The problems with food media


I'll admit it; I'm a food writing junkie. A significant portion of my free time is consumed by reading about food in print media (albeit less and less frequently), in cookbooks and, of course, on a plethora of websites and blogs. There are definite trends in the discourse on the web. Some of that revolves around seasonal items like holidays and weather-driven foodstuffs, but other trends seem to be picked up just to echo popular sites or to drive clicks. The website First We Feast discusses this phenomenon, and also criticizes food media for additional perceived flaws.

The article notes that over the past several years, the food media landscape has been in a state of flux, with big names like Bittman, Parsons, and Cowin departing the scene, among other changes. "Yet through all the ups and downs," they note, "something rankled: Food media has felt, for lack of a better word, soft. The most interesting and challenging stories are told from outside of the industry, and the appealing feralness of early food blogs has been neutered as websites settled into their role as the new establishment."

Specific fault-finding includes the theory that food writers are too scared of losing access to be critical. This seems to be belied by the recent takedowns of the Mast Brothers and the disparaging review of Per Se by food critic Pete Wells. But even those negative articles are problematic, says First We Feast. "While food-media outlets are quick to pull punches, they can also be opportunistic bullies at times, switching from boosterism to bashing only when it suits them best," they say. If it feels safe to do so, they posit, websites will gleefully tear down once-revered idols, but only after someone else (like an obscure blog) gets the ball rolling. 

On recipes, First We Feast is even more critical: "We've hit peak recipe, and too many of them are bad." The site laments the shift from cookbooks written by homecooking stalwarts like Diane Kennedy and Madhur Jaffrey to more chef-driven books, saying that "too many new cookbooks are little more than vanity projects, packed with elaborate recipes that require obscure ingredients and full brigades to pull off correctly." 

Some of the criticism may be fair, like the fact that gatekeepers are too homogenous, leading to lack of diversity. Other parts of the article seem to be attributing to food writing the same changes that all media has undergone as the world has shifted from print media to an online platform. And for its complaints, the site offers few suggestions for what should be done differently. Perhaps this introspection will lead to changes, but ideas on how to improve would have been welcome.

1 Comment

  • Marsaluna  on  2/12/2016 at 10:57 AM

    Another factor, I think, is the general decline of book publishing. It used to be that publishers had editors to help authors turn out a polished finished product. Now books are full of typos, grammatical errors and just plain bad prose, whether written by self-absorbed star chefs no one will rein in or blogger neophytes. Also for some cookbooks, I really wonder if anyone has tested the recipes. Publishers seem to still be willing to spend money on food styling and photography, but less on some of the other things that make cookbooks worth having.

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