The last supper - Page 2

Food writer Paul Reidinger bids farewell after more than a decade covering the San Francisco food scene

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Photographer Rory McNamara has been illustrating Paul's columns since 1997. Here, Tres Agaves.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY RORY MCNAMARA

One of the big issues with restaurant kitchens is that you never know for sure what they're putting in your food, but a lot of butter is probably a safe bet. If you believe, as I do, that health is a personal responsibility and that the connection between diet and well-being is as basic as it gets, then there is no substitute for buying and cooking your own food rather than paying somebody else to do it. Restaurant meals should be treats, not staples.

Restaurants are about more than food, of course. They are social fora, gathering places full of talk and clothes and interior design; they are cultural statements, business endeavors, entertainment venues, and labors of love. They are, above all, sensual experiences — great outings for the senses — and describing sensual experience is one of the trickiest and most absorbing operations any writer will ever undertake. The difference between doing it well and doing it badly is often fine and very often involves the presence or absence of cliché. Rote expressions and tired imagery are lethal to sensual description — it seems particularly and bitterly ironic to find the freshness of food being written about in language as stale as month-old bread — and in my small way I have been a committed warrior against these toxins of banality. Down the weeks, months, and years, I have tried to summon language as lively, exact, and unexpected as I could think to make it, so that it might delight the reader and, not coincidentally, stick in the mind.

There is nothing more powerful in language than a phrase, sometimes a single word, that helps you see something you hadn't seen before, or helps you see something you had seen before, even if it's just a burrito, in a surprising new way. These glints of words kindle the imagination, and imagination, I would say, is basic to our prospects as a species. This is why good writing, whatever its subject, will always be not just important but central, even when, as now, its value is eclipsed by a rising culture of gadgets and gizmos, of YouTube clips played on smartphones. The heart of human intelligence, of human knowing, is and will remain language, and writing is language's most potent distillate. What we feed our minds is as important as what we feed our bodies — or at least that is what I believe, since I am a writer and couldn't possibly believe otherwise.

But enough! I must run.

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