Food lends itself to good writing because, as M.F.K. Fisher so famously wrote long ago, writing about food often means writing about “other, deeper needs for love and happiness.” In defense of her craft and her subject, she declared: “There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk.” What was true in 1943's “The Gastronomical Me” is certainly true in 2012. If anything, the appetites seem sharper in this schizophrenic age where computerized whiz-bangeries distract us from a gray, downsized reality. Looking to feed a literal and figurative hunger are scores of food writers, chefs, food bloggers and even would-be food TV stars.
The good ones traffic in the kind of writing Fisher did, going beyond a recipe for carob-coated tofu logs dusted with chia seed, say, to the broad and mighty forces that might drive a person to eat such a thing. Yet, none need rely solely on the printed page in the Twitter era.
Still, as in Fisher's day, the cookbook remains the veritable holy grail for most food writers, says Aaron Wehner, vice president and publisher of Ten Speed Press in Emeryville, Calif.
"I think there's something about the book that is enduring," he said. "I think it is a document of one's work. There is nothing like the gravitas of a beautifully done book. For chefs, the book is still a major rite of passage. Whether a narrative book or an art-driven book, the book is still a big deal."
Today's food writers are savvier and more educated about food, said David Leite, who as publisher of Leite's Culinaria, has given many a food writer exposure in his online food/cooking magazine and blog. There's less self-indulgence, too.
"People are telling stories in the first person, but their gaze is moving up from the belly button to the world," he said. "People are finding their niche and becoming more politicized, too."
The danger now may be that you miss a really fine writer or story or article, said Lisa Ekus, principal of an eponymous agency in Hatfield, Mass., that represents many food writers and authors.
"How many blogs can one person follow daily, weekly?'' she asked. "Today's food writers are writing in so many different venues and platforms it's hard to locate their work. And the sheer volume is staggering."
True. Yet the key to winnowing out the best food writers in the crowd is the same as it has always been: voice.
"We need people interpreting cooking and telling us how to do it — and that it's fun," said Jones, now retired, in a telephone interview from New York City. "That's what I really want to get across, it's fun to work in the kitchen. It really is."
Here are seven people who do just that.
Ask Bhide why she is a food writer, and the answer is immediate: "Food is so intimate, it touches us in ways almost nothing else does."
So when she writes about making butter chicken with her father, know the chicken is just the vehicle carrying the story of her dad to the reader.
Born in New Delhi, reared in the Middle East, and now raising a family in Dunn Loring, Va., Bhide said writing filled a void in her life that engineering — a career that delighted her parents — could not.
These days, Bhide focuses more on essays involving food than recipe writing.
"I'm not the kind of person you can put in front of the stove and just let me stand there," she said. "I need to go out in the world and explore. I want to cook out in the saffron fields."