The evolution of the newspaper food section


In today's media saturated age, it can be difficult to imagine a time when there was only one or two sources for information about food and cooking. For decades, however, that was the case. Before there was Instagram, blogs, food television, or even food magazines, the newspaper food column provided the only information most people could get about recipes or dining. The Denver Post has just written a neat piece regarding the 125-year-plus history of its food writing, and what it says about that particular paper parallels the experience of many others.

Early in the newspaper's publication, in the late 1800s, there was no section dedicated to food. There were, however, the "women's pages", where articles ranged from daily devotions to poems and a few scattered stories about food. In 1895, for instance, an article provided some tips from a traveler to France: "Always boil soup long and slowly." 

Things progressed in the early 20th century, and by the 1930s stories about food were commonplace, as were advertisements about food for groceries and home keeping products. Prizes were offered for the best recipes from readers (much cheaper than paying someone to write full time). 

The 1950s and 60s were breakthrough years. This was the birth of dedicated food columns, along with profiles or interviews of chefs and cooks. Weekend magazines appeared on the scene, often featuring several pages of food writing, both home grown and from outside. Fast forward to the 1970s, and you see the first dedicated food section. Larger papers may have had it a few years prior, but this is when food writing in newspapers really began to take off. 

From there, the food section remained more or less the same for decades. Recipe articles shared space with restaurant reviews, food news, and stories from celebrity guest writers. Food advertisements moved from the paper's pages to inserts. Then, faced with severe budget pressures from a decline in subscribers (mainly due to the Internet), many newspapers began to curtail or even eliminate standalone food sections. Now only the largest newspapers such still have dedicated sections devoted to food and dining, although a large portion of the content has moved to the web.

While the future of printed newspapers may be uncertain, one thing we can say: food writing isn't going away, even if the papers do. Thanks to blogs, websites, and other online forums, there is a plethora of information and plenty of excellent food writing to be found. Newspapers helped usher in this golden age, and we should be ever thankful for that. 

1 Comment

  • Therese  on  10/15/2017 at 10:51 PM

    Woah! A woman food editor from 1958 to 1993!! 👍 And a food writer/critic called 'Tucker' 😂

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