Writing about food is not an easy thing to do. If we can refer to it as a "scene" for a moment; it is peppered with people like the vague-verb-police - you know, the ones who insist that describing something as beautiful or nice is next to useless as a description.
Writing about food is not an easy thing to do. If we can refer to it as a “scene” for a moment; it is peppered with people like the vague-verb-police – you know, the ones who insist that describing something as beautiful or nice is next to useless as a description.
The over-reachers who think they have discovered a new way to depict a leaf of kale or, worse, avocados; those who write with impeccability, clearly in love with language; reviving words and phrases once lost to a by-gone age. And then, there is me.
I grew up on a council estate in South Bristol, but we owned our own home. Ours was a working class household, but we liked to read the classics; listen to Tchaikovsky and Mozart; be up to speed with current affairs and had proper philosophical discussions and then watched Noel’s House Party on a Saturday night. I went to state school and was always top of the class. I went to law school in my home town and yet in a form of 200 students, I was only one of two from Bristol, and the only one with a Bristolian accent (I think I secretly embarrassed the other girl!). I could talk durrty Bristolian as much as the next person and then reel off a sentence from Pride and Prejudice as if it were nothing to me.
All this has meant that I’ve spent the majority of my time on this planet talking like an educated Worzel Gummidge with a bad Irish accent. I flail between sounding like an Oxford Moot Champion and a complete fucking idiot. For many this would be considered a less than ideal starting point for someone who realised in her mid-thirties that all she wanted to be was a writer. Linguistically speaking, I lack consistency.
When people meet me for the first time, I’m certain I come across like a blithering mess. I am cursed with an over-burdensome respect for other people that are either my peers, successful or superior to me in any way: pretty much everyone I meet makes me feel start struck. If I’m introduced as “Kate Ryan the Food Writer” I often have to append this introduction with some sort of apology that I “write better than I speak”, but put me on a stage and my audience is putty in my hands. Again, inconsistency. I’m a Gemini – what can I say!
But going back to the writing, I long ago let go of any notion I had that I could possibly emulate the talent and nuance of the Classical Writers. They are on “Kate’s Pedestal of Awe” and shall never be removed. The classics are there to inspire us – whether that’s literature, art or music. They represent a time when there was no ease about what they achieved. Their work is to be held in the absolute of highest regard; beyond the indignity of emulation and crass copyists. The modern formal writers are those who write with microscopic detail about the simplest of things. They can describe a single rain drop on a rose petal with language that brings the image to life better than any photograph. Their words trigger our imagination – a talent that is to be treasured in the age of one-way information and force-fed imagery that leaves little room for our imaginations to flourish.
But, as much as I admire these pillars of creative writing, they are not always a style of writing that is accessible or even engaging to some. Maybe people don’t want to have to pick up a dictionary to get through an article. Maybe people are happy in their knowledge that they know what a raindrop on a rose petal looks like – or maybe they just don’t care. So what the hell do I do as a writer?
To paraphrase a deeply unpopular certain POTUS: I have words…I have the best words, but sometimes they run away from me. They don’t want to come out and play with me – they’d rather hang out with John McKenna or AA Gill (RIP) and that’s fine, I can take it. I revel in writing about how I experience things. I’m not sure I could ever write a piece of fiction, but I consider myself a storyteller. When I visit a food producer, yes of course I’m always listening – taking down the facts and figures, but most of my time spent with a producer is spent just taking it all in. All the non-verbal stuff: their enthusiasm; the glint in their eyes when talking about their newest product; more than just what they do, but how they are talking about what they do. The atmosphere of the place; camaraderie; sights, smells, tastes. To me that is where the story lies. There are many people making cheese, baking bread, farming, fishing, distilling and brewing, but I want to cut through the finely tuned marketing BS and get to the people behind the product. Facts and figures are all well and good but the story is in the personalities, the journey, the misty-eyed look of ambition. In other words, I don’t write about the rose, I write about how the rose made me feel so that you can experience it too.
I also like to write instinctively – to have an idea and just write about it, see where it takes me. I like to live in an authentic way, i.e. I’m not codding ya! This is me and I’m not pretending to be someone I’m not. I’m just a normal person who loves food enough to spend her life writing about it. I need to write in a way that anyone can pick up an article and feel drawn in to experience something the same way I have.
What I enjoy so much about food writing are the many forms it can take! Personally, I don’t do restaurant or product reviews on my blog (unless they really blow my mind); but I do write a lot of recipes – mainly because I cook a lot! My published articles are usually about the food industry; producers; destination food guides; topical food issues that really inspire me or piss me off, and so on. Eating and food is the one thing we all do every day so there is no shortage of ideas of what to write about.
It seems to be working out OK so far. Feedback from readers can be daunting – like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never quite know what you’re gonna get, but I have been fortunate enough to have my work well received. Readers seem to really enjoy the jumble of words and punctuation marks that I call “My Writing”. If something makes people laugh, is relatable, accessible or triggering an “a-ha” moment then these reviews are particularly awesome.
I love what I do. It took me 35 years to come to the realisation that this is the thing that I am actually pretty good at. I’m no Emily Bronte, but what those classics of literature have gifted me with is the memory of how I saw their literature play out in my minds eye and the emotions their words stirred. Long after I have finished reading a book and the words have gone, what is left is how it made me feel. To me, this is the aim of writing. All art is, on an arbitrary level, unnecessary. But it is precisely its ability to tap into all the other stuff that makes us a feeling, emotional, crazy, creative and divinely inspired human that is so important.
So next time you read one of my blog posts or articles or, if I ever get the time to start it properly, a book, know that this isn’t a whim. It’s not a phase I’m going to grow out of. This is all of me. And I feel immensely grateful for it.
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