Food, AP Style

Oh, how I remember that little blue book, the spiral-bound bible of the newsroom. I bought my first copy as a freshman in journalism school. It got me through Sharon Barrett’s editing class. It taught me the difference between further and farther, the plural of bus, the origins of Skid Road and Skid Row, the difference between whisky and whiskey. By the end of Sharon’s class, we had it all memorized. We had to know that book backward and forward to get through J-School and into a newsroom.

Every American newspaper reporter knows the AP Stylebook. It is the final word in questions of grammar, spelling, punctuation and style. It has steered reporters since the first stapled edition appeared in 1953. These days it’s available in print, online and in mobile app version. And starting today, it has a whole new section on food.

Last week, I joined several other food writers in a conference call with J.M. Hirsch, AP food editor. The new food edition stems from a series of cheat sheets he developed through the years. “Really, it all began with bok choy,” which has several commonly used spellings—bok choi, pak choi, pak choy—and little consistency in the world of food writing. If AP spells it one way in one recipe and a different way in another recipe, “we look silly,” he said. AP sets the industry standard. Yet, Hirsch realized, the organization was “very inconsistent in food style.”

The new Food Guidelines section covers 400 terms in 16 pages, and it outlines the proper way to format a recipe. The Stylebook as a whole includes 500 revisions and an expanded social media section. But it’s not just a reporter’s handbook anymore. “For a long time the Stylebook was a very insider thing for journalists,” Hirsch said. That’s changed as more and more people write and publish in so many different ways—especially in the area of food. “We’re all being evaluated by the quality and the clarity of our writing,” Hirsch said. Clear, consistent style is key for bloggers, cookbook authors and any professional writing a recipe.

What’s the difference between palate and palette? Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano? Does farmers market have an apostrophe? Is fair trade up or down? How about French bread, French dressing, french fries and French toast? What’s the proper punctuation for 7-Eleven and 7UP? And what in the world is a Fluffernutter?

It’s all in that book. Available here.

And now, we finally have a definition of foodie. It’s “slang for a person with a strong interest in good food.”

Don’t like what you find in the new food section? Let the editor know. He wants your comments.

(And no, that is not actually the cover of the 2011 Stylebook. It’s just my old dog-eared guide spiced up for the occasion.)

12 thoughts on “Food, AP Style

  1. I could have used this when I was Food editor. Kind of sad that it comes along now when The News-Review no longer has the space or the manpower for a weekly Food page. Still, nice to have for us foodies! Thanks for writing about it.

  2. Ah, this is great! Since I like to think that I’m a bit of a grammarian who loves food, this is fantastic. Be still, my beating heart. I’m excited to check out the new version.

  3. I have not owned a copy of the AP Stylebook in more than five years and I think it’s about time I picked up a copy. Thanks for sharing this important news! I have left the world of journalism but this book certainly comes in handy at times.

  4. Thanks for the interest, everyone. I’m so glad I took part in this discussion about the new guidelines – it’s rekindled my drive for consistency. It made me realize how much of that has been lost in this new age of publishing, with so many of us coming from and heading in myriad directions. Kim, as you note, this is a handy book — in journalism and well beyond.

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