Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Penning food

Penning food
'Penning food‘An interactive session discussing how food could be perceived other than on plate; with a panel of food writers and the food lover audience, lets read what is food writing all about’

8th February 2010-02-09
By, Dhwani Dalal

Food, something that triggers all five senses, hardly means something more than to be eaten and a subject that is static merely to those who cook or rather who have too cook; is mostly ignored when perceived from the eater’s point of view and the most ignored genre of all - ‘food writers’. The Kalaghoda Festivity took the initiative to unbolt those secrets behind the tempting stories and the storytellers; underneath the skin. A panel discussion with columnist Vikram Doctor from Economic Times, Nilanjana Roy, Shoba Narayana writer in Gourmet and New York times and Rushima Ghidiyal an active food blog writer and a freelancer to discuss the current scenario of food writing and issues in today’s world, was held in the David Sasoon library garden of Colaba followed by the literature event organizers of Kalaghoda festival.

Many of the issues in food writing are generated by misconceptions of readers. Our attempts to read about food are always governed by reading only the books which have recipes; the essence of food culture goes beyond it which is again not only writing about the trend, style or review of a new restaurant in the town but how the food comes to our plate bringing the culture and tradition along with the palate. A recent attempt by a group of Palanpuri Jain assisted by Dr. Satyavati Zaveri to write about food beyond the recipe. Delicacies from Palanpuri Jain food culture were compiled together and named ‘Dadima no varso’ which is a chunky book that talks about the traditional recipes, atypical ingredients, methods of cooking and the community that owns this food heritage. The fresh element of this book is it’s deemphasizing the recipe. The book aims to safeguard the vanishing practice and flavors of Palanpuri dishes. The book sets an example for one to look at the various dimensions of food writing. Many times things get obscured; the list of ingredients that are disappearing, the extraordinary culinary techniques never documented; are the issues one should look into to remain connected with one’s roots.

Now, for such research and writing; despite of the skill one has to simply be passionate about the food. “You can write even if you are not a trained journalist but you have to be a food lover certainly,” says the editor of the ‘Upper Crust’ magazine, Farzana Contractor. As an experienced person in the field of food journalism, Farzana feels a little disappointed where the food writings are seen limited to the recipe, garnishing and decorations. She points out, “food should look the way it is; the Indian cuisine is great in taste but not in looks”. Her objection for decorative food images are for the demoralisation of the readers when they cook the same recipe at home which turns out unappealing visually. The writer is expected to think above all these elements and a have a keen observation power to write about food. Shoba’s take on ‘Ambica Appalam’ store is an article that covers the availability of special ingredients and the economics of food; touching on such hidden aspects is a sign of a vibrant writer. In discussion, the cognoscenti highlighted many flaws in present food journalism; such as personal views of the writer and assemblage recipes that belong to a family; resulting in vague vision of this subject.

Rushima came up with one of the problems regarding the little promotion of Indian cuisine books compared to overseas cuisine books. The publishing houses are not willing to publish a book that talks about our food culture, so the need for self publication arises. This is becoming a hurdle for writers. Gentlemen from the audience offered to sponsor a book which could cover the Indian traditional foods; the reason behind his thought being to carry the legacy of traditional cuisine to his grand children who are limited by fast food habits and malnutrition. Some publications are suffering the absence of dedicated food editors; more or less the subject has been of low importance due to the lack of efforts.The discussion had to end due to the time constraint; though lot of questions were left unanswered, but it surely raised question to the audience, writers to realize the loss we suffer in understanding our people and culture connected to our own food.


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