Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

16 November 2020

A timely take on food writing

A guest blog by Mallika Basu, food writer and commentator. Mallika leads our Food Writing online courses.

Food is love. While dinner parties with overflowing tables may temporarily be on hold, there is nothing to stop us passionate food lovers from whetting our appetites by spilling words onto a page. From odes to seasonal quince and much-needed mindful eating, to restoration of a kitchen dating back to the early 19th century, the British Library is giving us all a chance to get our tastes tingling about the basic ingredients of food writing filled with flavour. I’ve recently lead two perfectly plated food writing online courses for the Library, and begin to repeat the series again this December. It feels timely, for a number of reasons.

Comparative sizes of a swan's egg, turkey's egg, duck's egg, plover's egg

Food writing has evolved considerably since I started as a blogger fourteen years ago, as has my prose mercifully. Alongside my cookbooks and food columns, I have had a successful career in the communications industry. As an “ethnic” food writer who focuses on Indian cookery and putting spice cupboards to better use, running these courses is an incredible opportunity for me to address unconscious bias and cultural appropriation in a public forum with a responsible and engaged audience. I bring a unique perspective to these courses, rooting them in the here and now.

We have less time than ever. How we access information has been transformed by digital and social media. No longer is it acceptable to live in a vacuum of social awareness. The first course starts with this – the context within which food writing functions today. We then explore sound principles of writing and move on to food writing tips that make sure no reader is left with an unintended sour taste in their mouth.

Illustration of various cheeses

If it all sounds a bit earnest, I can assure you it is far from. In between the tips, we found plenty of time to chat about what inspires and moves us, share practical tips of our own and wax lyrical about cookbooks, food scientists, food memoirs and restaurant critics we love and hate. I roped in a small handful of my talented and well-established food writers to offer their own nuggets of advice, which ranged from the practical (stop procrastinating and just get writing) to the essential (please hold on to your sense of humour).

The practical part of the session gives us a chance to whip what we’ve learnt into action. I would tell you more, but I might give the finale away for the next course on 3 December.

In a sign of the times, it feels apt to deliver these courses online. After all, technology has allowed us to think beyond the realms of possibility. Who knew we would be cooking, eating and drinking wine with friends on video calls? If the feedback so far is anything to go by, it gives attendees more than a taste of how to be a better food writer.     

Cover of book by Mallika Basu called "Masala"

Mallika leads the Food Writing: The Basics course on 3 December. For more ways to feed your curious mind from whenever you are, stay up to date with our online courses programme.