Food Writing Exercises: Writing the Senses

Posted on January 4, 2012

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“There are three important apples that have changed the world,” one of my former students said when Steve Jobs passed away: The one that Eve ate in the Bible, the one that inspired Newton’s theory of gravity, and finally the Apple brand that Steve Jobs created.

I always loved that insight (which was something she’d heard somewhere, in all honesty, but was great nonetheless). In fact, I’m writing this blog post (and experiencing gravity) on an Apple product right now.

Because of its rich presence in literature and history, apples are a great food to use for a sensory writing activity because it’s so laden with meaning and metaphor. So, today I used it in our food writing class as a writing prompt, and I thought I’d share the activity here on our website.

I bought a bunch of organic Pink Lady apples and gave one to each student after our break. I told them that I was going to guide them through a writing exercise, and that they should write any adjectives, associations or metaphors that came to mind as I directed them to different parts of the apple. So for example, the sense of touch might evoke the adjective “smooth” or “cool,” or “smooth as the skin at the temples” or “cool as the hood of a car in the morning before sunrise” or “reminds me of my baby cousin’s cheeks.” I just encouraged them to write whatever comes to mind as an association with that sensation and aspect of the apple, without judgement or censure.

The activity proceeded roughly in this order (I started with touch on accident, but I meant to start with sight first and forgot a few details, so I’ll write the “correct” version here):

Sight: Look at the apple. Notice the colors, the shape. Pick up the apple and look at the top, where the stem is. Now turn it over and look at the bottom. Write any associations that come to mind.

Touch: Now pick up the apple. Feel its weight. How heavy is it? What does it feel like in your palms? What temperature is it? What does the skin feel like when you touch it? (LATER: What does it feel like to bite through the peel and taste the pulp inside? What’s the texture like on your tongue?)

Smell: Now smell the apple. Smell the skin. Then smell where the stem is and compare it to the bottom of the apple–is the scent the same? Or does one end of the apple smell stronger than the other? How would you describe the smell? What does it remind you of?

Sound: What does it sound like to flick the apple with your finger? To scratch the peel with your ear right nearby? (LATER: What does it sound like to take a bite? What does it sound like when everyone else is taking a bite?)

Taste: What does the apple taste like? Where do you taste the different flavors on your tongue? Is it sour? Is it only sweet? Does the taste have dimension? Does it remind you of other fruits? How would you describe it to someone?

After they took a bite or two, I did the sound and touch sensory questions mentioned in those sections after “LATER”.

And finally, I ended with sight again: What does your apple look like, now that you’ve taken a bite? How would you describe it? What kind of adjectives would you ascribe to it? How do you feel looking at it?

Then just give them a bit to write anything else that comes to mind as they look at and experience their apple in silence.

Then I ended with this assignment: Write a blog post about a powerful  memory involving an apple. Focus on the sensory details–even to the point of exaggeration–using the descriptions from this exercise. 

It’s a great exercise to really be present with food and explore the many dimensions of it. We’re going to use this exercise with several types of food in my class to really engage and awaken the senses–though I won’t say with which foods…it has to be a surprise.

As for my students (and whoever else would like to respond): What did you think? Did you like the activity? What was your response? Did I leave anything out here in the exercise? What would you add?

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