Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Food Porn


My friend Maggie says she reads cookbooks like novels, savoring every word in every description and recipe. Another friend in San Francisco told me, when I used to work for Bon Appétit, that when the magazine landed in her mailbox, she would draw a bath, slink into the warm water, and devour every recipe and photo. "It's food porn," she said, emphatically.

Sorry, but recipes just don't do it for me. What I do look for in a recipe, though, is clarity and precision. I'm not a chef, but I can follow a recipe, as long as it's well-written. I'm not talking prose here. I just want easy-to-follow instructions and procedures. After reading countless recipes for four years on the job, I can quickly discern if the recipe is going to work for me or not.

I also have a lot of respect for the copy editors who make sure that the recipe holds up: that all the ingredients are used in the order they appear at the top of the recipe; that simple, declarative sentences spell out the procedures clearly; that the recipe makes sense to a lay reader. (I'm not blowing my own horn here; I wasn't a copy editor at Bon Appétit, I edited the feature articles and benefitted from the copy editors' work.) It's not easy, but the result is extremely important. It's the difference between a good recipe (that is, one that works), and just words that sound good accompanied by food-porn photos.

Photo of the Queen of Food Porn, Nigella Lawson, doing pasta

4 comments:

  1. Five years ago, as a reult of head injuries, i lost my senses of smell and taste. some months after my accident i realised everything i was reading was food-related. A biography of MFK Fisher, books by Amanda Hesser, all sorts of things about american regional food and food history. I started buying the NYTimes on Wednesdays specially for the dining section. This continued for at least a year before my literary diet switched to travel books and novels. My smell and taste have never returned.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, that's very powerful. Thanks for sharing. It must be hard to eat when your senses of smell and taste are gone. But I hope you found solace in reading good food lit. I love MFK Fisher's writing as well as Amanda Hesser.

    ReplyDelete
  3. When you say recipes just don't do it for you it has me wondering, do you love cooking? I wouldn't say my enjoyment of reading recipes and descriptions of food reach the level of pornographic enjoyment, but it's close! As I'm reading recipes I'm also imagining the aromas that would be wafting through my kitchen as I carried out each step, from sauteing the garlic to adding the herbs, or, my favorite, the item baking in the oven begins to give off the telling notification of the "i'm finished and ready to eat" variety. So, maybe the food porn comes from a a love of cooking?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good point, Rochelle. I love your description of the food in the oven shouting out that it's ready to eat!

    Having worked for a food magazine for four years, I consider myself a foodie. I do love to cook, and I like to bake even more. What I meant is that I don't get off, figuratively of course, in reading recipes. I like to read them and can judge pretty quickly if a recipe is right for me, but it's more practical than sensual for me. Do you think maybe it's a guy thing? (Not that I want to sound sexist...)

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.