February 16, 2006

More cheese sandwiches

People who want to disparage weblogs like to say that they're full of dull trivia. "I ate a cheese sandwich."

Let's take a look at the craft of the weblog, by looking at the craft of that cheese sandwich. How can the cheese sandwich matter? How can it be interesting?

First, it might be an excellent cheese sandwich. I had a very fine bleu cheese the other night at AOC, a mild and creamy bleu from a small farmhouse cheese maker in Minnesota, served with a nicely fresh and crusty baguette. Food blogging has been immensely successful and influential. We're in the midst of a food writing revolution, a new way of thinking about food, and blogs and other forums are leading the way.

Second, eating a cheese sandwich might be a notable accomplishment. After a long convalescence from surgery, I actually ate a cheese sandwich. Or, the cheese sandwich might affirm or reject a longstanding habit or prejudice: though you all know that on moral grounds I have always despised all meat and dairy products, yesterday -- defying my physician, my ancestors, and sneering at hell's bells -- I ate a cheese sandwich.

The cheese sandwich may be the conventional occasion for an extraordinary event. Yesterday, I was eating my usual cheese sandwich and Roger Ebert came into the sandwich shop and sat across from me and we had a long talk about Pauline Kael.

The cheese sandwich may be a symbol or emblem, standing concretely for an abstraction. This need not be a grand or remote literary effect; indeed, much food writing is not precisely about food at all, but rather uses the food and our feelings about it to approach even deeper subjects in ways that, if addressed directly, might seem merely sentimental.

sad thoughts on the love that got away on the plate that time forgot -- Adam Gopnik

The cheese sandwich might identify a place and time, situating a story specifically in order to help us believe. The Sunday bagel and cream cheese in the Bronx, or the elaborately-garnished, thin slices of seven-grain organic bread and imported low-fat Havarti wolfed down at a desk in Hollywood, can matter beyond the bread and cheese.