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what we talk about when we talk about food

July 6, 2010

(Including: reflections on food journalism, blogging, and a list of my favorite food blogs.)

Writing, it seems, has always come pretty naturally to me. I like to talk, but sometimes you can’t talk, which is where pencils and paper come in. Nonfiction, especially, has always been my forte; perhaps I lack imagination, but I prefer to tell the stories of myself or of other people.

My culinary history, on the other hand, is both shorter and more checkered. Yes, I post my successes up here, but – like Samwise – you don’t see the things I eat only because I don’t like ingredients to go to waste, and not because they actually tasted good. You’re reading the writings of a girl who once made breakfast for her ex-boyfriend, only to have him take one bite and say immediately, “You know, I think I’m going to make myself some oatmeal.”

But for some reason, I’ve always found cooking for LS to be easier than writing about it. One of the last posts I wrote for here, actually, had to be written as a draft for my personal blog before I felt comfortable enough with it to affiliate it with the noble Sturgeon name. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and why it’s so much easier to cultivate a voice there. That blog, in particular, is one that I’ve been keeping for several years, and one for which I know my audience pretty well. Which is to say, I don’t feel the need to explain a lot about myself.

With food blogs, such writing is different. I think that’s the nature of any writing that is subject-specific. In college, I remember asking a boy about music and him refusing to tell me, offering by way of explanation, “When people are talking about music, they’re not really talking about music at all.” (He then added, “All of the music I listen to is terrible.” He was right.) What he meant is that there are certain touchstones people reference, certain things we say we like, because we want to give others a certain impression about ourselves. We’re not, of course, talking about music at all. We’re talking about us.

And that’s what happens with food writing, too. When I write about what I cooked, or what Becca and I thought about the latest “Top Chef” (to which Samwise is generally not invited, because he is not willing to trek out to Becca’s house. His loss), I’m not only writing about what I eat, I’m trying to let you read between the lines, even if my efforts to do so are unintentional.

I realize that this statement is not going to make me very popular in the blogosphere, but there are food blogs written by people who love food, or love writing, or love both, and there are food blogs written because people want to hear their own voices, and talking about food is one way to get your voice out there. In other words, there are food blogs that are written for the love of it, and there are food blogs written because food blogging is cool* or because the writer wants to use it to create an identity. You can probably guess which ones I prefer. Here at Lancelot HQ, we’re not out to push the limits of eating or writing simply for the purpose of being noticed. We’re here because this is what we like to do. (Ask our friends, who are very glad that we’ve found an outlet to discuss culinary matters that doesn’t involve them.)

Of course, this isn’t always a guarantor of good writing. It’s tricky to put out good writing sometimes, to feel your voice as authentic and make sure that you’re not writing just for the sake of being heard. I haven’t always felt confident of my voice on here, not like I do on my personal blog, because that sort of thing takes time, and narrating the interplay of consumption and intellect and experience is tricky to do without sounding like a pompous asshole. (You can be authentic and still be annoying.) But I’m working on it.

And now that I have a little time on my hands (yes, Best Beloveds, I made it back to the great state of Tennessee, none the worse for wear), I want to celebrate some of *my* favorite food blogs – blogs that are genuine in intention, enjoyable to read, and, more often than not, provide foods that I would like to make and eat myself. Caveat: this is Hillary speaking alone here, although we should probably make a Lancelot Sturgeon Official Blogroll soon, and if I have my druthers, many of these will be on it. I will try to explain why I like them, in order to make my point clearer, and it should be noted that these are not in order of preference.

  1. SmittenKitchen. Forever and ever, amen. Because she is funny, and she does not take herself very seriously, and she manages to both forgo convenience foods and mock pretentious ingredients, and because her baby is cute, and because I would like to be her friend, and for many, many more reasons, this is my favorite. Of all time, ever. I kind of like that she’s gone this long without a book; now that she’s got a deal, it feels like she’s earned it.
  2. Russian Season. I really like the idea of learning about the everyday foods of other countries via the blogosphere, as home cooks don’t tend to cook “cookbook-y” recipes. I also find this blog totally adorable, even if I would not necessarily make all of the dishes in question. I think they live in Latvia but are not Latvian, which is why they write about the foods of the whole region. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.
  3. Serious Eats. In its broad range, this is more like a food newspaper.** The writing isn’t always the best, but where else can you learn both about how to cook brains and how to make a sous-vide device out of your beer cooler? NOWHERE ELSE. I’m pretty sure, at least.
  4. The Armenian Kitchen. I really love a lot of things about this blog. I love the fact that the writers are older, which means that they often lack the self-consciousness of bloggers who learned to write on the Internet and have a different life experience to draw on. And that lack of self-consciousness means that they are super, unbelievably, incredibly pumped about all things Armenian. The world needs more people with that sort of enthusiasm. Armenia probably does too.
  5. NYMag.com’s Food section (updatable via RSS). Becca and I have agreed to disagree on this one. I think their writing is sharp, and even if I don’t live in New York (man, I wish you all could see East Tennessee right now), I enjoy learning about the different foods the world has to offer, all of which, it appears, can be found in the five boroughs.
  6. Nami-nami. I like this for more or less the same reasons I like Russian Season. Also, I know so much more about Estonian food now than I did six months ago. Surely that will come in handy at some point?
  7. Orangette and the Wednesday Chef. It took me a long time to come around on these, but I have to admit that both women are good writers, occasionally funny, and manage to skirt maudlin pretty neatly.

What about you, readers?

*I mean, depending on who you ask.

**Which is funny because it’s ON TEH INTERNETZ.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. sam can cook permalink*
    July 6, 2010 5:35 pm

    I had *no idea* you were so into foods of the Baltic states. And Armenia. I was about to make some kind of CIS reference, but I looked it up and the Baltics are not members.

    I also like SK because every single post she puts up produces a minimum of 200 fawning comments, and she stays modest without relying on heavy-gauge self-effacement. It’s a matter, I guess, of knowing how to take a compliment, and to date I’m only really comfortable with the chinese cultural style: total denial. (other person: “I like your blog!” me: “You must not read very many blogs; remind me and I’ll find some better ones.”)

  2. franklybecca permalink*
    July 11, 2010 8:15 pm

    I don’t bother with NY Mag’s food section because I don’t like NY Mag in general. Not a very open-minded attitude, I know, but they started it.

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