Ten days later I’m finally getting to the follow-up on the panel discussion, Word of Mouth: Online Media and the Future of Food Writing that I attended on January 7 at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. For the one or two of you who read this blog (thank you!), my lateness won’t be such a big surprise!
The panel included a couple of big names in food media, both on paper and on-line, Ed Levine of Serious Eats and Amanda Hesser of Food52 – both are past and present writers for the New York Times, as well. The other most notable panelist was Julie Powell of Julie and Julia fame.
The room was packed – uncomfortably so. We were squished between the back bookshelves and the last row of seats with all our heavy down coats and winter accessories (it was a very cold night). I admit, this was a big distraction from what was actually being discussed, so I did not get as much out of the evening as I would have liked. In the end, I nearly passed out, so my biggest concern became getting into fresh air as quickly as possible.
It was wonderful to hear Ed Levine discuss his decades of experience as a food writer and author, and hear about his transition into online media – a forum he finds fulfilling, especially for the sense of community that Serious Eats and so many online food sites generate.
Oddly, it is that sense of “community” that the panel agreed was such an important part of the online food media appeal, which I feel detracts from its reliability as a source of consistent, accurate, professional “news.” So many voices tend to dilute the quality of information being disseminated. Also, the tone of some of the more prolific (though not necessarily more qualified) voices are often snarky or even downright mean. Having an opinion and internet access does not make one an expert.
One of my biggest complaints with online food media is the omnipresent chatter about recipes. How many recipes for tomato soup does the world really need? Apparently thousands. And apparently my lack of interest in exchanging recipes with the online “community” is a potentially insurmountable hurdle to my future as a successful online food writer – at least if panels like this are any sign. Even well-respected successful food journalists like Amanda Hesser are channeling their talent into online recipe exchange (the premise behind Food52 – a legitimately interesting, useful and beautiful website).
As online interest in food, or interest in food discourse in general, continues to grow, I hope that we will see more actual food-related journalism and well-researched food writing on subjects beyond food politics into the realms of history, culture/cultural diversity, and art. That’s just the gastronomy geek (and former graduate student looking for reliable data) in me ranting a bit!
I’ll close with my favorite moment of the evening – Julie Powell, in all her “under-editted” charm, compared food media to socially responsible pornography… something I couldn’t agree more with! It left me thinking that our culture has come to a point when we are much more concerned about what and where we eat than with sex. Is this a good thing? For someone who writes for a website called Eat Something Sexy, yes. It’s a good thing!