I get a lot of great and interesting reader email. A few weeks ago,  I received a note that did not sit well with me. It came from a young student at an elite local college asking me for guidance on food writing and in part said:

“The current dilemma I am having is that I am torn between dedicating my life to a career in public service because I want my work to impact other people and doing something which is more personally interesting to me, like food writing, but does not have as much for a worldly impact”

At first her note irked me. Why in the world would you write to a writer and imply to them that what they are doing has no “worldly impact”?

I sent her off a rather huffy note listing food writers who make a difference:  Look at Marion Nestle with all her work on nutrition. What about Michael Pollan and his view-altering books on how we eat. How about Mark Bittman who is made people come back into the kitchen to cook…

But I began to wonder.. what about people who are the true artists of food writing… the people whose work is just beautiful and poetic and flows and doesn’t fall in the arena of hard-hitting journalism. Do they have a worldly impact?

What is the impact of any art? Why did Picasso paint? Did his paintings have a worldly impact? Can art exist for art’s sake? Should it?

A few days after sending her my response, I was still bothered by her question. Perhaps on a more personal level, it made me think: does my work matter? Does my writing have a worldly impact? What does “worldly impact” really mean?

My goal with my work has always been to show how food affects our culture, how food creates bonds, how it keeps us connected with our past and offer great promise for the future.  I weave tales of food and how intertwined it is in our lives. I write about the joy of my son’s first taste of chocolate, I wonder about the ethnicity of chefs who cook a cuisine not their own, I marvel at the beauty of a plum tomato, I giggle with delight when I taste a luscious fig.

I am a culture watcher, a mere storyteller.

Does that matter? Do storytellers have a worldly impact?

I don’t know the answer.

But here is what all this soul searching made me realize: I write because it is my calling. It is what I was put on this earth to do. It is who I am and what I do. The results are not something I can worry about or control. If I do my work well, perhaps in many ways, that is its own reward.


I asked my esteemed colleagues for their thoughts on the question:

Ramin Ganeshram (Food writer and cookbook author): “Food writing matters because it’s not really about the food–it’s a taste of what makes a person or culture or tick.”

Dianne Jacob (food writing teacher) – Many books about food have impacted Americans in positive ways, helping them change their eating habits or alerting them about the how the government and corporations made food decisions that are not in our best interests. I think of these thoughtful books, such as Tomatoland, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Politics and Fast Food Nation, as public service books because of their huge impact on our society.  Most authors of books like these don’t see themselves as food writers, though — just writers.

Lisa Gosselin (EIC Eating Well magazine) I am thankful that I have a job that, if we do it well, can not only make people’s lives better but can actually save lives. There is not a week that goes by that we do not get letters from readers saying that EatingWell has inspired to them to not only cook and eat healthier foods but to lead healthier lives. They tell us stories about how they have lost weight, turned around the early warning signs of heart disease or diabetes, or simply learned to cook and appreciate vegetables in ways they never thought. We write about sustainability and have helped people make choices that are better for them and the planet through award-winning stories on sustainable seafood or genetically modified foods. We have raised awareness too of the problems in our food systems: how the dairy crisis impacts farmers, communities and landscapes; how the farm bill can change the face of the country by promoting or killing small farms.

To write well is a public service, and a chance to influence millions. To write well about food, is a chance to influence millions in their daily choices: we all eat!

Corinne Trang (food writer and cookbook author): As a chef, cookbook author, and wellness coach, I am dedicated to mindful eating and feel a responsibility to address and bring awareness to health issues such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, which have reached epidemic proportions. To do any less than present healthy recipes in order to promote balanced meals (and therefore lifestyle) would be irresponsible on my part. I have, along with many of my colleagues, an opportunity to make an impact and every chance I get to engage in such an important topic whether it is on television or radio, I do. The way we eat affects us, physically, emotionally, mentally. It also affects our health on a national and international level, economically, financially, and politically.

Annia Ciezadlo (author): “I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion. The Great War, for instance, could never have happened if tinned food had not been invented…. Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.”

–      George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

Clare Leschin-Hoar (food writer): I absolutely would challenge the assumption that being a food writer isn’t impactful. Covering the food beat means you report on environmental and political issues that can range from pollution and antibiotic resistance (CAFOs); to conservation issues (farming) and overfishing (bluefin); to genetic modification of plants (corn, soybean, sugar beets) and animals (GMO salmon), to critical legislation like the Farm Bill.

But if you need an example of food writing that has directly impacted other people, I would point you to the work of Barry Estabrook and his coverage on the conditions faced by the Immokalee workers   (both for Gourmet and in his notable book, Tomatoland, which brought to light modern-day slavery conditions in a food chain that touched anyone who ever purchased a tomato-topped sandwich from a fast food chain, or picked up an out-of-season tomato from the supermarket. There’s no question that well-researched and reported food writing can make a difference.

Molly O’neill (food writer and cookbook author): Why write about food? Because food is a patch of blue in an otherwise gray news world…

One can not tell the truth about other people’s relationship to food without knowing their own relationship, socially, in terms of class and ethnicity. Emotionally in terms of the void that is being filled when one bites and chews. Culturally in terms of one’s political, historic, and economic context.

Food is one of the final frontiers of the unique and the individual. It is a bastion of the liberal arts impulse, a place where only people who never want to stop learning should go. It is a place where people say who they are, where they came from, where they dream of going, over and over and over again. It is living humanism, the transcendental movement for the electronic era. It is the place to be. It requires everything you have. It never stops demanding.

Jonathan Gold (Pulitzer prize winning food writer):  I probably come up against this question more than most writers do – my brother is a well-known marine environmentalist, and people find it amusing to juxtapose our careers; the species he saves versus the species I eat for lunch. But the difference is clear: The fact that Santa Monica Bay is more swimmable than it was when we were teenagers outweighs whatever I may have done to persuade Angelenos about the wonders of the multicultural mosaic.

If the student’s passion for food writing is real and pure and true, than she should probably pursue it. If, on the other hand, she is considering it as one career option among many, she may as well channel her passions into Oxfam or Food First or Doctors Without Borders. In the long run, it will probably do more good.

Bruce Shaw (publisher, Harvard Common Press)– I believe that many people may initially undertake food writing because they either love food, or find the idea of writing about it to be full of possibility. But any good food writer, that is, any writer who is true to the craft and to their place within that world, soon realizes that our words and thoughts on food touch everyone who read them. Whether it is food education, sustainability, or even a recipe that helps to bring a new cook into the kitchen, food writing has a profound effect that goes far beyond just words on a page.  Food surrounds us in all that we do, and those that lead the conversation which helps consumers better understand and appreciate their food are doing a service that is beyond measure.”

Bill Daley (senior food reporter, Chicago Tribune): Granted food writing isn’t hard news – it’s not wars or taxes or murder or even stock trading – but it’s vital news. And anyone with imagination, drive, talent can push food writing onto page 1. Their writing may help set policy or change how a nation or a people view food. At the very least, a food writer can give readers something wonderful to eat for dinner – and there’s honor in that, too.

The first few lines could be a quote I suppose but don’t want to sound if I’m beating up on the kid. I’d rather have you use those points in a softer paraphrase or perhaps use them to shape your reply…after all, none of us know what the future will bring.

David Leite (publisher Leite’s Culinaria, author and food writer): “If you think food writing can’t have a worldly impact, how do you explain away “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child?”

Domenica Marchetti (food writer and author): Of course there are all sorts of ways to answer this. I could talk about the relevance of writers such as Michael Pollan and Barry Estabrook and Eric Schlosser. There are writers like yourself, Momica, for whom food is, among other things, a wonderful vehicle for storytelling. There are writers of memoirs, writers of cookbooks, writers of blogs. They are all relevant.

In my own case, writing about food gives me the opportunity to share my knowledge of and love for Italian culture and life, and ~ increasingly important ~ to shine a light on food and culinary traditions that are in danger of disappearing. I just wrote a blog post about visiting a farm in the mountains of Abruzzo where the owners raise sheep and cows and produce award-winning cheeses. But the cheese is only part of their story. They have bigger goals ~ monumental ones. Through their work they are trying to revive traditional organic farming ways that have been lost to industrial farming practices. And they are using their farm and agriturismo operation to breathe new economic life into the region’s distressed mountain towns and villages, many of which have seen their residents depart for cities and other countries in search of work. Their aim is to become a model, not only throughout Italy, but in other countries facing similar circumstances.

Now maybe my blog post won’t reach thousands of people, but if it makes even a few aware of this place, of these people and their work, of a different way of living life, then it’s relevant.

Tim Carman (food reporter, The Washington Post: It just seems human nature to want to believe your job has meaning and value, that you’re contributing something to the greater good of your community. We all spend so much time devoted to our jobs these days that to think otherwise would lead to a sort of existential crisis (which, I believe, your original note writer was hoping to avoid).

With that said, I think setting the bar at “worldly impact” is setting yourself up for disappointment. Most of us food writers will not make an impact on the world. For many people, in fact, the job of the local trash collector has more impact on their lives than the words I print on a weekly basis. That’s just a humbling reality. But I think our words create smaller, ephemeral ripples, and there is nothing wrong with that. Our words might help a small-but-skilled restaurateur drum up business. We might suggest new and interesting recipes for readers to try at home. We might even give voice to those in the industry who are distressed but powerless, or those who see disturbing trends on the horizon, both large and small. All these things have value.
I think one of the hardest things about writing (whether food or some other subject) is that you don’t always get to see/feel/experience the impact of your work. You can feel the wrath of reader comments or savor the words of an e-mailer who loved your story or a particular turn of phrase. You can even troll Twitter to get a sense of what people think. But these are just small samples, and not always a reliable indicator of your work. The bottom line for me is that I have to feel happy with my work: I have enjoy the entire process — the research, the interviews, the writing — and enjoy the responsibility of depicting people fairly while still honoring my own perspective. Then I have to trust that, somehow, it has impact, because ultimately, I have no control over that.
Andrea Nguyen (food writer and cookbook author): The most successful writers have something to say. They want to make a difference, to contribute to the discussion and bring new knowledge or insights to the table. And how do you define success? It’s not necessarily monetary, but whether or not your work — recipes, essays, reporting, restaurant reviews, website/blog, corporate marketing info materials — helps someone. That’s the payoff. In that regard, it’s a form of public service.

Or, maybe you just want to write for yourself. Self-expression is just fine too.
The lovely Virginia Willis adds her thoughtsYes, my sweet lady, food writing matters, if for nothing else, it gives me my raison d’etre, my reason to be. I can no more imagine not cooking and writing than I can imagine living without breathing.
Michael RuhlmanI’ve always struggled with this and even have tried to shy away from the label “food writer,” meaning not good enough to write about the important stuff. But that’s wrong. Food and cooking are fundamental aspects of our humanity.  So is story-telling.  We are the only animal that tells stories, and we are the only animal that cooks.  To tell stories about food and cooking then is not only natural, it combines the two sole activities that distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom.  That in itself is worth exploring.

Photo from iSTOCK.com
This piece got a lovely shout out in the NYT Dining blog: Here

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  1. I’ve had far more impact helping teach my readers how to eat healthy food at a reasonable cost than I EVER did during my prior career as a Wall Street analyst. Since I started Casual Kitchen, I’ve changed the way hundreds (perhaps thousands) of readers eat, cook and think about the food industry. That impact is why food writing matters to me.

  2. What about sheer pleasure? Does EVERY thing we do need to earnestly affect or change the world? Food writing does not always need to be politically “relevant” to be important. The whole idea irks me. Why is poetry important? Why is cooking important? Why eat anything beyond the merely blandly nutritious? It’s what raises us beyond our animal nature and celebrates the magic of our intelligence and of life.

  3. I believe that any time you’re living a life of value and purpose, you’re making an impact. So often we human beings think that if we’re not in the spotlight, making a direct impact to the masses, our actions are not worthwhile. How many times has someone close to you told you that you’ve made a difference in their life? And what is the ripple effect of that one difference? The words you spoke at the EWR conference still echo in my mind each and every day. I still have my “word” hanging where I can look at it every day to remind me of my own purpose and goals. You impacted me, and in turn, I wrote about it and still get emails from my own readers who say that they’ve been inspired. That is amazing and so joyous!

    That’s not to say that every single post we publish will impact someone. I’m pretty sure that bourbon peach pie won’t change anyone’s life. But by sharing yourself and putting yourself out there, something takes shape and, occasionally, people take notice. Just yesterday I got a comment from a reader who gushed over a panna cotta recipe of mine that she’d made. She was so excited that it turned out “better than she’d dreamed”, “everyone loved it!”, “thank you, thank you, thank you!”. Yes, it’s just one dish, one dessert. But she was so happy – and how do I know what’s going on in her life right now? Maybe she’s deliriously happy every moment of every day, or maybe she’s been dealing with a deadly illness and this brought her a moment’s joy. Food brings people together in a way that nothing else does. It crosses all borders and is the center of all celebrations, no matter what culture.

    Living your dream sets a great example for everyone around you. Leave curing cancer to those who were chosen for it. You were chosen for writing!

  4. When you come right down to it, what matters more than what we eat? It’s what sustains us. ‘Nuff said, my friend.

  5. It’s like asking if work of Hemingway, Van Gogh, Mozart or Tiger Woods have worldly impact?

  6. I think the issue lies in her definition of worldly impact. Very few singular events change society. Very few individuals shake up our world. Meaningful, lasting shift most often happens when many small forces combine. I choose to be one of the million of voices encouraging people to get back in their kitchen. I am part of the change — as are you and all the other food writers out there who care about where our food comes from and how we prepare it.

    Do not confuse individual achievement with worldly impact. We all change the world around us every day — for better or worse. The direction that change takes is up to us.

  7. Food writing–good food writing–changes MY world. It makes me happy. It sends me into the kitchen. It makes me think.

    Does it save lives? Nope. But it makes a little corner of the world nicer. That’s an impact.


  8. What a timely post Monica. It seems that on every level, someone can impact how we view what we do and judge the relevance of our work. I doubt that young woman meant in any way to offend you with her words; her writing to you obviously means she does respect what you do; she still needs some time and experience to recognize the need for tact!

    I recently saw some food writers shower disdain on food sites they decreed as not being exemplary sources of ‘good food writing’ which very well could be mine. I don’t blog to write; I write to share my food experiences, period.

    But for both of us; we put time and effort into our passion and hope that it matters to someone, somewhere. You have quite evidently touched people with your words…of course that matters. I have made an impact on people I will never meet who have made the perfect dish for someone they love; that makes what I do matter to me and sometimes…even just that one small thing can make it all worthwhile.

  9. Monica, you said it best:
    “My goal with my work has always been to show how food affects our culture, how food creates bonds, how it keeps us connected with our past and offer great promise for the future. I weave tales of food and how intertwined it is in our lives. I write about the joy of my son’s first taste of chocolate, I wonder about the ethnicity of chefs who cook a cuisine not their own, I marvel at the beauty of a plum tomato, I giggle with delight when I taste a luscious fig.”

    Food sustains us and food writing nourishes the soul, which is why some of us fall asleep reading cookbooks.

  10. I say, “yes!” Food writing makes people happy and to me that is the most important thing. In my daily job, that is sometimes hard to come by. People love food, tips, cooking ideas. That makes it worth it to me.

  11. What exactly is “worldly impact”? And how many people must we each “impact” for what we do to be considered worthwhile and meaningful? If I make one single person smile and feel good, if I make one person say “me too!” and feel a little less alone, if I make one person understand or think about something that may change the way they feel have I had an impact and is that enough? I get no greater personal pleasure than writing yet I try to have an affect of some kind on my readers as well.

    I write about so much more than just food when I write about food, primarily because food plays such an important role in my life as it does, I believe, in everyone’s life. The food we make and share is an expression of our culture, a part of our heritage; it is a teaching tool as well as something we offer to express our love and show that we care; food brings people together and creates bonds while giving nourishment, comfort and pleasure. The food we cook and eat tells something about who we are, where we come from and how we view the world. This is what I write about, what I try to capture in words. Whether writing a personal story, a profile or review or whether I am writing a piece for thoughtful debate, I hope that I can influence someone, make him or her think, react or learn something. Is my trying to have an effect, impact one person at a time rather than a whole planet make my writing less important or less valid?

    On the other hand, I am also a great reader and am impacted by other writers‘ words every day in so many ways. Sometimes I learn something new, sometimes I am influenced to change the way I shop, cook, eat and prepare food for my loved ones. Sometimes reading other writers’ words make me look at myself and my life and events in my life and think about them, talk about them. Sometimes other writers’ words simply make me smile or laugh or cry. And I find this useful indeed.

    And as Jill commented, in the world we live in today, isn’t simply doing something we love and imparting pleasure enough.

  12. One must love the audacity of someone who asks a person for advice with a backhanded compliment that denigrates the entire field. Obviously food writing matters. M.K. Fisher’s work created the field, and Johnny Apple’s lyrical toothsome tales will long give fulfillment. Food writing bridges cultures, it is often an entree point to understanding. To say “it doesn’t matter” is to malign all communicators. For writing about food can be lofty and create positive community change, but it also can be base and silly. It is the author that makes the difference.

  13. Food, like music, is a universal language. Writing about food brings people of different walks of life, different generations, different worlds together and levels the playing field. We can find similarities in feelings, likes, and dislikes. We create harmony where otherwise there is none. No, we are not finding the cure for cancer or the common cold, but if every once in a while we make someone laugh or cry with a memory that they can relate to, that’s good enough for me.

  14. I think food writing is important – not just the concept of health and society, but economic impact and other things – OK maybe it is not war reporting, but good food writing makes us think about health, community, and what we eat, which is essentially, what we are made of.

  15. Beautiful writing about food or almost anything – gives me a respite during my day, allows me to soldier on in an uncertain world and and creates a soothing balm. Or a belly laugh. Or a moment of recognition that I am not alone in my thoughts. It would be a sad world if the readers stopped reading and the writers stopped writing.

  16. I don’t think you need to put yourself up to the idea of changing lives on a global scale for your work as a food writer to matter. Giving just one person the confidence to cook at home instead of relying on takeout, getting a family to cook and spend time together, having people discover that cooking is one of the purest expressions of love and generosity there is – aren’t all of these things life-changing too?

    1. Long live naive idealism! Yes, it’s true that the difference is not the field you choose, it’s how you do the work you’ve chosen to do. If this student truly has a passion to change the world, she can do that as a crusading food journalist, or as someone who celebrates the transformative value of cooking for others, who champions using fresh ingredients, who popularizes the foods of other cultures — there are endless possibilities. But it is also true that to many people, food writing still bears the stigma of self-indulgence; mobs of frivolous foodies perpetuate that negative image. A useful reminder for us all to write as honestly and thoughtfully as we can, and not succumb to our culture’s tendency to fetishize and commodify everything.

  17. Monica, I can’t tell you how close to home this article hits. I am so fulfilled with my life as a food and wine writer, but I am aware of how “trivial” it seems to those who don’t understand. My own mother once commented to some acquaintances about my career with “All that money on a college education and all she does is write about food and wine.” Years later, those words still sting.

    If the student has to question her future career, then it sounds to me like she has already made her choice. Many in this thread mentioned artists such as Picasso. True, Picasso at first painted because his father was an art teacher who recognized his son’s gifts, but I doubt that’s what kept him painting throughout his years, and I highly doubt that he questioned his “impact” on the world through painting. Does food writing matter? Millions of people take the time to read food blogs every day… this has to count for something. Food brings people together, introduces individuals to new cultures, ties us to the past, and provides us with comfort, joy, familiarity, excitement, and a myriad of other emotions depending on how good the cook is. 🙂 Does writing about all of these emotions matter? I think so. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing.

  18. In African culture, the griot or storyteller had the responsibility of holding the stories and passing them on from one generation to the next. They held information about history, culture, wisdom, food, traditions etc. Food writing is an important aspect of society. We eat at least 3 times a day if we are blessed. There is so much education and information that can go into that decision. Whether it is recreational, informative, cultural, sustainable, – food writing is a noble profession especially if it is done with an intention of service.

  19. Wonderful post, Monica! Thank you for offering the thoughts of all these marvelous food writers. In my own case, I wrote about food-as-cultural-connection in my memoir-with-recipes, “How to Cook a Crocodile,” about my service as a health volunteer in Gabon, Central Africa. Perhaps the young woman who initially wrote to you might be able to combine her two interests too.

  20. Dear Monica, It seems to me that the best stories are often told around the dinner table. Food writers, when they capture that experience in words, whether polemic (Estabrook and Pollan,) or ode (Julia Child, Lori Colwin, Molly O’Neill,) evoke this engaging interchange and make it available for all of us. Besides, if food writing didn’t exist, what the heck would I read? Great question, and lovely answers here that provoke even more thought.

  21. I appreciate everyone taking the time to leave such insightful comments on this post. THANK YOU so much. It really means a lot to me. THANKS

  22. Importance of all aspects of work in this world are debatable. I mean, sure, being a barista at a coffee shop or a clerk at a grocery store may not be changing lives on a daily basis, but, hey, I still need my coffee and I still need someone to ring through my groceries (self check outs aside…).

    Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that everything does matter, we all have a purpose and those of us lucky enough to be able to focus on food for a living should do it to the best of our abilities to share with and inspire those around us!

  23. It’s an interesting question, but I think that my reply to your student inquirer would be the same one I got when I was a food-obsessed line cook deciding whether or not to go to culinary school. A wise chef told me then, “Food chooses you, not the other way around.”
    If the person who contacted you doesn’t hear the siren song of food and doesn’t feel a need, an urge, a mandate from his/her soul to be in the food business in some way, then they’ll never make it. The hours are long, the pay is often poor, but none of that matters when you know your articles or recipes are out there, helping people cook good food for their families.
    Food writing is not as immediately important on the surface as drafting a global peace treaty, it’s a much more quiet, grassroots way of affecting change because it influences what people eat, one dinner table at a time.

    “Breaking bread” is an important part of being human and being interconnected. Writing about breaking bread, then, makes a huge impact, one crumb at a time.

  24. Food writing does matter, it inspires people like me who loves food and cooking. I have learned so much and improved as a home cook through reading food blogs and articles; it even inspired me to create my own blog even though I’m not good at writing but I try my best in every post and hope that I am- in small ways, inspiring other people to learn to cook, too or try something new in the kitchen or even inspire some to start writing about food ,too!

    Good Luck to your student, I hope she makes the right career choice. ü

  25. Of course it matters, regardless of whether it’s “newsworthy” or investigative. The sort of food writing that is “just storytelling” is an art form. You may as well inquire as to whether being an author, an artist, a musician, or anything else cultural or aesthetic “matters”. In any civilized culture, they do, they’re part of the fabric we weave in our lives and communities and to entertain the suggestion that they don’t for more time than it takes to dismiss the thought is a waste of that time.

  26. I think the majority of food writers have something to contribute to the world, be it encouraging healthier eating, supporting local vendors, bridging cultural gaps, etc. With our site Eat Your World, I like to think that in documenting regional foods around the globe, we can somehow help preserve their place in their respective cultures. That’s at the lofty end of the spectrum; the more likely goal is that we can at least help send fellow travelers on their way to experience these local dishes too.

    I’m reminded of a recent visit to Sierra Leone, where I stayed at an incredible eco-resort where the other guests were nearly all volunteers doing admirable things–running medical clinics, fighting illiteracy, you name it. My husband and I were just there to travel, to learn about the local foods and write about them. How very small it seemed in comparison! But I’m proud of the Sierra Leone food section that came out of it (http://eatyourworld.com/destinations/africa/general_sierra_leone/sierra_leone)–I’m pretty sure it’s the first of its kind! And recently I received an email from a Sierra Leonean friend, who thanked me for wanting to know their culture and for “promoting” their cuisine so much. No, food writing is not rocket science, but it’s a wonderful way to connect with the world.

  27. I ask myself this question every day, Monica. As writers, we work alone, wondering whether what we are writing has any relevance, whether anyone even wants to hear what we have to say. We wonder if anyone will read what we’ve written, and if they do, whether they’ll remember it the next day.

    My answer to that is that there are different types of food writing that serve different purposes. Some of it attempts to spread news of political and societal importance, such as that of Marion Nestle and Barry Estabrook. Mark Bittman is a voice of authority who has truly affected the relationship of millions of Americans to food. Whether that will last in the halls of great writing might be questioned, but the impact it has had on our world today is unquestionable.

    Many bloggers write for the sake of camaraderie, and I think that is valid too. Although it might not stand the test of time in literary terms, it serves a timely human purpose of sharing and gives pleasure to people who might otherwise be isolated because of distance, child-minding, health or other factors, and feel a true need to communicate with those who have similar interests.

    Monica, Amanda Hesser, John Birdsall, Corie Brown, Bill Daley, Gloria Jacob, Dianne Jacob, Wilson Dizard III, Melissa Bedinger and I participated in a Twitter chat called #futurefoodwriting a few months ago. I think all the panelists agreed in the end: we write because we love it. We hope that people want to read what we have to say. We hope to make a living from it. We hope it can have an impact, but the truth is that few of the great food writers have had to live on what they earn from pure food writing. They have all had their Leonard Woolfs, their own personal inheritances or fortunes. As Amanda said, we should all face the truth about these things. We need to diversify in order to survive as food writers. We may have impact; we may have thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers, but that will never make us rich.

    I’ve been re-reading M.F.K. Fisher and have come to the conclusion that the test of good food writing is that it is as good and relevant fifty or even hundreds of years later as it was at the time of writing. Others come to mind, such as Waverly Root and Brillat-Savarin. This applies to any kind of literature and I don’t think that will change.

    Monica believes in inspiration and poetic expression; I emphasize knowing your subject, making sure that the writing is as strong and clear as can be, and doing good, thorough research to back up one’s opinions. Good writing will last. My question is how many discriminating readers will be out there to appreciate it.

  28. There are already many insightful and inspiring comments here, but I might simply tell this young woman that she needn’t choose between a career that is personally interesting to her and one that she believes will impact many people. It’s not either or. Many have already pointed out the many ways food writing does have a significant impact, however if this young student doesn’t believe that it does, she can still choose a career in food writing AND do volunteer work that will make a significant difference in the lives of the people she touches. One does not have to get paid to do work of significance and meaning. In fact it may be more personally rewarding and fulfilling if one does not.

  29. I am blessed to have been associated with the Edible Communities tribe of 70 locally-owned and -edited food quarterlies since its beginnings 10 years ago in my hometown of Ojai, California. I handle copy editing and proofreading for about 30 of them, from Hawaii to Manhattan. Earlier in my career I was part of Pulitzer-winning efforts at the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times—and my greatest journalistic satisfaction has come from my work with the Edibles. When the last CAFO goes bankrupt, when “pink slime” vanishes from the American diet, when GMOs are labeled worldwide and when people of all ages, classes and ethnicities share the pleasure and community of good, wholesome, sustainable food, all of us food writers and editors will have contributed to a good thing. Occupy the kitchen (and the garden)!

  30. I don’t have a big audience or a fancy website, I write about food and develop recipes because it is satisfying to me, which is worthwhile, believe me. But when someone takes the time to write an email or a comment letting me know that my recipe or article made a difference to them, I know that even in just a small way my efforts are worthwhile to others. This combination of sharing and expressing my love of food and my view of its importance in our society (as well as food justice issues) is very rewarding to me.

  31. Food writing ! Does it matter
    The answer is yes and yes to the count of infinity

    After all it is food that provides nourishment to the body and hence promoting a natural process of life

    I have heard a lot of masterchefs expressing their applause for a good food by saying ” Simply Divine”
    It is ustomery in some religions to make an offering of food to their Gods, and seek their blessings

    Most Families while they sit down for a meal offer a small prayer before they start eating their food

    So had it not been for food writing , how will we relish the various cuisines of the world or bring out the best of taste in any meal

  32. The original question is flawed. She asks if she should “sacrifice” herself to the service of others. My answer is, “Sweetheart, who would possibly benefit from your unlived life? You are more than enough and no matter what you choose to do, even if you choose to do nothing at all, you will serve your purpose in ways you cannot yet imagine. Absolutely everyone serves their purpose.”

    It is an egoistic delusion of the highest order to think that we are put on this earth to serve anyone or anything and that there are higher levels of service. Food writing or quantum physics—it doesn’t matter. No one serves more than anyone else. We must think deeply on this.

    I have known three angels in my life. Each of them was a simple woman with no grandiose ideas about serving the world. Each of them acted in complete accordance with her natural inclinations. Mary (who with a 4th grade education, folded shirts at the Troy Laundry most of her adult life) was the angel of generosity, Ellen (who raised 5 kids and considered motherhood her greatest reward) was the angel of gratitude, and Maisie (who loved to fish and tell tall tales) was the angel of joy. Did these women intend to serve the world? I doubt it. Did they serve the world? Completely.

  33. I dont understand this ‘ worldly impact ‘ stuff . Ego ? I mean what makes the person think other actions would have a ‘ worldly impact ‘ ?
    Food writing , the spreading of new insights , information impacts us all at different levels. We now question the quality of insecticide infused foods we are sold and eat , we gain an insight into the health benefits of various foods and learn to use them not just to satisfy a rumbling stomach but for medicinal purposes amongst other benefits.
    By writing about food / recipes we learn about various traditions and cultures and cuisines .
    My vote is that anything we do does have a ‘ worldly impact ‘ – food writing being an important one !

  34. The worldly impact has me baffled as well. Regardless what she does, she’ll have an impact but to assume that food writing is somehow a step down from other pursuits tells me she has no passion for it.

  35. I think “powerful writing” is more about the talent of the author and not the subject being written about. 🙂

  36. I think it matters, as it help to explore the world cuisine. A person who need to try unknown cuisine with little guts like me. . I used to do little story telling also.

  37. For me as long as you enjoy what you do and you do what you love it will do a worldly impact in it’s own course. 😉

  38. One email from a reader, thanking me for helping her to see that she can cook, despite coming from a family that has no tradition of cooking, and who never taught her anything good about food – that is all the validation I need. One person at a time – to me that is the kind of impact that really matters.

  39. I couldn’t agree with you more. Food and all it’s connections is so powerful. I am passionate about the connection between what we feel and what we eat. I only wish I was able to convey my feelings as eloquently as real writers such as yourself.

  40. Writing about food is one of my most satisfying endeavors. It has immersed me in a world of like-minded people—people who enjoy sharing, experimenting, traveling, planting and transforming their harvests for health and fun and profit.

    Food is the fuel that gives life to our species. It is one of the foundations of our economy and the source of many livelihoods. It brings, at the very least, survival, at its most eloquent, artful and inspired experience.

    It engages every being on the planet every day of their life for better or worse. I can’t imagine writing about any subject with more world impact.

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