Writing about Food
by Dana Bate
Given how much I love food, writing about it should be easy. And in some ways it is. I never get bored of the subject matter. Frankly, even when I’m writing about something else, at the back of my mind I’m thinking, “What is this character going to have for lunch? What am I going to have for lunch? Maybe I’ll make avocado toast. Mmmm, avocado toast. I should probably have some right now. What time is it? 10:30? An early lunch, then. Or maybe just a snack. Mmmm, snacks.” And so it goes.
What’s tricky is translating that love of food into scenes that work for the reader. Telling a reader, “The avocado toast tasted delicious,” conveys nothing. Delicious how? The word delicious is both subjective and uninformative; it means different things to different people. When it comes to food, the more concrete the description, the better.
Instead of calling the avocado toast delicious, what if I talked about the bread’s crisp, crackling crust, the custardy crumb of its interior, and the smooth, buttery flavor of the mashed avocado? What if I told you about the smoky smell that emanated from the oven as the bread browned, and the thunderous crunching sound the toast made as I took my first bite, sending shards of blistered crust onto my plate? I bet you now have a pretty good sense of what that dish not only tasted like, but also what it looked, sounded, and smelled like.
And that’s the key to writing about food: you have to involve all of the senses. By using strong adjectives to tell readers how a dish looked, tasted, smelled, sounded, and felt, readers feel as if that meal is right in front of them. They are enjoying it – or not – right along with the characters in the story. By making the food real for readers, I’m making the story real for them, too. And, if I’m doing my job, I’m probably making them hungry.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some avocado toast to make. Because after all of this food talk? I need a snack.
Dana Bate is an award-winning journalist and author of the novels A Second Bite at the Apple (published in the UK as The Stall of Second Chances) and The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs, (The Secret Supper Club). Her third book, Too Many Cooks, has only one title and is out next month in the UK and October in the US.