You see the obsession with food everywhere. There are more than 16,000 food blogs on the Internet. Cookbooks continue to roll off the presses. TV food shows, both competitive and instructional, are on a multitude of channels, and when was the last time you went to dinner and didn't see someone photographing the plate in front of them?
The social media bulletin board site Pinterest has revealed a strong interest among young women in DIY food-preparation techniques, with canning and baking among the biggies. On Pinterest, you'll experience a sense of back-to-the-future from a generation that didn't learn to cook at Mom's elbow.
But for every good food blog, there are a dozen lousy ones. And food photos? We've all seen the good, the bad and the just plain ugly.
Through several programs in which I am involved, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg wants to help people improve culinary communication skills. The timing is right.
From 1 to 5 p.m. on April 5, the inaugural Florida Food Conference will be held at the downtown campus with workshops on food writing, blogging and photography. "Preserving Kitchen Memories" is the theme and James Beard award-winning cookbook author and culinary instructor Nathalie Dupree will be the keynote speaker.
After Dupree's talk, attendees can go to a workshop on food photography with Tampa Bay Times photographer Scott Keeler, whose work you see a lot on these pages; one on food blogging with Isabel Laessig of familyfoodie.com and the founder of the #SundaySupper movement; and I will lead a session on passionate food writing. We will attempt to describe an orange without using the word "orange."
In the fall, USFSP launches an online graduate Food Writing and Photography Certificate program aimed at people who want to stretch their abilities in food communication. I am developing curriculum for that. (More information at foodwriting.usfsp.edu.)
Dupree, whose Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking (Gibbs Smith, 2012) won a 2013 James Beard award, said she has noticed in recent years a deep longing among many Americans to get back to family food traditions. But many stories have been lost because recipes weren't written down along with the stories that went with them.
Even a dish as ubiquitous as green bean casserole can conjure family memories, Dupree says.
"Just the mention of that brings up memories of whole meals, the whole family plus jokes and the stories," she says. "It's hard to separate food from people, especially Southerners," she says. "They talk while they fix food and they talk while they snap beans."
She encourages people to put together a family cookbook, including those stories that make them laugh and cry. It's easy to do on a computer, and there are plenty of programs that provide templates and other organizational tools.
Don't forget, though, to preserve those old handwritten and splattered recipe cards by scanning them into your computer and including them in the cookbook, she says. Handwriting is another personal touchstone.
I have to say, in all the years I've been writing about food, I have not done a great job preserving my own family's kitchen memories, which stretch from military bases to the immigrant experience to a small farm in the rural West.
Recently, my 87-year-old mother told me a story about Sunday dinners when she was growing up in southern Utah. I'd never heard the tale about how Grandma would ask Grandpa to kill one of the chickens for the week's special meal. He always tried to talk her out of chicken because, being the soft-hearted guy he was, he didn't really want to kill one. Couldn't we just have eggs? Or maybe vegetable soup?
That says so much to me about my family's food heritage and how they lived. On April 5, I hope Dupree inspires me to put it down on paper. Or at least on my computer's hard drive.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586. Follow @RoadEats on Twitter.