ingredient modern food writing could use more of is wit – preferably, the dry kind.”

Together, these four short book reviews provide a lot of food for thought. 


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  • TrishaCP  on  June 26, 2012

    I 100% agree with his point about "recipe hectoring" and how it veers into pretentiousness. He calls out the New York Times, but I see it more with food bloggers and I think it stems from them wanting their readers to understand that they only use the "best" ingredients. (At least, that's the case for one food blogger I am thinking of in particular!)

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