Is Food Writing a Dismal Way to Make a Living?

Your career ladder. Do you know what's on the other side?

Recently Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52 and a former New York Times food writer, said in Advice for Future Food Writers she could “no longer responsibly recommend that you drop everything to try to become a food writer.”

“Except for a very small group of people (some of whom are clinging to jobs at magazines that pay more than the magazines’ business models can actually afford), it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a food writer, and I think it’s only going to get worse,” Hesser concludes.

To which I would say, for most of us, it has been nearly impossible to make a decent living as a food writer for several decades. But here’s the thing: we’re still at it, enjoying ourselves.

And that’s our dirty little secret. Food writing is fun, no matter how much or whether we’re paid.

Hesser’s article offers lots of good numbers on what food writers make. Now, here are my three tiers of how to categorize ourselves. Recognize yourself in any of these?

Tier 1. Employees at national publications and big web names (5 percent)

These food writers and editors make a high five-to-six-figure living at a few big newspapers and national magazines, with expense accounts and excellent [Read more…]

Q&A: Amanda Hesser on How to Adapt and Write Recipes

Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52 (Photo by Sarah Shatz)

The subject of writing and adapting recipes generates lots of heated comments on this blog. We debate whether anyone can own a recipe, and whether changing someone else’s recipe makes it yours.

To get another perspective on the creative process of recipe writing, I interviewed Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52, the crowd-sourcing recipe website; and author of award winning cookbooks, most recently The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

Food52 accepts recipes for testing, voting and eventual publication, so the site has contest rules for acceptable recipe adapting. Intrigued by the pains Hesser took to show an example of successful recipe changes, I thought Hesser might have opinions on the matter.

Q. This blog has had heated discussions about what constitutes recipe writing and adapting. What is your definition of an adapted recipe?

A. There are two definitions.

At the New York Times, any recipe that comes from another source will always say “adapted from” because it goes through the copy-editing department, and there are little tiny changes that have to do with the stylebook. It means it’s not a word-for-word replica.

The other definition is when it’s someone’s own recipe has been inspired by another’s, for instance, if someone has cooked Alice Water’s Braised Leeks enough times that they’ve personalized it. A lot of people read recipes for inspiration, looking for a flavor combination to play around with. Then they go in the kitchen and do their own thing. But it’s important that they [Read more…]

Will Julie & Julia Mean More Food Bloggers?

I finally saw Julie & Julia on Sunday with two friends,  Suzan Bateson, Executive Director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank; and Faith Kramer of Blog Appetit.  Faith suggested in her blog that the movie theater collect food for the food bank, and the theater obliged by giving free movie posters to anyone who donated.

The movie was was fast-paced, funny, sexy, and the food shots were gorgeous. Merryl Streep was totally believable as Child, and Faith said it was much more fun than reading Julie Powell’s blog. (I didn’t read it, and I don’t think it’s available online now.) I had such a good time that I found myself thinking, “What was all that about, where traditional food writers were jealous of Julie Powell? Can’t we all just get along?”

Connections to a few of the people involved increased my enjoyment. I met the movie’s food stylist Susan Spungen at an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference years ago, when she was the food editor of Martha Stewart Living. We had a hilarious conversation about people who had informational meetings with her to ask how to get her job.  I enjoyed Amanda Hesser’s cameo, particularly because I interviewed her while writing Will Write for Food, and met her for breakfast at Balthazar in New York, where we inhaled a specialty,  chocolate bread. I also interviewed Child’s book editor, Judith Jones.

images-1My agent  suggested in an email that EVERYONE (her caps) will want to be a food blogger now. Wow, I thought. Do they not understand how much work it is, that Powell was already a writer of sorts, and that they’re not going to get the same kind of attention and six-figure advance? Julie Powell started her blog six years ago, had a great hook, and the tie-in to Julia Child was essential to her success. Plus, a food blog was a rare thing then. I read somewhere there are some 45,000 food blogs now.

Will Julie & Julia send foodies dashing to WordPress? Can  a newbie food blog garner the same success as Powell’s, or  Clotilde Dusoulier (Chocolate and Zucchini) or Molly Wizenberg (Orangette)? Is the public still hungry for new blogs on cooking and food? Has fatigue set in for the blog-fueled memoir?