Home > Uncategorized > Food Writing: A Rant

Food Writing: A Rant

I love food writing. I like doing it, but I also like reading it. I’m always good for a nice meta discussion, and food writing combines so many things I enjoy.

So every year, one of the things I always pick up is Holly Hughe’s “Best Food Writing [year].” And every year I, well, devour it. As I did yesterday.

It has the elements I like – discussions of food and of food history. There’s an essay on milk toast with a bonus one for BREAD AND MILK, which is ubiquitous throughout the Louisa May Alcott books, as well as other American domestic/girls’ novels of the time period, but which they NEVER describe because it would be like us describing french toast. For the record, bread and milk is chunks of break soaked in warm milk, sometimes sugared. Like breakfast cereal but much, much soggier. And warmer. And less appetizing.

They also discuss cooks and restaurants and food trends and home cooking vs. restaurant cooking, and there are often recipes. It’s all fascinating to me.

It’s also incredibly marginalizing and frustrating to me. Essay after essay about pork and ham and seafood and meat/milk combinations – and half of them written by or ABOUT Jews, too. Jews PROUD of tossing away their heritage, or so it seems. Or proud of never having had it in the first place. That’s their right and they can believe as they will, but it makes it no less frustrating to me. (Even when I didn’t keep kosher, even when I cooked, ate, enjoyed all those things, I still kinda felt it was wrong. But no one else needs to feel that way.)

Essay after essay about this culture and that culture – Southern,. Indian, California – written by people who were part of those cultures, and the only one vaguely Jewish was about a non-kosher, open-on-Shabbos appetizing store (and not one hint that maybe that might be a problem, mostly because this article was NOT written by anyone Jewish (at least if one can go by last names) and so she wouldn’t realize it. Because, again, the Jewish writers? Running as far from Judaism/kashrut as possible. As if it were something to hide, to be ashamed of.

I’m actually wrong. Jonathan Safran Foer has an essay – about how he’s raising his sons to be vegetarian, and how he was influenced by his grandmother, who wouldn’t eat pork even though she was starving, because if you don’t believe in something, what’s the point? Yay.

That’s the marginalization. And I do understand – I’m a minority of a minority. Why should there be essays about our cuisine, which only consists, really, of taking local cuisines and adapting it to our needs and rules? That there are French and Italian and Mexican and Chinese and Indian and fast food and bar food restaurants that manage to serve delicious (and once in a while, authentic) food despite having to leave out or change vital ingredients? That kosher supermarkets are as stocked with nori and shoyu and exotic spice blends as any other?

Mostly, I suppose, because the assumption is that people AREN’T interested. Also, I suspect, because until recently, there hasn’t been a lot of kosher food writing. Still isn’t, compared to the mainstream, which makes sense. But right now, in newstands in my neighborhood, four or five magazines dedicated to that subject – magazines written for Jewish home cooks that revolve around OUR holidays and needs, but are attempting to break free from kugels and gefilte fish, with glossy photos and step by step recipes. Not many essays, though, except about keeping kosher in Buenos Aires. Nothing that would attract Ms. Hughes’ attention.

So I get that.

The other part, the frustration? Is no one’s fault, but it’s still there. The recipes. I don’t use a lot of recipes when I cook. I don’t like measuring, I don’t like cooking the same thing all the time. I like improvising, tossing things in, seeing what happens. This is not true, because while I don’t use measuring cups or spoons when I do most of my cooking, I still have a reasonable idea the proportions of stuff to use and one pot of meatball soup tastes pretty much like the next.

Anyway, I like READING recipes, because I get ideas from them and because they’re pornography for me. I can taste the food as I go down the list of ingredients and techniques. At least, most of the time. Reading The French Laundry Cookbook, for example, failed. I could not taste any of that food (and I knew I never would, either.)

But I have a decent palate and I ate a fair amount of foods I won’t eat anymore before I started keeping kosher. So I can taste the recipes. And sometimes I think about making them.

And that’s when it gets frustrating. Two quarts of chicken stock and one cup of heavy cream. A ham bone. Six slices of bacon, fried crisp. Dried shrimp. Half a cup of Parmigianno cheese. Sometimes it’s the ingredients when they can’t be left out or substituted for. Sometimes it’s the sheer amount, so a subsitute would make an obvious difference. Sometimes it’s that there would be too many substitutions so I’d end up making an entirely different dish. Whatever – I think the only recipe I can actually make in the latest book is a trout with cilantro-mint chutney. Which sounds entirely delicious, btw. Oh, and I can make the bread and milk AND the milk toast, but that would be a waste of both bread and milk.

It’s seeing them all at once that makes it overwhelming, I think.

Anyway, this has been a rant and thank you for reading.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. otherdeb
    June 27, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Have you ever thought of doing some food writing…we’ve talked about food, and if you write about it and start submitting it place, I bet you would soon be among those top food writers.

  2. July 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    I understand what you’re saying and agree completely.

    There’s a site, Serious Eats (http://www.seriouseats.com/) I used to read religiously (now i check it once every two weeks if I’m lucky) and I’ve always wondered why there are few ‘Jewish’ writers (I put it like that because I’m not sure how many of them actually keep kosher) or there isn’t a dedicated Kosher section. I mean, kosher food has evolved into kosher cuisine. We’ve moved past gefilte fish, lead-weight matzah balls and Maneschevitz ‘wine’.

    So there’s the Jew and the Carrot but IMO it tends to grate on my Orthodox Jewish lifestyle nerves….

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