Journal

The Best Food Writing of 2017

8th December 2017

Words: James Hansen

Over nearly 12 months of assembling The Gannet Digest, we’ve recommended more than 250 articles, photo-essays, videos and podcasts from all corners of the internet – a body of work that demonstrates the vibrancy and diversity of food media in 2017. Narrowing it down to just 25 was particularly tough, but here, after much deliberation, are our favourite food & drink pieces of the year. (If you’d like to receive our monthly pick of the best online food writing, sign up here.)

The Teenage Whaler’s Tale by Julia O’Malley (High Country News)
“Before his story made the Anchorage paper, before the first death threat arrived from across the world, before his elders began to worry and his mother cried over the things she read on Facebook, Chris Apassingok, age 16, caught a whale.”

One Man’s Quest to Make 20-Year-Old Rum in Just Six Days by Wayne Curtis (Wired)
Wayne Curtis visits a distiller trying to beat time at its own game. “The rum I’d just sampled tasted like it had spent at least a generation in a barrel. It had actually been aged only six days.”

Why Should a Melon Cost as Much as a Car? by Bianca Bosker (Roads & Kingdoms)
Bosker has the answer, elegantly moving from bemused observer – including feeling aghast at a single strawberry – to seasoned documenter of mollycoddled melons – “champion farmers hand-pollinate the flowers, using a tiny paintbrush to move pollen between the blooms, like overgrown humanoid bees.”

 

Global Family Recipes by Becky Harlan (NPR)
“Some students shared tales of beloved dishes, the mere thought of which can make their mouths water. ‘As the steam from the macaroni rose, the smell seemed as if it had fallen from heaven,’ writes Mark St. John Pete about his grandmother’s macaroni and cheese.”

The Garden’s Tiny Culinary Transformations by Charlotte Mendelson (The New Yorker)
“Take strawberries: the point of summer. Imagine having a surplus of the plump, store-bought kind, for baking, bottling, with cream and without. Well, tough.”

Who Gets to Be A Restaurant Critic? by Navneet Alang (Eater)
“But food in particular tends to locate its ‘should’ in generally absolutist calls to authority, whether that is authenticity (is this how they make it?), tradition (is this how they used to make it?), or, more generously, the coherence of a chef’s vision (is this what she truly wants to make?).”

Burrowing Under Ice by Craig S. Smith/Aaron Vincent Elkaim (The New York Times)

Aaron Vincent Elkaim | The New York Times

Where Can We Find Queer Space After Pulse? by John Birdsall (Eater)
A sad, beautiful, warily hopeful essay winds its way from Orlando to Miami, following the “pin drops you can connect to trace the shadow of a queer city on a mainstream map, a place to move freely, without armor”.

Let’s Call It Assimilation Food by Soleil Ho (Taste)
“Rather, what I’m talking about is food that’s made to close the gap between homes: a critical need when one lives in exile. It’s hard to give it a label, but other immigrants and children of immigrants recognize it when they see it.”

The Sad, Sexist Past of Bengali Cuisine by Mayukh Sen (Food52)
“These culinary limitations inadvertently contributed to what is now a rich vegetarian cuisine, built around dishes made from scraps of produce. These women are this cuisine’s unsung architects, recognizing a spectrum of possibilities within their loss.”

Ian Rankin, Rebus, and Whisky by Dave Broom (Scotch Whisky)
“Rankin’s most famous creation, Detective Rebus, employs the glass of whisky as a totem for his musings over a case; here Rankin waymarks his own past with peat and malt. Whiskies – Scots, Irish – are bywords for memories and character – as Rankin puts it: ‘It gives an inkling.'”

Kerry Diamond x Samin Nosrat (Radio Cherry Bombe)
“Nosrat relates how she fell in love with, and over, food and poetry, quirky San Francisco pizzerias and hefty triangles of Brie. Formative experiences at Chez Panisse – as both worker and diner – give way to an exploration of cooking through sound and smell as much as sight and taste.”

Behind the Cellar Door by John Seabrook (The New Yorker)
“If the wine was a chilled Beaujolais, which was served on those fall days when the new vintage arrived, the bottle sat on the table, its shoulders streaming, in a pewter coaster inscribed with the words ‘A Dinner Without Wine Is Like a Day Without Sunshine.’ A smiling Provençal sun split the sentence in half.”

The Poisoning by Alexander Chee (Tin House)
“What we felt was something other people could see. If anyone was going to get me to drink gin again, in other words, it was probably him.”

The Birthplace of Soy Sauce by Mile Nagakoa

Christ in the Garden of Endless Breadsticks by Helen Rosner (Eater)
“On the shoulder-height half-walls that carve cavernous dining rooms into sections, sit potted rows of faux olive trees, slim shoots sprouting dusty green leaves and clusters of dark plastic footballs. You can’t eat them, but they remind you that somewhere, the real thing is growing on a real tree, and maybe you could.”

Ghorey Baire by Upala Sen (Telegraph India)
“Our food is all about tempering spices (phoron) while retaining the taste of the prime ingredient, be it a vegetable or a protein. Only a few dishes are cooked in tomato gravy and our gravies are not supposed to be thick with onion and garlic. But I rarely find such food in Bangla restaurants.”

Why We Fell for Clean Eating by Bee Wilson (The Guardian)
“That night in Cheltenham, I saw that clean eating – or whatever name it now goes under – had elements of a post-truth cult. As with any cult, it could be something dark and divisive if you got on the wrong side of it.”

My Life in Domestic Goddesses by Emily Gould (The Cut)
“By deftly controlling the narrative, via memoiristic writing or obsessive life-documentation or both, domestic goddesses do more than teach their fans new ways to roast chicken. They use their charisma and skill to turn what has historically been a trap for women — the private, cloistered, boring kitchen — into a stage.”

Great White Shark by George Reynolds (Ego Scriptor)
“The conclusion is not ‘Anthony Bourdain has learned nothing’. It is that we have learned from him, and too much.”

Asian-American Cuisine’s Rise, and Triumph by Ligaya Mishan (The New York Times)
“As a nation we were once beholden to the Old World traditions of early settlers; we now crave ingredients from farther shores. The briny rush of soy; ginger’s low burn; pickled cabbage with that heady funk so close to rot. Vinegar applied to everything. Fish sauce like the underbelly of the sea. Palm sugar, velvet to cane sugar’s silk. Coconut milk slowing the tongue. Smoky black cardamom with its menthol aftermath. Sichuan peppercorns that paralyze the lips and turn speech to a burr, and Thai bird chilies that immolate everything they touch.”

Honey Hunters by Mark Synnott/Renan Ozturk (National Geographic)

Renan Ozturk | National Geographic

Racist Sandwich by Soleil Ho, Zahir Janmohamed, Juan Diego Ramirez
Racist Sandwich has featured multiple times for its steadfast resistance to culinary ignorance and prejudice, articulately conveyed. Each and every episode brings insight and empathy to the story at hand.

Down Mexicali Way by Matt P. Jager (The Cleaver Quarterly)
“He was an exile. His native land had divided against itself. Fascists treated his people like rats in the laboratory of machine-age war. The word transterrado was a salve, an oily neologism to proof him against despair. The trick, he later wrote, was to plunge forward, to treat an interim arrangement like it would go on forever.”

The White Lies of Craft Culture by Lauren Michele Jackson (Eater)
“For craft culture to survive as more than an artful label or meaningless slogan, as something not synonymous with the Panera Breads and Blue Moons, it will need to take its own objectives seriously and embrace the stories behind the facade, the ones about individual people and specific histories and ongoing traditions.”

Main image: Renan Ozturk / National Geographic

Posted 8th December 2017

In Journal

 

Words: James Hansen

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