3 Tasty Techniques for Food Writing

Friday, March 25, 2022
By Melanie Faith

Prefer pickles to relish? Love to nosh kugel? Find Frito pie a comfort food but loathe mac and cheese? Appreciate the aromas of veggie chili or a tart rhubarb pie wafting your kitchen with tantalizing odors? You're speaking our language! Let's take a look at three traits common to food writing across genres, from fiction to poetry to essays and more.

1. Include sensory imagery.

Great food descriptions are specific. They don't just include smells, but also tease us with tastes and textures. Include an adjective or two--so it's not just a sandwich, but an ooey-gooey pb&j on homemade, whole wheat toast. Can't you just see the sandwich cut into diamond halves and placed on a plain, porcelain plate in the second description? Doesn't the second description make you anticipate the salty and sweet in the first bite, waiting for it to stick to the roof of your mouth?

2. Dynamic verbs are a do.

Consider how this snack or meal was crafted. Did you lovingly crimp the crusts or hastily thumb-pinch a scallop-pattern? Consider adding visual and/or tactile imagery that create word-pictures in your readers' minds. Instead of plain old "made," what about "whipped up," "whisked," "poured," "concocted," or "fricassee?"

3. Highlight a main theme or idea in your scene, poem, essay, or chapter.

Food carries potent cultural symbols, from how we prepare it for ourselves or others to how we eat or share it to who cleans up after the feast. For some, meals are a communal time of day to gather with friends or family and share stories of the day. Does food equate to connection and/or community for you or your protagonist? Safety, even? Or does food equate to loneliness, shame, or even sorrow? Does your protagonist eat alone recently? Why or why not? Consider not just what the food looks, smells, and tastes like, but also how it makes your character feel--about self, family, friends, or community. Food can serve as symbols of our greatest time constraints (perhaps your protagonist feels overwhelmed by grocery shopping and cooking many meals, especially at the holidays) and remind us of our greatest hopes and fears. Underscore conflicts or mixed emotions that food sparks within your protagonist.

Try This! Exercise:
Jot a list of five foods. Beside each food, briefly describe the food, pairing an adjective with a strong verb. Then, for each food, write down an emotion or two that spring(s) to mind. How might you explore the symbolism of the food in your character's life? What about his/her hopes and fears? Pick one food and write 250 words detailing your protagonist either preparing or eating the food. Include a line of internal dialogue/self-talk or body language to show the emotions the food elicits.


Melanie Faith holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, NC. Her writing has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. Her full-length, historical poetry collection set in the 1918 flu epidemic, This Passing Fever, was published by Future Cycle Press in October 2017. Vine Leaves Press published her craft books about writing and editing flash fiction and nonfiction and her craft book about writing poetry (both 2018). In December 2019, her craft book, Photography for Writers, was also published by Vine Leaves Press. Most recently, her shorter pieces appeared in After the Pause, Contemporary Haibun Online, The Sandy River Review, The Writer’s Monthly Review Magazine, and Embodied Effigies. Her flash fiction, “The Slades,” placed honorable mention in the 2014 Bevel Summers Prize for the Short Short Story and was published in Shenandoah (Washington and Lee University). In addition to numerous photography publications, her art made the cover of both OVS Magazine and Chantwood Review in 2017. Her instructional articles about creative writing techniques have appeared in The Writer and Writers’ Journal, among others. To learn more about Melanie’s writing, teaching, and photography, please visit: www.melaniedfaith.com/blog/.

Melanie is also a WOW! Women on Writing instructor. Check out her upcoming workshops, Food Writing for Fun and Profit: Blogs, Restaurant Reviews, Recipes, Fiction, Memoir, and More and In a Flash: Writing and Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose. More information about our classes can be found on our classroom page.


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I really need to do this exercise before I dive back into my cozy. You made me realize that although food features in my middle grade science fiction novel, it is neglected in my cozy. I definitely need to remedy that. Cozies readers love vibrant, taste-filled foodie passages.

Renee Roberson said...

Thanks for this great exercise, Melanie! I'm listening to the audiobook of a memoir by Danielle Walker right now called "Food Saved Me." She has ulcerative colitis and had to give up a lot of her favorite comfort foods when she was diagnosed, and this led her to create a blog and ways to re-create all those comfort foods without grains and dairy. Her descriptions of all the meals/recipes she enjoyed sharing with her family and how she felt when she lost the original iterations are a great example of this type of writing.

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