Last Saturday afternoon I was at the Mount for a panel talk on the future of food writing. Of course, I was most excited to see Amanda Hesser, but it was wonderful to hear from Judith Jones, the legendary food editor at Knopf, Kim Severson at the New York Times, and a handful of others.
Everyone seemed a bit sad about the future, to be honest. The moderator asked Judith Jones if in this modern, online era, she was seeing better food writing, or just more of it. "Definitely just more." Everyone laughed. I laughed too, as a "food blogger" who mostly contributed dribble.
Amanda Hesser mentioned that cookbook sales were actually up by about 4% this year; Judith Jones didn't seem to believe her. Judith wanted everyone to think a lot more about home cooking, and seemed tired of all the emphasis placed on new chefs and restaurants.
Another interesting thread of the panel was the discussion surrounding the yelp phenomenon. Oliver Strand felt like it was totally useless. I love yelp, and I really believe that the wisdom of a large crowd can point you in the right direction. He seemed mostly sad that it was replacing the role of a true reviewer, "who you would know and trust." (Did anyone ever really feel that way about their local restaurant reviewer?)
I don't remember how, but Oliver also talked a bit about the unique role of American food writers tackling international cuisine. He said that no one else in the world is sending writers to Tanzania to cover local honey production, or to Morocco to learn a new butchering technique. Magazines like Gourmet make this possible, and without them, we would lose that kind of writing.
Of course, that made it even more sad to hear on Monday morning that Gourmet was closing. Kim Severson wrote a great article in this week's New York Times dining section about what the magazine meant. Amanda said that the future of food writing may go back to being something that only the wealthy can afford to do.
And that would be very sad indeed.