On Low-Hanging Fruit
Why do we have the same food fights on social media over and over again?
When food writers get upset, it tends to be about one of three things: cultural appropriation; a non-food writer getting something wrong about a food matter; and, most often, people complaining about the stories bloggers write before getting to the recipe. These are all valid matters of legitimate concern, but what troubles me about the repetition of these arguments is that the cycle reveals how reactionary food media is. So rarely does a food story drive conversation that we leap to take down anyone who dare not respect the sanctity of our field. How about, instead, we try to be more compelling in general?
It’s hard to do that. Independent outlets doing that compelling work (list coming soon) don’t have teams to compete with the audiences of the—what, two? mainstream food magazines that still exist in the U.S. (and last week both of them were running Amazon Prime Day content from which they make a cut, without any concern for all the stories we’ve heard in the last year about conditions for their workers, so how relevant is food, actually). Few food writers are well known to a general audience. This is why food media broadly is obsessed with what I refer to as low-hanging fruit, to which it can react without the work of generating ideas.
Divesting from discourse is difficult, but it’s clear that what happens on Twitter stays on Twitter and is promptly forgotten, rendering all the time and blood pressure spikes moot. No one cares that food writers know which chefs are toxic, even the ones open about it on social media—they’ll be defended, in one way or another. No one cares about food unless they really care about food, sadly; some people who write about food only care about it as a thought exercise and not a massive industry with huge economic, ecological, and labor impact. Many are working to change this. But it isn’t gonna happen on Twitter.
That’s why the most prominent of the low-hanging fruit fights comes around almost monthly, like clockwork, which is the “I hate food bloggers’ life stories” refrain. Someone who likes free recipes but not, apparently, reading gets on the figurative horn and spouts off, seemingly without knowledge of all those who’ve come before with this exact same complaint. And, like clockwork, food writers rush to put the person in their place, reminding everyone that all recipes have background and take labor to create, labor that is usually only compensated if page views are high, requiring bloggers to hit a certain word count for SEO reasons. No one wants to write a fucking essay to publish a recipe every single time; the thing is, the only way anyone sees the recipe is with the essay. A content ouroboros! Jenny G. Zhang wrote the definitive response to this phenomenon in March 2020. Nevertheless, it persists.
If it persists despite the constant conversation, I think it’s safe to say we have to stop replying to it, and many similar matters as well, no matter how infuriating it is to see this very time-consuming and knowledge-intensive work be ridiculed. They’re not listening! They don’t care! The only people who will ever understand recipe writing as labor are those of us who write recipes. My new rule for myself is that if I don’t want to spend time writing an essay about something, then I don’t care enough to post on social media about it. (A recent exception was something about “meat toast,” which I will be mentioning in my book.) I will do my best not to pick the low-hanging fruit. I will, however, always cut up a lovely local pineapple and dust it in chili salt.
This Friday’s paid subscriber interview will feature Amber Mayfield, the publisher of While Entertaining, an annual magazine that highlights Black food and drink experts. We talk about why she started publishing, the magazine’s focus on recipes and dinner parties, and her next moves in a world where gathering is possible again.
Programming Note: No newsletters next week because of the U.S. holiday weekend. I will return July 12.
Nothing! A lot in the works.
What’s Good? A Memoir in Fourteen Ingredients by Peter Hoffman to prepare to interview him for a forthcoming paid subscriber interview!
Nothing good. A mamey cake tasted good but I forgot I can’t make 8-inch cakes in my oven because there is no circulation and the center always comes out raw.
This piece brings to mind the questions I often ask myself as a food writer who stays away from Twitter. I can only digest so much at a time, and staying up-to-date on the goings-on in the food writing world seems, quite frankly, daunting and tiring. It is indeed time- and labor-intensive to find stories that are unique and compelling, and for whatever I miss out on by not participating in the larger food writing space, I think I make up for in the mental real estate (or mental peace) to create work that's meaningful.
But on the flip side, social media enables us to more easily find those people whose work dives deeper, and we can follow them directly!