Cooking Up An Analogy

Middle school was probably the last time you were confronted by those A is to B as C is to D analogies.  You know what I’m talking about:

Fingers are to hands as toes are to:

A) ankles
B) feet
C) legs
D) centipedes

The answer of course is B) feet. But today I am resurrecting the analogy idea. The theme of my post is:

Cooking is to Eating as Writing is to Reading

Cartoon of a cook tasting from a pot that has a book in it.We have long used phrases like “I absolutely devoured that last book.” How often have you needed some time to “fully digest” something you have read.  Some might be likely to remark that they just read a through a scene that was “absolutely delicious.” I have no idea when or how such gastronomical metaphors came into fashion to describe literature but it brings together a couple of my favorite things: food and the writer’s world.

The other evening my wife and I collaborated on a hearty meat sauce to be dished liberally over pasta.  We started with the standard onions and garlic sautéed in butter.  There is nothing that smells as heavenly as that combination (Bacon I think is the only olfactory rival to onions and garlic—put all three together and you have Nirvana for the nose).  Generally one would add ground beef to make a meat sauce like this but we had spicy Italian sausage on hand and we also diced up some carrots for crunch, color and contrast.  Suddenly the tried and true “once upon a time” sauce was looking a little more special, more like a “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away” sauce.

Diced tomatoes went in of course but we also stirred in a healthy spoonful of tomato paste to add depth and complexity. Then we decided that olives, black beans, and corn would help round it out. A sort of italiano-mex combination. We seasoned it with basil and parsley, added a dash of salt and pepper to help balance the flavors and sprinkled a few red pepper flakes in it to add some heat, and left it to simmer a while.  Stirring in goat cheese at the end would make it creamy (and believe me, I love creamy) but we opted for serving it with big curls of parmesan cheese providing a little added nutty, salty flavor instead, which turned out to be the perfect decision.

That is what writers do at the keyboard as well, isn’t it? We start with some basic premises and begin to tinker, pulling different things from the pantry shelf and experimenting to see what works well together. Sometimes we want to spice things up, other times we want to tone things down.  Bright and simple, or dense and complex.

Just as writing can take on aspects of cooking, reading is similar to eating—enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labor.  We can gobble up prose in hurry because it is so good.  Other times we might want to savor it in order to enjoy every delectable word, making the book last as long as possible. Sometimes we indulge in the little guilty pleasure of a trashy book because everyone knows that even Twinkies taste pretty damn good.

The ingredients, whether for a fine meal or a good read, are endless and it is the way that they are combined that determines how much enjoyment is derived from them. It also depends on whose hands are doing the combining.  The same list of fixin’s can be provided to two people.  One might come up with a perfectly passable Mac ‘n’ Cheese while another is inspired to concoct a sublime soufflé.  There is artistry everywhere—in the kitchen and at the keyboard—and I think that the ones who take the bigger risks are the ones who reap the most.  If I might be allowed to resort to an over used cliché, remember that you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet.

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illustration by Andy Black


10 comments on “Cooking Up An Analogy

  1. A truly brilliant analogy you’ve created here – one I could not possibly agree with more!
    And as someone who likes to cook and enjoys food just as much as I enjoy reading and writing, you have my thanks for putting this idea down for me to enjoy.

    • I live to eat rather than eat to live, so I enjoyed writing this post. Glad you liked it!

    • brilliant? he compared two things that are so easy to compare no one has actually done it yet because it would discredit their career, just like this post did for this guy. It’s not good, it’s not clever. He could’ve said:

      * as painting is to art
      * as building is to architecture
      * as a process is to an end result

      that easy. I know you’re his mom (it’s quite clear from the fact that only she could find this garbage worth putting on the internet), but you need to learn encouraging this type of shitty writing is going to ruin his career. He needs to pull up out of this tailspin of spewing shit onto a page and believing it is a proper write. IT NEEDS TO END!

      • Wow. Now there’s some thoughtful and original writing. Thanks for the constructive criticism. Actually all of your examples (painting is to art, Building is to architecture, process is to an end result) are not accurate or parallel alternatives. Cooking and eating compared to writing and reading are more of a creation and consumption comparison. I don’t see that relationship in what you offer.

        By the way my mother passed away only a year ago. Think before you speak.

      • dude… did you just call me his mom? 😀 Someone clearly doesn’t like to verify before taking names! Apologies to the ahblack’s mum, heaven forbid you should be confused with the likes of me! XD

        And I would say next time you want to insult people, try to have the guts to not post anonymously and actually post something useful, even if it is criticism.
        Besides which, if the writing is so bad – either show us YOUR blog where we can see what good writing is like or just DONT READ blogs you don’t like. It’s like me coming to your house and telling you how to troll – oh wait, doing that now, annoying isn’t it?

        Sorry to ahblack for extending this here but wanted to share this, feel free to remove this response, I’m done with this conversation anyway.

        • Spider — I thought about just trashing Robert’s comment because it didn’t really add anything, but I am not one to edit peoples opinions. That kind of vitriol is never constructive and you are right, I would like to know what his writing is like. If the only example we have is what he left in my comments, then I’m not very impressed.

  2. Great analogy, I love to cook and write so it’s quite relevant to me. Though I think the analogy falls down when it comes to eating improving your cooking. Maybe it does work to an extent but I know many people that love to eat but haven’t a clue when it comes to cooking. I think reading makes everyone better writers, however.

    I guess freelance writing is a bit like cooking strange meals for people you have never met.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • I appreciate your comments. There a many similarities and there are places I confess that the analogy breaks down but it was fun bringing two things I love together.

  3. This is an excellent reminder (read: kick in the pants) to stop surfing sites for tips on writing, and just sit down with a couple of good books to read. Thanks for this.

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