When Holly Hughes began editing the Best Food Writing series 10 years ago, the term “locavore” wasn’t a part of the foodie vocabulary and no one knew what the omnivore’s dilemma was. As Da Capo prepares to publish Best Food Writing 2009, Hughes spoke with PW about how food writing has changed over the past decade, why food writers are wonderful people, and why Marshmallow Fluff deserves a serious essay.
PW: It’s been 10 years since the first Best Food Writing was published. What’s changed since then?
HH: I think that food has moved more into the center of American consciousness. We’re now more concerned about our food supply, not only in terms of food safety, but in terms of what’s right. Behind the locavore movement is the idea that our economic system is better served by supporting local farmers. I think more people are conscious of those issues. And food writing is not just about high end restaurants. There’s a lot more writing about storefront restaurants and going onto the farm and seeing what farmers are doing. There’s a much wider spectrum of what people expect to read when they read food writing. Also, the whole high-low idea in food has gotten to be a wonderful, complex tapestry. We’ve learned to look at very simple kinds of food as having a culture. Like Marshmallow Fluff—there’s a lot to say about it.
PW: Did any new trends emerge this year?
HH: Over the last two or three years, I’ve seen this mini-revolt against vegetarianism. The carnivores are standing up more for themselves now. Maybe that’s just the particular pieces I thought were outstanding. Maybe vegetarians got complacent.
PW: And I noticed you retired the “Personal Tastes” chapter, since you say first-person perspectives seem to be ubiquitous in food writing now.
HH: I think a lot more food writers feel they can step out from behind. In the old age of food reviewing a restaurant reviewer had to be anonymous. But now restaurant reviewing is such a small proportion of food writing that people feel they can be more honest about the personal preferences that they bring to the plate.
PW: You include writings from websites, but have you considered blogs?
HH: We have to regard these major foodie sites like eGullet and Culinate as the same as magazines. The writing there is a little greater volume and a little bit more uneven, but the good writing there is as good as the good writing published in any glossy magazine. Sometimes we’ve noticed that the websites that are associated with major food publications often have some of their best writing on the website and not in the magazine at all. Raphael Kadushin wrote about chocolate chip cookies on Epicurious, and there’s also Todd Kliman’s piece from Washingtonian.com. Often blog posts are too short to stand on their own as essays. What’s interesting is that the blog writers have gotten book deals, so we can excerpt from their books.
PW: How does your own food experience play into your selection?
HH: I love for people to know I’m not a food writer myself; I’m actually not a very good cook. I love good writing. Over 10 years of editing this book, I’ve found that food writers are generally very generous. I will send a blast e-mail out saying, “Tell me what else you’ve read by other people.” They’re really generous about each other’s work, and really excited about each other’s work. As for a community, it’s widespread. They’re wonderful people.
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.