We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in food writing.
Staff writer, Vice
Can Local Food Help Appalachia Build a Post-Coal Future? (Sarah Jones, The Nation)
Jones has been one of my favorite writers to emerge from the shitstorm that is the Trump presidency, so I was quite happy to see The Nation’s Food Issue publish her look at Appalachian food: the baggage it’s so unjustly carried, where it’s headed, and who’s doing the work to steer it in that direction. She interrogates the language of “trash” that has followed the region’s people and what they eat, and she does so beautifully. Her voice is clear, engaging, and tempered with compassion. The vast majority of food writing is fearfully not much further than center-of-left, which makes Jones’ piece extremely refreshing. It’s a marvelous piece and a reminder that some of the most exciting, relevant food writing will live outside food publications unless they step up their game.
Editor of The Awl
Angela Dimayuga Is Here From the Future to Save Us All, (Dayna Evans, Eater)
Evans on Angela Dimayuga is such a good double whammy of women who are killing it in their respective fields, not by sucking up to the status quo but by being true to themselves. The headline here is no exaggeration—remember that line from “Broad City” where Ilana says, “statistically, we’re headed toward an age where everyone is going to be, like, caramel and queer”? It’s both fact and joke, and it echoes the “luscious-meets-sexy-meets-wacky vibe” that Dimayuga embodies. Evans writes that many of Dimayuga’s colleagues and collaborators think of her as more of an artist than a chef, which is not to diminish her incredible food, but to champion her natural inclination to see everything as interdisciplinary, from food to fashion to race. She talks about Mission Chinese as a queer restaurant, which in our current environment of sexual harassment reckonings. is a pretty incredible concept to see flourish. Evans nails a profile of a seemingly uncategorizable person by exploring her resistance to categories and generalizations, which makes Evans more than just a writer, but a thinker. A good profile will give you a sense of what someone is like; a great profile will show you why.
Literary editor, The New Republic
Christ in the Garden of Endless Breadsticks (Helen Rosner, Eater)
I love all the writing Eater has been publishing about the lives of chain restaurants, places designed to be the same all over (or carefully calibrated by a central committee to flick at local tastes) that still end up being the sites for personal experiences. But Helen’s Rosner’s essay on Olive Garden is particularly great. It reminds me of George Orwell’s description of his perfect pub in his essay “The Moon Under Water.” Rosner has an ideal “personal Olive Garden,” but she’s also a student of Olive Gardens, and therefore of America. And what is not to love about an essay about cheap Italian food that begins with a long lede about Gauguin?
Author of Searching for John Hughes Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching ’80s Movies and the founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn
An Elegy for Dallas Strip Mall Restaurants (Mallika Rao, Food & Wine)
America takes more than it gives. The Indian restaurants Rao used to go to, the ones located in overlooked strip malls on the outskirts of big Texas cities, serve as an example of this. Once a tie to her community and culture, they either became fetishized by culinary explorers or are forgotten by the younger generation who are, “opening restaurants using Texas flavors and American marketing — no sudden phulkas or honor payments,” like the Indian restaurants she grew up sneaking into. Those were the places where, “To eat was to fantasize, as if watching a movie about teens in India; we tapped the live heart of a country where we looked like everyone else, where we could be part of instead of standing outside.”
Learning to Love Dill, Russia’s Ubiquitous Herb (Talia Lavin, The New Yorker)
The way some people get excited when they smell freshly baked cookies or pies is how I get when there’s some vegetable or herb others might consider stinky floating in the air. Garlic in the oven, onions frying, but especially dill; I love dill. I love pickles, I love a few sprigs on top of a bowl of chicken soup, and I love potato chips flavored with it. Talia Lavin paid my favorite herb tribute leading up to the Jewish High Holidays earlier this year, and I’ve been trying to get people to read it if they haven’t ever since. Stretching from Eastern Europe to New York City, it’s about dill as much as it is about connecting to the past. After visiting the birthplace of the Ba’al Shem Tov, then the small Ukrainian village her grandfather came from. ” For the long, rutted road back, I bought a goose-meat loaf shot through with dill, and too much salt.”
Author of Friendship and the forthcoming Perfect Tunes
My No Good, Very Bad Dinner Party (Sadie Stein, The New York Times Magazine)
Every single detail in this story about a dinner party gone awry is too perfectly absurd to be believed, yet too good to be invented. It builds with amazing, appalling momentum towards its conclusion, which left me breathless and teary-eyed with laughter on the Metro North, which troubled my fellow commuters. It made me think of Laurie Colwin’s famous catalog of kitchen disasters, but it’s also its own thing, a classic to be admired and emulated. I will revisit it every time I cringe while remembering an overplanned social endeavor of my own youth because this story is worse. God, it’s so much worse than anything.
Professor of English Medieval Studies at the University of Bonn, whose work has appeared in Best Food Writing and Best American Essays
Why We Fell for Clean Eating (Bee Wilson, The Guardian)
I’ll admit to a special fondness for manifestos, rationalist disenchantments, and topplings of golden calves. Wilson’s exploration of “clean eating,” the latest in a long line of semi-religious food fads, quietly but devastatingly exposes the flaws in the movement. Often lithe blondes with an instinct for self-promotion and disdain for evidence-based science, clean eating gurus vilify processed food, meat, dairy, carbohydrates, refined sugar, caffeine, even tomatoes and eggplants. (If you can’t fathom regretting that appetizer of baba ghanoush, someone is ready to teach you how for a price.) At stake is not only one’s girth, or the management of allergies and sensitivities, but morality itself. “We are so unmoored,” writes Wilson, “that we will put our faith in any master who promises that we, too, can become pure and good.” At best, this puritanical diet leads to snide remarks at the gym; at worst, it develops into anorexia and orthorexia.
Still, Wilson is fair-minded about the confusion anyone struggling with poor health and an expanding waistline might feel in the face of today’s food choices. She shows how closely what we put into our mouths is bound up with our identities and unspoken aspirations, and how easily self-proclaimed experts can play on our insecurities and doubts. The promise of purity, ascetic perfection, and an ethereal glow sounds medieval, but it is the result of a very modern marketing strategy.
The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts (Peter Vigneron, Outside)
Vigneron combines the best of both worlds — food writing and crime — to tell the incredible tale of one serious nut job. Law enforcement officials, private eyes, trucking industry insiders, and cargo-theft fraud investigators find themselves needing to amp up their game upon discovering that “the bad guys [have] learned that food is a great category.” Now the baddies have managed to pull off an incredible, almost totally untraceable series of massive nut heists in California, in which entire tractor-trailers disappear and millions of dollars’ worth of nuts go missing. Vigneron follows the impossibly cinematic trail behind all these logistical feats back to one set of truly nutty culprits: a criminal group linked to a Russian organized-crime network.