Whenever I speak to young students about journalism, their ears always perk up when I talk about food writing. It is the greatest job in the world–eating for free (via reimbursements, of course) and getting paid to do it. But I also tell the students that writing well about food is difficult, given there are only three ultimate outcomes to any review: good, bad or meh.
As a result, food writing suffers more than most beats from repetitive words, descriptions, gimmicks and such. After the jump (another repetitive saying), five of the ones I hope leave the universe of food writing and latch on to another genre–like watching the royals, maybe. And lest someone accuse me of casting stones, I fully admit to some of the sins listed.
1. The Adjectival Suffix -y
When a writer doesn't want to think, when their Roget's (or thesaurus.com) is not within reach but they're on deadline to properly describe a foodstuff, nothing works better than plopping the suffix -y at the end of a word and passing it off as a flair of genius. Avocado-y! Bacon-y! Anchovy-y! How cute! How clever! How lazy! I'm not a grammar snob by any sense of the imagination (Eat, Shoots and Leaves is one of the most pretentious books in existence not written by moi), but wielding the -y has created a generation of food writers that seemingly live for the shortcut.
2. The Word “Bliss”
I catch myself using this word way too much. Another shortcut. Why can't the writer describe how exactly the dish is blissful–or, if they have, why not just leave it at that and move on to something else instead of reiterating how heavenly the dish is?
3. Food Porn
As our cameras have advanced, any yahoo nowadays can take hundreds of pictures of still lives of pho, bulgogi or burritos and emerge with a great shot. We are all food pornographers now, which means the art of beautiful food pictures is no longer anything special. Taking un-posed pictures of food involving people eating? THAT is an art form, one that few try to attempt because of the fiendish difficulty in capturing the decisive moment–and thus, we suffer from a plague of pretty pictures of food with little soul. Then again, what do I know? I'm a member of the Church of Cartier-Bresson, after all. . . .
4. The Food-Review-As-Letter Review
Dear People Who Write Their Reviews as Letters Just Like This,
I remember you. I remember you as a funny gimmick, a one-off that worked just like a legendary Los Angeles Times story about a robbery involving Dr. Seuss books written in verse à la Theodore Geisel. But the Times did that only once, just like Edwin reviewed a sushi place once in haiku form, just like I reviewed a bar once in a progressively drunk fashion. Now, your kind infests the world of blogs, of crazy Yelp kids, of otherwise enlightening write-ups mucked up by your gimmicky form. A gimmick is a gimmick, dear: works once, maybe twice. After the third time? The plague. For the sake of us both, return to your station and never return–I've found another.
5. The Use of “Street” Before Any Foodstuff Not Sold On an Actual Street But Passed Off As Street Food at Three Times the Actual Price of Street Food and Described as “Street” Food by Clueless Hipsters Who Only Eat Actual Street Food In Daylight or Surrounded by Friends Who Then Brag they Ate Street Food on an Actual Street
But you knew that already.