I love food. Who doesn’t? Even though I’m a very picky eater, I can go into raptures about the few foods I love, from greasy pizza to flaky, buttery croissants to Oreo ice cream. In fact, the enjoyment of food is one of those very sensual pleasures I think most people on the planet share, and it’s a great thing to have in your writing.
Food is delightful to write about precisely because it satisfies so many different senses in such a rich and varied way. There is the look of a beautifully prepared dish, the rich homey smell of baking cookies, the tactile crunch of a crispy potato chip, even the sound of a cookie broken in half or the crunch of an apple, and finally, of course, the taste. Somehow my enjoyment of food comes not just from the taste — in fact, I don’t even think it’s my favorite sensory experience. My favorite might be the texture of my favorite foods. I’m a very texture-sensitive girl and I have a powerful revulsion for almost anything with a creamy texture. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always been that way — things like custard, pudding, yoghurt, cream of wheat, and even whipped cream can make me gag. My favorite textures are crunchy and crispy things. I like my cookies baked to a crisp and I love eating crispy fried things. Basically, I have peculiar eating habits, but what I enjoy, I enjoy a lot.
After the jump: writing about food, and why it’s useful.
Food writing is hugely popular, but you can introduce a little food writing in even a non-food-related story. When writing about food, it’s important to capture the sensual experience of smelling and eating it. It’s a great way to ground your character in the moment, the here and now, by having him or her eat something slowly and thoughtfully. Pick a food that you yourself love, a food you know very well, and put it in your character’s hands. Remember the sound, taste, and smell, and put it on the page.
Another way to make your descriptions jump off the page is to use a technique called synesthesia. I’ll write more in depth about it in another post, but in a nutshell, synesthesia is the crossing of sensory imagery with other senses. For example, a describing a sound as blue, a sight as delicious, or a touch as melodious. You can see how words normally reserved for specific senses — sight, taste, and sound, respectively — have been mixed up with other senses. While this can sometimes happen carelessly in our writing, when it’s done carefully and consciously it can result in a gloriously vivid new way to describe something. Doesn’t the sound of a mournful clarinet sound blue to you? And has something looked so beautiful it was good enough to eat? And the gentle touch of someone you love can feel like music on your skin, can’t it? One wonderful part about being alive and having so many senses is that they can blend together in unexpected ways. When describing food, don’t be afraid to describe a taste as beautiful or a smell as sonorous.
You may be asking why you’d want to put food in your story at all. Beginning writers often forget to include details like what people are eating; they’re working too hard on the main framework of the story and think there’s no time for sidetracks. But food doesn’t have to be a sidetrack if you make it an important moment for the character. To me, food is one of the ways we leave our heads and engage with the world a few times a day. When you’re eating, you are forced out of your thoughts and engaged fully with your senses, connecting with the world in a way. If you want it to be, it can be an important moment of ecstatic connection for your character.