A glutton for punishment?
“Back to school” is a phrase done to death in Australia every January by any retailer with even the most tenuous connection to the school trade, and one that tolls the end of holiday fun for school kids. For this long-past-school-age writer it’s also relevant as I return to the classroom next week to start my Graduate Certificate in Food Writing. Having finished my Masters in Creative Writing last year after several years of hard slog, I swore an end to all study. Then I became intrigued by the idea of writing about food.
Around that time, fortuitously, the South Australian Writers Centre offered a one day seminar on just that subject, which I attended. It was run by Barbara Santich, one of Australia’s most eminent food writers and Professor of Food Studies at the University of Adelaide. The Food Studies postgraduate program is no longer offered by the University, however the Graduate Certificate in Food Writing, which formed a separate component of this program, is continuing. The curriculum for this course seemed to fit so serendipitously into what I was wanting to do with my writing, that I thought to hell with it, I’ll give it a go. Besides, it’s the only accredited food writing qualification available in Australia, and given the vagaries of university funding, who knows how much longer it will be around?
The Food Writing course has an interesting history. It grew out of the Graduate Program in Gastronomy, first offered in 2002 and one of only a very few university courses in this field worldwide. In 2012 this became the Graduate Program in Food Studies. The food writing component was Barbara Santich’s brain child , conceived in 2006 and subsequently designed and nurtured by her. Over the years a number of distinguished writers have been part of the teaching team. One of the strengths of the curriculum is its diversity, which encourages students to experiment with a wide range of food writing related forms. The week of intensive on-campus work includes lots of practical “hands-on” experiences, including visits to various food related venues.
Not the junket it may appear however. As part of our assessment criteria, we’ll be required to transcribe what we see, hear, and most importantly taste, into good writing. It promises to be an exciting, if challenging, week.
Can you learn to write?
There’s been an ongoing debate about the feasibility of combining the academic and the creative, two concepts which appear contradictory. Particularly in the field of creative writing, and despite the proliferation of academic offerings in universities worldwide, critics still say you can’t teach people to write. (Or even, according to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, that creative writing is an “academic racket”). You can certainly teach the craft of writing, which has to be the foundation for all else. If you believe creativity is largely driven by artistic inspiration, gifted to only a few fortunate souls, then the ‘can’t teach’ argument makes sense. But, as anyone who tries to make a living in any field of the arts would affirm, inspiration is a negligible part of what drives them. If, as a writer, you sit at the computer waiting for the muse to alight on your shoulders before you start, you’ll be staring at a blank page for a long time. Essentially, it’s just work like any other work. You turn up, face the tasks that have to be done, get organised and get going.
What the academic study of writing or anything else can teach is rigour and discipline – the ability to confront an intellectual challenge, assess what’s required, do the research and produce according to a timetable. That’s where courses such as the one I’m about to embark upon are valuable. (And, for a foodie, just a bit of an indulgence.)
Where can you learn?
In a future post, I’ll be looking at what other types of training are available for aspiring food writers. As well as university based programs, a number of organisations offer less formal courses which vary in length, content and price. Once my Food Writing Resources page is built, information about courses will be included on that as well.
And of course, I’ll keep you posted about the progress of my own “back to school” challenge.
by Anne Green