Best Food Writing is NOT a part of the Best American Series (Essays, Travel Writing, Mysteries, Short Stories, Non-required Reading, etc.) The Best American series does include a best recipes edition, but those of us who don't actually cook aren't interested in reading recipes. On the other hand, the Best Food Writing series, which debuted in 2000 with Holly Hughes doing the editing each year, is more about the writing than about the food. Yes, it helps to be interested in food to enjoy these essays, but all you really need is an appreciation of good writing. (This concept was finally illustrated for me last year when I read Best American Essays 2004 and found that the best essay was a piece about knitting. Before reading it, I was completely ignorant about knitting and, I thought, completely uninterested.)
Okay, so Best Food Writing is not part of the Best American series, but I'm going to compare it to them anyway. It's better. I especially like the Best American Essays and Travel Writing, but every year Best Food Writing is my favorite. Is food writing inherently superior? Easier to write? As with a delicious meal, I don't analyze the preparation, I just savor the food.
The 2005 edition includes articles from magazines such as Gourmet and Bon Appetit, from the food sections of newspapers including the New York Times, and from books such as Garlic and Sapphires. Hughes has divided the essays into chapters that are more or less about baking, drinking, the restaurant business, etc. She could have included a chapter called Extreme Foods, because there were several entertaining essays about spicy or otherwise intimidating food.
Some of my favorites of the 2005 bunch were Mort Rosenblum's Nutella adventures, Nancy Grimes's whine about how tough it is to be the wife of a food critic (boo hoo), Gabrielle Hamilton's memories of killing her first chicken, Dorie Greenspan's revelation of the French host's secret to perfect desserts, Diana Abu-Jaber's story of her immigrant family's disastrous failure to keep the old traditions alive, and David Ramsey's account of some extremely spicy chicken.
This year Hughes has devoted an appendix to food blogs, because there are just too many to ignore. I guess she missed Julie Powell's blog chronicling her year-long project of preparing every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell turned her blog into a terrific book called Julie & Julia, and I wouldn't be surprised to see an excerpt from it in next year's Best Food Writing.