Monday, August 01, 2011

101 overused food writing terms

Bossa Nova is appalled by food writing clichés
In a few weeks, I'll be leading a workshop called "Extreme Food Writing Makeover" at the upcoming Vida Vegan Food Blogging Conference. While preparing for this talk, I've been thinking about how cliché some food terms have become, even among the culinary cogniscenti. Language is as organic and fluid as cooking. Just as we continually sample new foods to keep our palettes sharp, it's also important to "taste" new verbs, adjectives and metaphors.

Here's my list of 100 overused culinary words/phrases, gleaned from high-brow publications like Bon Appétit, menus, restaurant reviews, blogs [including my own], tweets and status updates. This list is not a manifesto, nor is it meant to chastise anyone's writing – I am certainly just as guilty as anyone of overusing some of these terms. Consider this list as a challenge to stretch the conventional boundaries of culinary writing and break out of the writing habits we all fall into. Feel free to add your peeves as comments. And to use this list as the foundation a trend that I predict will soon sweep the nation: for Food Cliché Bingo.
  1. Vegan [as an adjective]: "Plant-based," to me, is so much more descriptive. 
  2. Artisanal: Yawn
  3. All Rachel Ray-isms, including but not limited to yumm-o, "stoop," EVOO and sammies
  4. Farm-raised: Just skip it. Or be more specific, eg, "hydroponically raised" or "fresh from the factory farm"
  5. Wilted: In a recipe for my upcoming cookbook, I used the direction "Roast the eggplant until it's pooped." "Correct verb use?" the copyeditor queried. "Stet (editor-speak for let it be)," I replied.
  6. "[Insert umbrella term here] friendly," eg, vegan friendly, earthy friendly, budget friendly, heart friendly
  7. Gastro-pub: Can we please just say "pretentious bar?"
  8. Pop-up: Tired of it already
  9. Locavore: Designed to make people feel better about themselves
  10. Flexitarian: Face it, you're an omnivore
  11. Micro-anything: eg, microbreweries, microgreens
  12. Seasonal 
  13. Summery
  14. Wintery 
  15. Autumnal
  16. Anything "primavera"
  17. Anything "Iron Chef"
  18. Foodie
  19. Fresh: I certainly hope it is
  20. Rustic 
  21. Silky
  22. Sustainable
  23. Flavorful
  24. Earthy: I promise never to use it again
  25. Contrast: Ditto
  26. Infused: Ditto
  27. DIY: I'm off it, I swear
  28. Deconstructed: I vowed off this one after my first cookbook
  29. Perfect/to perfection: Really, is anything perfect?
  30. Hearty
  31. Stick-to-your-ribs
  32. Tasty: Specificity is your friend
  33. Yummy
  34. Mouth-watering
  35. Wonderful
  36. Floral
  37. Creamy
  38. Plump
  39. Moist
  40. Slider
  41. Topped with
  42. Paired with
  43. Fair-trade
  44. Delicious
  45. Balanced
  46. Comforting
  47. Aromatic
  48. Compliments
  49. Drenched
  50. Slathered
  51. Smeared
  52. Intense/intensely
  53. Buttery
  54. Sweet
  55. Sour
  56. Tart [as in acidic, not as in pie]
  57. Tasty
  58. Bite
  59. Nibble
  60. Tender
  61. Crumbly
  62. Flaky
  63. Satisfying
  64. Fragrant
  65. Woody
  66. Nutty
  67. Decadent
  68. Spicy
  69. Packs a punch
  70. Elegant
  71. Homemade
  72. Fusion 
  73. Drizzled
  74. Molten
  75. Light
  76. Savory
  77. Succulent
  78. Healthy
  79. Easy
  80. Crowd-pleaser
  81. Cooling
  82. Warming
  83. Abundant
  84. Gooey
  85. Chewy
  86. Quick
  87. Subtle
  88. Wholesome
  89. Enhances
  90. On-the-go 
  91. Filling
  92. Grown-up
  93. Rich
  94. Piquant
  95. Sinful
  96. Cloying
  97. Chocolatey
  98. Gorgeous
  99. Amazing
  100. Lovely
  101. Fabulous


Jackie Smith (the other one) said...

I agree with most of these! Especially "cloying", which I think has a negative connotation.

I was at a restaurant yesterday where I overheard someone ask the waitperson "can you tell me about the steak". He replied, "It's a steak with crunchy things on top". I could have described the steak better than that, and I haven't eaten one in over 10 years. Pitiful.

It's like I tell my students: "Be specific!"

Robin at Vegan Planet said...

Your list has left me -- speechless!!
Seriously, I agree about the overuse of many of these terms and phrases that have now become cliche. But it begs the question: so what words should we use to describe food?? And once that list is drawn up, will it, too succumb to being cliche from overuse??
I was obsessed with words before I became obsessed with food, so I find this subject especially interesting!

AR said...

The first paragraph of this post used the word "food" four times. Clearly it's time to add "food" to the list of words to avoid.

urban vegan said...

@AR: Funny! Full disclosure: it is a search engine term ;)

@Robin: I'm with you. And I think, yes, since language and the art of writing is fluid, new cliches (and new genius!) will continually emerge. Obviously, there are times when using these words is unavoidable. As I say in the intro, it's not a manifesto or a "blacklist." (What bothers me may be perfectly fine to someone else). I wrote this list as an impetus for those of us who write about food to reach beyond the "generic" aisle of culinary terms.

Anonymous said...

You're my hero.

Amber Shea @Almost Vegan said...

I am guilty of so many of these! We all are, I'm sure. :)
You've always been one of my favorite veg bloggers because of your talent with descriptive writing. I'm very much looking forward to your workshop at VVC; I'll be there!

Beth J said...

It's pretty funny that this was written by someone who is calling a course 'Extreme [ANYTHING] makeover." :P

Alan Roettinger said...

Damn! Now I REALLY wish I'd won the Coconut Bliss "last remaining ticket" giveaway--I'm dying to know which non-hackneyed food writing terms you'll be replacing these buggered old ones with! Will you be posting them?

urban vegan said...

Alan: I leave that to you. Language is fluid, so we can't just do a "find & replace." The answers should be different for everyone.

Alan Roettinger said...

What a relief! I couldn't agree more. I think it's not so much that the words themselves are overused, but that they stumble from our lazy mind and not our inspired heart. Even the gazillion-times repeated "beautiful" can spring to new life unexpectedly when uttered (or written) in genuine astonishment and wonder. Sparingly, of course (so sad, what became of "awesome").

Still, I think I would have enjoyed and benefited from whatever you're planning. Sorry to be missing that...

Anonymous said...


OMG, I am so OVER this term! It's like any jerk who makes a mess on a plate can name it deconstructed-something. FFS! I could call my poo deconstructed food but that doesn't make it appealing.

Anonymous said...

"To die for" (& to-die-for x)
"Death by" usually chocolate. Chocolate doesn't kill humans, but it might not do your dog any good.

Alan Roettinger said...

I think there are two kinds of people who have a right use the word "deconstructed" in reference to food: 1) people who are genuinely practicing the highly refined and insanely technical art of molecular gastronomy (Ferran Adria, Herve This, Grant Achatz, Jose Andres, Heston Blumenthal, et al), and 2) critics who genuinely understand the motive behind the art and the degree of mastery required to make the grade.

On the other hand, the finest food and the lousiest food all become poo (a sobering thought for us cooks), but poo is merely food that has been battered, crushed, shredded, chemically dissolved, denatured, devalued, fermented, dehydrated, and extruded--not deconstructed.

Johanna said...


urban vegan said...

@Alan: Exactly! Many people use terms without knowing what they mean, just cuz it sounds "hip."

Like I said, this list is not a manifesto, and it absolutely will change over the months/years, since language is organic.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty over the term "food porn" to describe photos of food. I like sexy food....and who doesn't like sexy porn...I just don't necessarily need to consider those two in tandem. We all like looking at pictures of kitties but we don't call that "kittie porn". At least we really REALLY shouldn't...

urban vegan said...

@anonymouse: Hear, hear. Sick of food porn!

Anonymous said...

You're missing the point...blogging about food, especially with the ridiculous hyperbole constantly required, is what is overused!

urban vegan said...

Anonymouse: I can certainly see that *you* don't waste your time reading and commenting on food blogs.

fille en ville said...

I think the title of this post should be changed to "100 overused..." since you noted "foodie" twice!

urban vegan said...

F.E.V.: Duly noted. Replaced one with "Packs a punch."

Suburban Snow White said...

Cute kitty!!

Jenn said...

Uh..I don't know what to write anymore!

I usually call my ravioli "rustic." It's my go to pseudo pretentious excuse word when they're not in perfect little shapes. Irony counts, right?

Anonymous said...

khreeeemmmyyy. I am sick of creamy but then again you hate silky so there you go.

Sam At H.E.S.H. said...

I definitely agree. All these terms could be quite annoying at times! :)

urban vegan said...

Creamy with a K. This reminds me that I am sick of all weird spellings that "veganize" not vegan foods, eg "cheez," "ribz" "kreem." Changing the spelling does not make these things vegan--not including animal products does.

Alan Roettinger said...

"It's in the way that you use it..."
-- Eric Clapton

Sam [Low Carbon Diet] said...

Holy shazaam! That's quite the list! So what words make the cut for the usable list??

urban vegan said...

@Sam: It's not a manifesto. As Alan said, it's how you use them. And it's up to us food writers to continually push the boundaries.

Allison Rivers Samson said...

So with ya on this: "cheez," "ribz" "kreem" Changing the spelling does not make these things vegan--not including animal products does.

Glad you didn't include "veganize" on your list. Phew!

I struggle with tapping keys with the confidence I have in the kitchen. Hopefully you can help me merge the two, since I'll be attending your workshop at the VVC! =)

Anonymous said...

Seems like almost everybody wants to post 101+ irritating, overused, annoying, awful words used by food bloggers but no one wants to write alternative words.

urban vegan said...

Anonymouse: If you had attended the conference, you would have learned some alternative ideas. And if you had actually read the post, you would have noticed that it's not a manifesto; it's food for thought.

I'm also teaching a "Spice Up your Food Writing" Class at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC on July 15, where you can learn how to perk up your writing- and how to sign your name.

Anonymous said...

How about the word "pretentious"? But then how would one describe this blog?

Urbanvegan said...

Anonymous: A word overused by the cowardly.

wicky said...

You left out SLIDERS.

Richard Sachs

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