Food editing: Exacting work is on the menu

Food editing: Exacting work is on the menu

March 28, 2017 By Brittany Bhulai Conferences

Whether it be a full course meal or just a snack, someone is always talking about food, or in this case, writing about it.

Due to the constant evolution of eatables, there is always information one can find at easy access. There are always articles, books and blogs on different recipes and they are constantly multiplying. The more content that is being pumped out means the more room for error in that content.

A 2017 ACES conference session given by Janet Keeler, the coordinator for Food Writing and Photography Certificate Program at University of South Florida, and Wendy Allen, a copy editor for Organic Valley and Edible Madison magazine, addressed the issue. Their talk was heavily centered on the correct diction to use when writing about certain foods and how to present cooking techniques to those who are new to the art.

“There’s a lot of add ons to food writing ... you kind of have to know your audience."

—Wendy Allen, copy editor for Organic Valley and Edible Madison

It is important to take into consideration those who know a lot about food and those who know very little about it. Allen gave an example that she edited a recipe about hot chocolate where she made one slight mistake. Instead of writing “3 cups” of milk, she wrote “3 ounces.” Once the recipe was published, she received several letters from readers who commented saying that she obviously made a giant error.

Some caught the error before trying the recipe themselves, due to the knowledge of food measurements that they already possessed. Others did not catch the error until after they made the beverage. They noticed that it came out way too thick.

Allen emphasized that the knowledgeable will point you out on mistakes and the inexperienced will ultimately suffer from your poor instruction. For this reason, it is key to be as detailed and precise as possible.

Another reason to be accurate is  regionalism. Foods are addressed as different names in different parts of the world. One of the examples given in the presentation was a “casserole.” Some places in America, such as Minnesota, refer to it as a “hotdish.” Allen said that it is important to call the dish by the name that it commonly goes by in the area, since location acts as a dictator for word choice.

An additional point brought up in the session was to avoid mistaking brand names for daily kitchen objects. For instance, a food blogger cannot say “Ziploc bag” without capitalizing the “Z”. Ziploc is a brand of a bag, not what someone would call a bag in general. If someone was casually referring to a general bag, they would have to say a “zip-close bag.”

The Food and Drug Administration is also picky on wording. Again, Allen shared a personal story about product packaging that her team had written. She described the food as being “healthy.” According to the FDA, describing the food as “healthy” was incorrect. Instead, they advised her to use the word “healthful.” *

New food bloggers and authors need editors who know how to identify these errors in order to sharpen their pieces for the public. Therefore, in some cases, it's easy to get editing jobs.

Overall for guidance, both Keeler and Allen recommend using resources such as the AP Stylebook Food Guidelines, Food Into Type and Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion.

Brittany Bhulai is president of the Valencia Voice at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, and was a member of the ACES 2017 student newsroom.

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