Five Words, Terms, or Gimmicks That Need to Be Eliminated From Food Writing

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Flickr user AndyRob
Whenever I speak to young students about journalism, their ears always perk up when I talk about food writing. It is the greatest job in the world--eating for free (via reimbursements, of course) and getting paid to do it. But I also tell the students that writing well about food is difficult, given there are only three ultimate outcomes to any review: good, bad or meh.

As a result, food writing suffers more than most beats from repetitive words, descriptions, gimmicks and such. After the jump (another repetitive saying), five of the ones I hope leave the universe of food writing and latch on to another genre--like watching the royals, maybe. And lest someone accuse me of casting stones, I fully admit to some of the sins listed.
1. The Adjectival Suffix -y
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Flickr user takomabibelot

When a writer doesn't want to think, when their Roget's (or thesaurus.com) is not within reach but they're on deadline to properly describe a foodstuff, nothing works better than plopping the suffix -y at the end of a word and passing it off as a flair of genius. Avocado-y! Bacon-y! Anchovy-y! How cute! How clever! How lazy! I'm not a grammar snob by any sense of the imagination (Eat, Shoots and Leaves is one of the most pretentious books in existence not written by moi), but wielding the -y has created a generation of food writers that seemingly live for the shortcut.

2. The Word "Bliss"
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Flickr user gurdonark

I catch myself using this word way too much. Another shortcut. Why can't the writer describe how exactly the dish is blissful--or, if they have, why not just leave it at that and move on to something else instead of reiterating how heavenly the dish is?

3. Food Porn
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Flickr user muffet
Okay, this one is funny...

As our cameras have advanced, any yahoo nowadays can take hundreds of pictures of still lives of pho, bulgogi or burritos and emerge with a great shot. We are all food pornographers now, which means the art of beautiful food pictures is no longer anything special. Taking un-posed pictures of food involving people eating? THAT is an art form, one that few try to attempt because of the fiendish difficulty in capturing the decisive moment--and thus, we suffer from a plague of pretty pictures of food with little soul. Then again, what do I know? I'm a member of the Church of Cartier-Bresson, after all. . . .

4. The Food-Review-As-Letter Review
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Flickr user aflcio

Dear People Who Write Their Reviews as Letters Just Like This,

I remember you. I remember you as a funny gimmick, a one-off that worked just like a legendary Los Angeles Times story about a robbery involving Dr. Seuss books written in verse à la Theodore Geisel. But the Times did that only once, just like Edwin reviewed a sushi place once in haiku form, just like I reviewed a bar once in a progressively drunk fashion. Now, your kind infests the world of blogs, of crazy Yelp kids, of otherwise enlightening write-ups mucked up by your gimmicky form. A gimmick is a gimmick, dear: works once, maybe twice. After the third time? The plague. For the sake of us both, return to your station and never return--I've found another.

5. The Use of "Street" Before Any Foodstuff Not Sold On an Actual Street But Passed Off As Street Food at Three Times the Actual Price of Street Food and Described as "Street" Food by Clueless Hipsters Who Only Eat Actual Street Food In Daylight or Surrounded by Friends Who Then Brag they Ate Street Food on an Actual Street
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But you knew that already.


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23 comments
tbplayer
tbplayer

In #2, you ask, "Why can't the writer describe how exactly the dish is blissful...? Since you're creating an adjective from a noun, I believe the word you want to use is "blissy." OK, that was a joke. Seriously, you should probably say "Why can't the writer describe how exactly the dish is bliss..." The noun "bliss" renames the noun "dish."

Johnny
Johnny

"Toothsome" is overplayed too.

Kid
Kid

Dear Gustavo, Are you calling out the yelp "kids" because soon you'll be without a job in food writing? They write their reviews for free, and because of that you're position will be obsolete. Don't hate the player, hate the game. And by player I mean the "kids" and by game I mean yelp.

MayhemInTheHood
MayhemInTheHood

Goddamnit, Gus. You're my hero today. Strictly due to #4. I've tried to use Yelp in the past to find out people's opinions on places that I myself want to try out, and it irritates me to no end how much this disgustingly twee, lazy writing style is used. I think about 1 out of 4 reviews on that site are people "writing letters" to a restaurant that they've just been to. It gives me the Hate Shakes.(I wrote this before actually reading the rest of your little blurb...didn't know you called out the Yelp kids, as well. Sorry, just got a bit excited there).

Suz
Suz

I love the idea of eliminating the "Food Review as Letter" forever. *yawn* This whole list is fantastic.

Val
Val

I had a street taco the other day. Not sure what was in it... pine needles, gum wrappers, sand, cigarette butts and chunks of asphalty bits of pavement, wrapped in a piece of newspaper, I think. The chef was hot, and I was wearing a great hat. People wish they were me. Hell, I wish I was me. Surely you must be talking about OTHER bloggers...

We need you in Congress, señor...

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

I saw a taco walking down the street with four-inch heels, fishnets and not much else on.

Yep, it was a street taco.

Christian Z.
Christian Z.

I was already to admit I had violated every one of these rules until I actually read them and found that I had probably violated none. If I ever called something a street taco it was only because the place selling it called it a street taco.

Sam
Sam

Please. add. a. period. after. every. word.

tbplayer
tbplayer

What about "al dente"? It means "toothsome."

Christian
Christian

They write for free and most don't do a good job of it. Yelp: better than another site I know of and not all bad but generally they are leeches getting free content and then patting their content writers on the back telling them how awesome they are. Meanwhile Yelp keeps 100% of the profit and shares exactly 0% with the people who generate it for them. Why people haven't caught on to this is beyond me. Now I do think there is a place for free content writing on the Internet but other such sites don't have the same type of clique mentality as Yelp.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Really? I'm going to be out of a job soon? Are you Jim Larkin and thus have insights into OC Weekly's financials? Do tell!

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

You are my Internet Hero of the Day for the expression "gave me the Hate Shakes".

tbplayer
tbplayer

Shouldn't we have different expectations for professional writers (or even those who take themselves seriously enough to have their own blogs) and those who write on Yelp?

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Oh, those crazy Yelp kids...gracias for the kind words!

MayhemInTheHood
MayhemInTheHood

There's a thin line between someone with their own blog and a prolific Yelper, no matter how good/bad the content they provide is. I think the thing that chaps my ass, though, is that these people are not bad writers, per se. They can string together a sentence well enough, as evidenced by their other reviews/posts. But eventually they'll bust out a prime example of #4, above, and to me it's the equivalent of a current comedian making a joke about how funny mullets are. It's tired and weak, yet most think they're being so creative.

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