Reliable Places of Inspiration – Travel, Food and Culture Shows

SO, I totally forgot to blog last week. Here is one for writers which I think will help.

This will be an ongoing series for places I tend to go for reliable sources of inspiration when I’m stuck or need something in the background.

With Netflix’s new show Street Food it is the perfect time to talk about the number one thing I turn on in the background while I write. Food and culture shows are what I turn on while I’m writing almost every single time. They are the shows I use as a gateway into other places, sights, smells and ideas. They are what I use to help being atmosphere into my writing.

So let’s talk about.

Let’s talk about Netflix’s Street Food a miniseries where each episode features the street cuisine from a specific place, in South and East Asia. Many episodes follow the stories of street vendors from the humblest of places and gives each the respect due to a great chef from the west. As stated in Vulture’s Review of the series, in the same way Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, Ugly Delicious and Parts Unknown (which will be discussed shortly), the thesis is showing how the greatest food in the world is not in the high spires of fine-dining or based on a Michelin Star count. The greatest food in the world comes from being just trying to make a living, survive and bring a little more joy in the world.

As the show focuses on the lives of these street-corner chefs, you hear their stories, the connection between food and culture. What food means to them? And sometimes even the technicalities of how they created their style. It shows their lives in all their reality, showing ups and downs and perseverance. Yeah, a show can’t truly be trusted for all the true information but for a fan of shows like this, it offers new, diverse and often forgotten voices.

Next is Ugly Delicious with legendary smart-ass David Chang.

Ugly Delicious has the same philosophy, the best places are not always the nicest, hence Ugly Delicious. Chang does go about this is a unique epistemological way. Each episode focuses on a specific type of food; pizza, barbarque, home-cooking or fried rice.

Each of these offers a window into political, social and interpersonal discussions about said topic. This was where I learned about MSG and the history of racism that it is tied to (I didn’t even know this was a thing, mostly because my family has always eaten Chinese food). Chang compares and contrasts western and eastern ideas/traditions/flavors/textures, often recognizing and then fully ignoring discussions about appropriation. Given his work, I don’t even know if he has a final assessment on the issue.

Ugly Delicious is to Food Documentaries as first-year Political Theory is to a degree in philosophy. It helps cover the basics and breaks down your assumptions you thought you knew.

Now the big do; the late great Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.

This Emmy-Winning series has changed my life on indescribable levels. My world changed when I watched episodes set in Iran, Shanghai, Okinawa, Jerusalem and Lybia. Things I thought were wrong were right, lies were cast aside and I know I look at the world a little bit better thanks to Anthony Bourdain. Food, ideas, politics, perspectives are all presented and shown in their complexities.

After he died I wrote a lot about mental health and our societal failure at understanding it. I was in the midst of the very bleak time in my life when he died. It took me months to return to his show.

I just wanted to acknowledge that and now I’m going to set it aside.

How does this help writing? Well I’ll put it this way, if you as a genre writer, someone who builds alien worlds and forgotten realms, and you want to be better at worldbuilding? Well, you better know enough information, its complexity and its day-to-day grit to fill an episode of one of these shows.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see I cook a lot.

There is no greater entrance to a culture than food. I’m a food guy. If there is one thing I will, and am, an asshole about it’s cooking. I DO NOT understand people who can’t cook. How do you eat!? Do you eat out all the time!? What’s wrong with you? Oh your mother cooked? My Mom taught me how to cook and she instilled in me this philosophy. How do you go about life without learning to cook! Before you talk about budget, this isn’t about budget. This is the basic skills knowledge. Even as our economy changes and our society evolves (or devolves) food skills are vitally important.

And for writing fantasy and science fiction (unless there is an in-world reason) food should always be considered. Food, power and waste are the three fundamentals of any society. It affects EVERYTHING. This is the one universal thing we do across cultures. Food culture includes drinking culture, rituals, holidays, family dynamics, gender roles, resource allocation. A thousand other factors.

When you consider food, culture, politics and the intersection between those, you create worlds. You feel the sweat on your face, you hear the sizzle of a wok or the chime of a highway diner, you taste the bitter coffee, the spicy noodles and the aroma of fresh bread. That’s how you create worlds.

So if you are struggling for inspiration in your writing.

Go watch something about food.

Comment below, let me know what you think,