The Digest

Where Food Intersects & Other News

7th July 2017

Words: James Hansen

In this week’s food media round-up: the intersections between race and food, mental health and baking, and whisky and detective fiction

Plug in your headphones to begin this week with Soleil Ho and Zahir Janmohamed at Racist Sandwich. Their three-part Pride month podcast begins with an interview from Janmohamed and John Shadel with John Birdsall – whose recent piece on queer culinary space for Eater is an essential read. It is followed by Janmohamed interviewing people of colour at Portland’s pride march, engaging with the whiteness of Pride as a movement as it intersects with queer experience in Portland – “it’s easy to be queer but difficult to be a person of colour”. It culminates with Ho recollecting the role of anime in recognising and owning her own burgeoning queer experience as a child. Pair with their blog – written, this time – on the cardinal sins of food media’s whiteness problem.

Follow with Bonnie TsuiShakirah Simley, Stephen SatterfieldDakota Kim and Tunde Wey at Civil Eats. This roundtable reflects on the virulent backlash against diversity in food media: as Simley puts it, “America and its institutions have a long history of stifling POC voices with indifference and violence; instead of pens and pulpits, people now have mastheads, keyboards, and Twitter accounts”. Trolling and editorial erasure are key topics: there’s also some interesting discussion of the effect of Donald Trump’s election on culinary culture. For more on POTUS and food, check out this piece  from Helen Rosner.

Mayukh Sen resurrects and interrogates his great-grandmother’s culinary identity at Food52. Within the “very distinct caste (Brahmin and Kayastha—that is, high caste), religious (Hindu), and regional (West Bengal) bracket” that shackled Hiranmayi Ghatak, her diet was violently restricted. Sen makes it clear that “these culinary limitations inadvertently contributed to what is now a rich vegetarian cuisine, built around dishes made from scraps of produce. These women are this cuisine’s unsung architects, recognizing a spectrum of possibilities within their loss”. At the same time, he taps in to too-often unspoken violences lurking behind food writing: in celebrating a given cuisine uncritically, what credence does it give to potentially discriminatory, or even inhumane origins?

Pick up those headphones once more with The SporkfulDan Pashman interviews food writer David Leite on the symbiotic relationship between his manic depression and what he cooks and eats. Leite recalls his shame at the Portuguese food of his childhood and his latent acceptance of all that it means, before discussing the connection “between mood and food… I was self-medicating with food”. Between obsessing over the texture of cake batter and reflecting on dinner party neuroses (“I don’t want your potato salad at my house, I’ll eat it at your house) Leite unpicks the formal, systemic structure of Being A Food Writer as it dovetails with his mental health. NB: if you take his partner’s food at dinner, “there will be blood”.

We finish with Dave Broom exploring a life through drams with crime writer Ian Rankin at Scotch Whisky. His most famous creation, detective John Rebus, employs the glass of whisky as a totem for his musings over a case; here Rankin waymarks his own past with peat and malt. Whiskies – Scots, Irish – are bywords for memories and character – as Rankin puts it: “It gives an inkling”. When he returns to his motivations – “You write to make sense of the world, how you communicate with the world, and because it’s fun” – his words encircle Broom’s article: each whisky drunk is too a communication with the world. Pair with Tejal Rao at The New York Times on the joy of reading cookbooks.


Posted 7th July 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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