🍅 My Book Is Out Tomorrow 🍅
I've answered your questions—which includes a recent article pitch.
My book No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating is out tomorrow, August 15.
Thank you to all who have preordered or will preorder it. Today is the last chance to demonstrate its potential success, which is why preorders are so significant: It tells bookstores this is a worthwhile buy, and it tells the publishing world that I’m a good bet in the future. I know the last few weeks have been rife with self-promotion—this moment comes to a close soon, with exciting plans taking shape for the future. Believe me: Asking people to buy a book isn’t my idea of fun! Yet I would like to keep writing books. There’s the rub!
I asked folks to send me questions they have about the book or writing in general, to share a little insight into the process this week that I may not have before.
For more on the book process, see:
How would you define “food writing”?
I’ll be writing more about this after the book tour and some other things are sorted (in preparation for a 2024 relaunch and rebrand of this newsletter), but I define food writing as writing about food—whether one chooses to engage with the political, economic, labor, gender, and endless other aspects of food is a personal decision. I don’t think food writing has to be some sort of specific thing; I don’t think it has to entice a reader to consumption, of any sort.
How does class affect food availability, choices, and health and how can we work to make our food system more equitable for all?
That’s a huge question, and a hot button one! I don’t think it will be shocking to say that I believe in universal basic income (UBI), universal health care, and a wildly increased minimum wage. These are, to me, absolutely basic but perhaps the only foundation that would enable those of us in the U.S. to dream of a different way of living, which could include a different relationship to food that isn’t based on scarcity, exhaustion, lack of time, and obligation, but on pleasure.
Do you have any advice for someone (whose writing process is largely self-taught) looking to find immediacy and preparation? Are there any tools that help make that easier? How would you prep for a piece like the one recently published in Vox about food media in the age of TikTok, for example?
I prepped for that piece by scrolling TikTok far too much and needing to do something with the time spent! But I also realized that I was seeing something there that I wasn’t seeing in mainstream food media, and I saw creators who had had huge success on other platforms and in media gigs struggling with the tone of the app. I had been talking about this ephemeral idea with folks around me for a bit before I landed on a pitch that was more solid. This was it:
I have a pitch that is part media criticism, part social media analysis about how food media's gatekeeping has left it wide open to TikTok takeover, and that by not changing patterns that have let it continue to be very bad on issues of class, education, and race, it risks not bringing in a whole new audience that's clearly interested in the subject.
A stay-at-home mother in New Jersey posts her Costco haul, with prices, and records herself whispering in the early morning hours as she readies breakfast for a preschooler. A chef who's now been on Gordon Ramsay's Next Level Chef began her career at McDonald's, trained in a culinary program at community college, and made a name for herself through making everything from scratch when craving things like hoagies. The most famous restaurant critic in the United States isn't someone employed at a major paper, but a family man who orders from local restaurants using aliases and eats on camera.
Food media and food writing at large have historically been viewed as ignorant of class differences and grocery costs, privileging the voices of those who know the difference between various glassware and where to get the best sourdough bread. I am one of these food writers, which is why TikTok has been such a refreshing shift—and has the power to shift the narrative around what it means to love food. If it's not about connoisseurship but about feeding a family, making a career from a working-class background, and transparent reviews of small restaurants, then a layer of gatekeeping has seemingly been removed to let in a lot more people.
This is not to say that connoisseurship, a more Martha Stewart brand of domesticity, and traditionally professional food folks don't exist on the app, but they do exist in tandem and in competition with those who have come to their influence in food from outside the approved channels of writing for major outlets, cooking at big restaurants, or launching a successful business. There's a new type of sweat equity—and it's taking advantage of food media's reputation as closed off to most people.
What can traditional food media learn from the success of these creators? And why are they resonating with massive audiences? In a reported essay, I will talk to creators, fans, and traditional food media workers about what this new type of food media means for the future.
This piece was a lot different from my weekly newsletter essays, of course: I would have to tune it to the Vox voice, and I wanted to do so in order to reach a bigger audience and also push myself as a writer, and because I was reporting it and ended up talking to quite a few people in various roles in food media.
The thing that made it click for me was remembering Nora Ephron’s very important “The Food Establishment” essay from 1968 and mapping the new terrain onto the archetypes she’d noted over 50 years ago. I’d originally seen myself going a lot deeper on notions of taste and the history of food in the U.S., but bringing up Bourdieu and academic work on mid-century cooking proved a little much for a 2000-word digital feature. I will probably end up using those threads in future essays.
My usual process from idea to finished piece is an inkling of an idea; a lot of reading and note-taking in pursuit of the idea; reporting, if needed; and then sitting down to write. The necessary thing here is time to do a lot more reading and note-taking (and watching and listening, if relevant) than will end up being relevant to the finished product. This is what this newsletter affords me, and it’s not a luxury I had for much of my freelance writing career. But I’ve found the immediacy I’ve been able to access in my writing has come from really stewing in a thought process, taking it in every possible direction.
What skills/tools do you use to silence self-doubt or self-criticism while writing?Confidence as a writer is something I’ve gained through time, practice, and the trial by fire of doing daily blogging for a while at a regional food magazine. The way to silence the inner critic is to give yourself short deadlines and meet them—whether you’re publishing the work or not—and just push through. This will also help your voice develop. When I was on “Everything Cookbooks,” I bemoaned the lack of outlets and editing for emerging writers, because right now I don’t know where folks find the support they need to push off the wall.
Practice has helped me silence the inner critic while I’m writing; my family and friends help me keep him at bay at all other times.
What’s been the most surprising part of “selling/writing/marketing a book”?
Everything about this process has been a surprise, a splash of ice-cold water in the face, a fall off a ledge! It’s only by enduring it that one can understand it, and I have been surprised at every turn. I look forward to the next one, when I have more of a sense of what’s going on—when I know what I don’t know!
What is the most optimistic thing about the future of food you learnt whilst writing?
The most optimistic possibility for the future of food, in my view, and from my research, is that most people love and enjoy plant-based food. People in food media and who run kitchens need to stop pretending a mostly-meat menu is the only way to be compelling—especially considering this summer of record heat and seemingly endless climate-related disaster. Like… how long we gonna do this pretending everything is fine thing?
What has kept you sane while trying to get through the stress leading up to release?
Celebrating every little win! I think this is the only way to get through life in general, but right now, it’s everything. On my 30th birthday, I had lyrics from the song “Far From the Roses” by Minor Alps (a onetime collaboration between Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws of Nada Surf—a specific vibe, to be sure, that is precisely my vibe) tattooed on my left arm: “tiny victories & bursts of speed.” It was like I knew that would be the only way forward.
This Friday’s From the Kitchen for paid subscribers will be a rundown of the food books I’ve received in the mail lately and what excites me about them. See the recipe index for all recipes available to paid subscribers.
Though not a traditional cookbook in any sense of the word, everyone who loves to cook is excited about No Meat Required, food writer Alicia Kennedy’s contribution to the conversation about plant-based eating. In her signature evocative and thoughtful prose, Kennedy asks the reader to join her in questioning meat’s role in our culture: “This is a book about claiming biodiversity and rebuilding the food system in a way that supports culture, tradition, and gastronomy. This is a book about what it means to remove meat from the center of our plates: If we do that, what do we find?”
A piece for Eater New York on the thread in No Meat Required that tracks the significance of various vegan restaurants in New York City by Mayukh Sen, who will be my conversation partner at the Brooklyn book launch on September 14.
I talked to CBC’s “The Sunday Magazine” about the book.
I talked to KCRW “Press Play” about my piece for Vox.
My small capsule jewelry collection with By Ren, whose designs are handmade to order in Philadelphia, is live through the end of 2023. There are cocktail picks with a pearl on them, which are my favorite thing ever!
Not much but probably a lot, actually, as I’ve been eating! I did desperately crave seaweed last week and satisfied that desire. Why during a stressful time would I want to eat seaweed? Please sound off in the comments!