Once upon a time, food writers focused mainly on food. Food served to them in restaurants, fancy restaurants with cloth napkins and expense accounts. They handed down judgment from on high and, while they may have received a few grouchy letters to the editor, those stars, chef toques or liberty bell verdicts were unquestioned.
Food writers still eat with cloth napkins. But they’re also at food trucks. Checking out farms. The chefs they review are often more than simple cooks — they’re branded names with television shows, cookware lines and rarely at the restaurants that swagger their names across the press releases. Food writers tweet, post to Facebook, check in on Foursquare and live blog, answering a seemingly never-ending supply of increasingly food-educated readers demanding the best white truffle in town.
The restaurant reviews remain, but now those reviews are compared with crowdsourced commentaries on Yelp, Chowhound and Urban Spoon.
This year, the James Beard writing awards, announced earlier this month, judged entries solely on content, not platform. Awards were given not only for reviews, but for humor writing, food politics and policy and health and nutrition, among others.
“This radical evolution of the category represents a huge leap forward for food journalism,” said Dorothy Kalins, Chair of the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards Committee in a press release. “No longer will it matter where an incredible piece of service journalism, a politically-charged essay or in-depth profile appears.”
Poynter interviewed six writers and editors about their views on today’s food writing world. Are we simply back to the ’70s and Frances Moore Lappé’s “Diet for a Small Planet?” Or is our hunger for ever-rare products destroying the food world in one-upmanship?
Here’s what food writers have to say:
- Ruth Reichl, former editor of “Gourmet” magazine
“Everybody has always thought they could be a food critic”
- Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, editor-in-chief of “Real Food” and winner of five James Beard awards
“Being a restaurant critic in Minnesota is relentlessly local”
- Holly Hughes, editor of “Best Food Writing”
“I love the alternative weeklies; they still devote space to longform writing”
- Jonathan Gold, food critic for LA Weekly, Pulitzer Prize winner
Food section “almost like a newspaper within a newspaper”
- Miriam Morgan, food editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, winner of the 2011 James Beard award for Best Food section
“Reporting about food is no different than anything else, it requires knowledge of the beat”
- Craig LaBan, food critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, James Beard award winner
“You can’t underestimate how the change in technology has changed food writing”
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