Everyone has a food story in them.
I don’t mean the tiresome chatter of conspicuous consumers of consumption who collect foodie trophies to post on their Facebook walls. I’m talking about the human narrative of food. It might be the gumbo your neighbor brings to every potluck; the pineapple upside-down cake you always request on your birthday; the skinned knuckles from grating onions when you make Bubbe’s chopped liver; or the pasta you learned to roll in Nonna’s kitchen.
There are always new food stories in the making.
The artisanal food movement has expanded the narrative by adding passionate and creative producers to the tale. We still celebrate heritage and traditions, ethnic and familial bonds, but now the food itself has a backstory, and our own relationship with its creator may be central to it.
It’s an evolution of food reporting. It’s also a longing for a kinder, gentler food era when food arrived on our tables through a series of interconnected, human relationships, not as the result of industrialized production.
Here are some places where you can explore the (old) new genre of character-driven food storytelling, and even a few where you can contribute your own food story.
Life & Thyme is home to what it calls ‘culinary storytelling.’ It documents the story of food from the farm, to the kitchen, to the table, with an emphasis on the people behind each of those phases. It mixes essays, interviews, film, recipes, photography, and even some offline events. The site accepts contributions from anyone with ‘an eye for beauty, a knack for storytelling, and a passion for food.’
The Stanford Storytelling Project is an arts program at Stanford University that explores the transformative nature of storytelling with a special emphasis on stories of food and the modern food movement. Students, academics, and food professionals have all contributed to the ongoing series of podcasts, radio shows, and live events.
American Food Roots asks what we eat and why we eat it. AFR combines original reporting, archival material from immigrant communities, and recipes and stories from home cooks. The site welcomes contributions that celebrate heritage in all its variants–regional, religious, ethnic, political, and familial–’because that’s how we know who we are.’
Food Stories wants to know how you celebrate food holidays. All of them. You probably thought February has little more than Valentines Day chocolate on its food calendar. In fact it’s the month of World Nutella Day (February 5th), National Tortellini Day (the 13th), and a full seven days for Kraut and Frankfurter Week (9th-15th).
Southern food is especially evocative, particularly for a Southerner. Diverse food cultures combined to set a common table for black and white, rich and poor. The Southern Foodways Alliance, based at the University of Mississippi, is the keeper of the flame for disappearing traditions. Spend a little time with SFA’s massive collection of oral histories and you’ll gain an appreciation and understanding of the American South’s unique food culture .
The next generation of food storytellers
I’m keeping an eye on the Fulbright Scholars. The distinguished Fulbright Program that counts 43 Nobel Prize winners, 28 MacArthur ‘geniuses,’ and 80 Pulitzer Prize winners among its alumni has created fellowships for food storytellers. The first Fulbright class of Digital Storytelling Food Fellows will be announced this spring.