The Slow Process of Slow Food Writing

By Melanie Williams.
Photo and sign by Melanie Williams.

I’ll admit it: I think food writers are brilliant. I almost feel guilty letting that slip, because, as a journalist who usually writes about hard-hitting political and social issues, I feel like I should be commending New York Times columnists or war reporters. Really though, I think it takes a vast tool bag, a lot of connections, and one hell of a vocabulary to write consistently diverse articles about food.

I am definitely not a food writer (though I kind of wish I were), so when I was assigned a story about slow food, I was a little concerned. Words like “delicious” and “tasty” only go so far and really don’t have the punch to make a good article. On top of that, I had a few snafus when it came to interview subjects—the executive director of Slow Food Minnesota was an obvious choice, but a one-source story sounded pretty bland. I eventually ended up contacting about 12 slow food chefs. A couple got back to me, but most of them were too busy for an interview, and the one that I finally got an appointment with canceled at the last minute.

So there I was, contemplating the disaster that would surely be my story, when the answer hit me harder than a stale, organic baguette to the skull. I had plenty of experience writing about movements, so why shouldn’t I focus on the movement for sustainable agriculture rather than the food itself? From then on, my process changed dramatically. Instead of looking for chefs, I sought out people in the community who were willing to talk about their eating habits. Not quite sure where to start, I decided to go out to a slow food café. I ordered a cup of coffee and put a sign on my table begging slow foodies to come talk to me. No, I’m not kidding. See my classy signage, above, for yourself.

Miraculously, it worked. I found a source who was able to talk to me about the movement, the food, and why she eats what she eats. And the story didn’t turn out to be a total disaster, even with my limited cuisine-oriented vocabulary.

Read Melanie’s full story, Happier Meals.