Most people become food writers because they love the pleasures of the table, or maybe even the craft of writing. I became a food writer because I loved books about food.
My love affair with the genre peaked when I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, a weird school whose unofficial motto is "Where Fun Comes to Die." Naturally, as a form of spirited competition, its library hosted an annual contest for bibliophiles, the T. Kimball Brooker Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting, complete with a cool $1,000 prize.
I had begun collecting food writing in high school, at the suggestion of an English teacher: "Read Ruth Reichl and Jeffrey Steingarten. I think you'll like them." So I inhaled Tender at the Bone and The Man Who Ate Everything, reading them voraciously, stopping, naturally, only to eat. And these books became the appetizers for what would entice me.
By the time I entered college, I had amassed what I thought were an impressive 79 culinary titles. So I boldly entered my collection into the T. Kimball Brooker competition, along with an essay I titled "The Gastrophile's Library," wondering if the word "gastrophile" had been used in the past 200 years.
Before submitting my application, I researched previous winners. Titles of collections included "Alternatives to, and Defenses of, Mathematical Orthodoxies," "The Epistemology of Meaning and Communication," and "The Marriage of Philo and Sophia: Love and Knowledge in Medieval Islam and the European Renaissance." Was this contest actually a competition for writing titles for theses? To this day I don't know what constitutes an alternative to a mathematical orthodoxy, but some things in life are better left unknown.