I know, I used a big word in the title. Let me explain: “Anthropomorphizing” means to talk about a thing as if it is human. Like the objects in this image.
Why do food writers do it? Mostly, they humanize inanimate objects, almost always fruits and vegetables. They don’t seem to write this way about meat and seafood, although companies do. Charlie Tuna is still around. That’s even more creepy, since a fish used to be alive in a way that’s more obvious to us than produce.
Maybe this issue will make more sense if you read some writing that annoys me.
Here are 4 examples of anthropomorphizing food. See if you find them disturbing:
- Bon Appetit magazine: “Swaddle your greens gently but firmly; it’s what they like.” How does the writer know that greens like to be swaddled? Did they tell her? This would be a first. And scary. Also greens are not babies, if that’s not obvious.
- Ruth Reichl: “… an absolutely perfect crust filled with fruit that actually sings to you.” Nope. The fruit can’t “actually” do that. It’s dead. Fruit doesn’t have a mouth, face, or lungs either. Gross. (And don’t get me started on using the word “perfect.”)
- From a cookbook that will stay anonymous, because I know and like the writer: “Avocado plays well with…” Slices of avocado, or even a whole avocado, cannot play with anyone or anything. They’re inanimate.
- San Francisco Chronicle: “It’s clever to put the onions in the bun and to shred the cool crunchy ingredients so they equally inform each bite.” Ingredients cannot inform you. They can’t talk.
I have written a sentence like the one in Number 4 before. I admit that I’ve read sentences like that and copied them. It’s normal to do that as a writer because, when you’re learning, you think that’s how you’re supposed to write. But sometimes you’re copying bad writing, even if you see it elsewhere and try to rationalize that it’s good.
Sorry to talk about death and all. It’s not my usual topic. But really, why do some food writers feel they have to make our food seem human? That’s not an appetizing idea at all.