By Sheri Castle, 2012 Fall Conference Faculty, "Food Writing"
When I write food journalism, I aim for my readers to understand the facts. When I write fiction, I strive for my readers to understand my thoughts. When I write food stories, I pray for my readers to understand their thoughts.
Southerners are particularly susceptible to stories, and food stories hold particular sway over us. That is because Southern food is evocative. It makes us Southerners talk (and sometimes write) because it makes us remember. Before we tell you how a thing tastes, we need to tell you how it makes us feel and what it reminds us of. We cannot tell of the food without telling of the people who made it for us, and why, and how well they did or didn't do. Southern is on the tip of our tongues.
That isn't to say that all Southern food memories are good because, of course, not all Southern food and cooking are good. On the other hand, some Southern meals are so exalted we are sure it's what the angels eat on Sunday. Whether good or bad, food memories are hard to shake. There is no more tenacious nostalgia: one bite of food or one whiff of an aroma from our past is swift transport to somewhere else. The persuasion of a food memory is association, not accuracy.
Likewise, this isn't to say that all Southern food writing is good. Just because something happened doesn't mean it's interesting or worth repeating. The worst food stories are so mawkish that Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm would roll her eyes. The best food stories enable us to shine a personal light onto our shared cultural experiences. A satisfying food story says as much about what was on our minds and who was in the kitchen as what was on our plates. A shrewd food writer pivots a premise around the table until he catches on the right point of view, then the story can take off from there.
A good meal is a found poem. When we food writers are lucky, we can apply the right words to do it justice. The writer and the story leave the table full.
Sheri Castle will lead the "Food Writing 101" workshop at the North Carolina Writers' Network 2012 Fall Conference. Castle is a professional food writer, recipe developer, recipe tester, and culinary instructor. Her book The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Recipes for Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands and CSA Boxes was selected as the 2012 Cookbook of the Year by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA). It was also named a notable book by The New York Times and The Washington Post. Recipes and excerpts from the book have appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines, and websites across the country. Sheri’s work has appeared in Southern Living, Better Homes and Gardens, Fine Cooking, People Country, WNC Magazine, Living in Style, Edible Piedmont, Edible Blue Ridge, Taste of the South, Cornbread Nation 3 and 4, Gilt Taste, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Times-Picayune, and numerous other magazines, cookbook anthologies, syndicated newspaper columns, websites, and blogs. She is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Slow Foods USA, and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Her website is www.shericastle.com.