When Food Words Fail

MC / August 28, 2010

Is food blogging its own unique art? The short answer is yes, as I discovered during Kathleen Flinn’s “Writing With All Five Senses” workshop today. This IFBC workshop was packed with professional food bloggers who seemed to have no problem with the seemingly simple exercise of describing a lemon. A few bloggers read their descriptions aloud for the group. The ones that drew applause were reminiscent of romantic poetry, complete with sensual double entendres and emotional descriptions about…the experience of seeing a lemon. “I think porn writing and food writing at their best are very similar,” said Flinn after a particularly suggestive description.

Each exercise (touch, smell, sound, and taste) elicited emotionally descriptive and evocative musings from the audience. I eventually stopped trying to compete and just listened to what the others were writing. That, as it turned out, was the overarching message of the workshop.

“Pay attention to every moment of your life,” said Flinn in her summation of the session. “You must love something about food to be a food blogger. Challenge yourself to embrace even more something you love, because it is so easy to get caught up in feeding the beast.”

This reminded me of something one of the chefs at The Cooking Lab told me yesterday. As I watched the chefs prepare dishes for this week’s IFBC events (look for videos of this here later), I asked Max if the average person’s palate was sophisticated enough for them to distinguish and describe the complex sensations associated with what I was eating. “Well,” he said with a polite smile. “We may have to learn how to describe all of the flavors and textures we experience when we eat, but we are born knowing how to taste.”

As the subtitle of Modernist Cuisine suggests, cooking is as much art as science. This is true of eating as well. But while science can help a chef express his or her artistic vision of a meal, the eater needs to neither know the science behind it nor have the words to describe it to enjoy the result.

Turning lemons into...food porn?

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