Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Power of Food/Writing

I just applied to teach a food writing class, and so have spent the last days or so thinking about what I needed to put in the application. I already teach a freshman-level writing class at Brigham Young University, and this application was to teach an "experimental" section of that freshman class. It is experimental because we suggest a deviation from the normal course of study and do something different than the standardized program provided by the University. So, I applied to teach a class that focuses on food writing, and in the course we will explore writing about food, but also the importance of food and food traditions in our culture and personal lives. The application was naturally bland and clinical (I hate that aspect of proposals; they always take fun, creative ideas and reduce them to useful standards). I had to include how my assignments and proposed course of study would help the students become better writers. While I understand that that is the ultimate goal of the class, still, I wanted to put in there why I love food so much.

Grilled Cheese and Orange, made from ciabatta bread made by Little Brother

Food is an inseparable part of my life. I am always making the joke that I am addicted to food, that "I couldn't live without it." But, more than that, I am fascinated by the power that food has. Our meetings do not feel complete without it. Even if all that are provided are chain-store donuts, we still feel like a gathering has been more effective and captivating if we have something to chew on. When someone is sad, we make them food. When we are sad we indulge in junk food or comfort foods. When we are celebrating, we eat. We eat when we are nervous, bored, irritated. Even when we have just eaten a large dinner, it is hard to pass up the veggie platter at the party we're attending. Despite knowing that the birthday cake in the office break room has more in common with plastic than pastry, we're still tempted by the festive frosting. Food has a magical sway over us. Food solves problems, is the impetus for family fights. When we eat family favorites we connect ourselves with a deep-rooted tradition that sometimes stretches to great-great-grandparents we don't know, and when we try something new we feel that we are exploring a rich wilderness that may, or may not, lead to El Dorado. This is what I wanted to express in my application.

Little Brother's ciabatta bread, sliced

Also, partly because the application didn't call for it and partly because I finished the application less than five minutes before it was due, I wanted to say how eating and reading have always been closely related, if not in reality, then at least metaphorically. We consume books, we eat up words, we are fed lines. And if eating and reading are synonymous, then it isn't a stretch to assume that cooking and writing are about the same process, too. There are is always a form to follow, a genre to fit in, and an audience to please. In the end, the situation and the audience determine what you write in the same way that where and to whom the dish will be served influences what you cook.

Grilled cheese and oil and vinegar

I suppose what I am trying to get at with all of this is that I love food and I love writing. And, while I know that I have my biases on both issues, I think that learning to write well and learning to eat well are both important life skills. There are times when a carefully written letter can move a nation, and there are times when only a thoughtfully prepared dinner will really express what you need to say.

Ciabatta bread, uncut, and in a golden light

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