BHUBANESWAR: What is the definition of food writing? Is it limited to just writing about food festivals, food and restaurant reviews, recipes and interviews of celebrity chefs? The questions were a part of the discussion on ‘Why Does So Much Garbage Appear under the Guise of Food Writing?’ that was chaired by author Pushpesh Pant on the second day of Odisha Literary Festival on Sunday.
Beginning the session, Pant said a lot of garbage is being dished out to readers in terms of food writing. Food articles these days, Pant said, lack the essence of language and detailing. “It is mostly about shameless sponsored articles on hotels, luxury resorts and reviews of food books,” he said. Isn’t it a fraud in the name of food writing? Are recipe books the new concept of food writing? he questioned.
Agreeing to Pant’s point, author of ‘Annapurni: Heritage Cuisine from Tamil Nadu’ Sabita Radhakrishna said the present day food writers are ignorant about the food heritage of India. “They do not realise that there is a great amount of romance involved in writing about food. Sadly, the concept of food writing is just limited to listing out recipes,” she said, adding that India has a rich tapestry of cultures which include different cuisines. It’s a pity that authors do not go beyond documenting mere recipes despite the fact that there is much more to any cuisine or any recipe.
Radhakrishna said the most important element of research is missing in food articles today. “Like folklore in a society, there is a ‘foodlore’ associated with all cuisines. Our authors are not keen on doing any research for knowing the roots of the recipe that they want to write on. Interestingly, even the recipes that are being listed in cook books are not 100 per cent correct. It seems like the writers do not even try these recipes before penning them down in their books,” said the Chennai-based writer, who is also a craft activist.
Sharing her experience of discovering lost recipes of Tamil Nadu that were included in ‘Annapurni’, Radhakrishna said in the process of documenting, she came across ‘guardians’ of certain recipes who did not want to reveal them to the world outside. “Today’s authors do not want to do this kind of homework because they are in a hurry to publish their books,” she quipped.
Director of Roli Books Priya Kapoor shared similar views. She said a food article becomes interesting only when it has some elements of history and anecdotes included in it. The author-publisher feels food articles being written today have very little relationship with food. “A well-written food book sells well both within the country and abroad. In fact, during recession, only children’s book and good food books sold well in the market,” she said, adding that India has good readers for food books.
Answering questions from an inquisitive audience, the three speakers said one does not have to be a good cook to be a good food writer. Radhakrishna said a food book can evoke magic if it is well-researched and the articles are accompanied by history. Commenting on the ongoing Rasagolla controversy, Pant said the sweet certainly belongs to Odisha.