Tuesday afternoon, three-time James Beard Award winner Janet Fletcher shared her food-writing specialty with a group of 30 writers and food appreciators.
The San Francisco Chronicle cheese columnist’s speech was part of the University Writing Program’s Conversation with Writers series. It focused on finding different angles to write about food as well as different venues and formats for writing.
“There is a lot of opportunity in this world of food writing,” she said. “I think for a lot of us newspaper journalists, we’re finding new ways to cast ourselves.”
Fletcher is a full time freelance writer, writing not just news, but also cookbooks, recipes, commercials and scripts.
A common misconception about food writing is that it’s just restaurant reviews. Fletcher finds restaurant reviews dull and pedestrian, and emphasized the need to write about the greater context behind a certain food.
“It’s about the people, history, culture, travel, anthropology, science,” she said. “Food can take you in all these realms. It’s rarely just about how something tastes.”
Even recipes don’t have to be merely recipes, she said. There is always a greater story dealing with tradition, immigration, innovation or modernity behind a recipe.
Fletcher is currently working on her book, “Eating Local: 150 Recipes from the Farm to Your Table,” which is coming out this summer. She went to farms across the country and discusses how to get involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – where consumers can buy local and seasonal foods directly from a farmer – and what to cook with the produce obtained through CSA.
Eating locally is the latest trend in food, and Fletcher predicts it will remain for a long time – pushing out molecular gastronomy as a food phenomenon.
Fletcher thinks food should be used to learn about other cultures and that most Americans are not connected to food enough.
“Food is identity, it’s who we are,” she said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we have obesity problems in this country – we don’t give it the respect and attention that it deserves.”
– Janelle Bitker