Best-selling cookbook author Julia Turshen has always volunteered in her community, including cooking for for a local version of Meals on Wheels. More recently she’s been working with her other community: food media people and publishers.
Through her work as a cookbook author and as the founder of Equity At The Table (EATT), a digital directory of women and non-binary individuals in food, Turshen is helping to move us forward to a more inclusive and welcoming industry.
For her, taking action is a natural outcome of being part of this community. So if you think it’s too hard to make a difference, or that it doesn’t apply to food writing, Turshen would beg to disagree.
Here are Julia Turshen’s thoughts on the politics of food and writing, and how she has made positive and productive changes:
Q. How did coauthoring prepare you for writing your own cookbooks?
A. On a logistic level, it gave me a way to better understand the entire cookbook process. On a more emotional level, it helped me figure out my own voice and helped me believe in it, too. I still coauthor quite a bit. I love getting to do both my own books and more collaborative work. It’s a really nice mix.
Q. Why did you decide to focus on social causes in Feed the Resistance? Was there a particular event?
A. I’ve always been active in my own community, but the 2016 presidential election really turned a switch on in my life, as it did for so many others. It helped me connect the dots between my own work in my community and my work as a cookbook author.
Food is political and it’s about people, and politics are about people. There is so much overlap and there are so many incredible examples in history of people who have used food to help create change and to sustain resistance. Like Georgia Gilmore and her Club From Nowhere during the Civil Rights Movement.
I felt moved after the election to contribute something positive and productive to the conversation. I was given the advice to not reinvent the wheel, but to do what I was doing already in a more meaningful way.
One random thing I know how to do is put together a cookbook, so why not make one with an incredible community and give all of the proceeds to the ACLU? That way the simple act of buying the book would help protect civil liberties. I’m grateful to every contributor who made it way better than I could’ve ever done alone, and to my publisher for supporting it. It’s the work I am most proud of.
Q. Why should food writers care about the farm bill and other causes?
A. Writing about food gives us the opportunity to translate big issues into tangible stories. I rely heavily on Civil Eats, which does a wonderful job covering the bill and similar topics.
Q. What drove you to establish Equity at the Table (EATT)?
A. Because I assumed that something like it already existed. So when I couldn’t find it, I made it. I was looking for it because there is rampant racial and gender discrimination in the food industry, which is so many industries under one large umbrella! I thought a free digital database full of women and non-binary individuals, nearly all of whom identify as POC and/or LGBTQ, would be a useful resource.
Q. How is EATT doing?
A. EATT is actively making a difference every single day. It is always growing and always proving that there are, in the words of Advisory Board member Shakirah Simley, “no excuses” for not finding, hiring, featuring, and supporting more diverse and intersectional people in and around food. I’ve heard from members who have been contacted and hired for various jobs, whether it’s writing an article, photographing a story, or catering an event.
One of the most valuable metrics of success for EATT is not just how often members are contacted by gatekeepers in positions of power, but also how often and how much EATT members are connecting with each other. Community is the most valuable currency I know.
Q. Is it easier for one person to take action than to try to change the system?
A. If you’re moved to do something, an action or otherwise, do something. No option is better or easier than another. The best option is the one you show up for.
Q. What needs to change in the food writing community, in your view?
A. We need more diversity and intersectional dialogue happening in the “room where it happens.” Meaning we don’t just need to evolve who’s being written about and who’s writing, but also who is making the decisions in the first place. People like editors, publishers, and event and conference organizers.
Q. Do all food writers have a responsibility besides writing recipes, and if so, what is it?
A. It depends what you write about. But in general, and truly just as human beings, I think we all have a responsibility to pay attention, to fight injustice as much as we can, and to be mindful and kind.
Q. Are some in the food writing world in denial about how the system works?
A. It’s as true in food writing as it is in every industry: the most denial is held by those with the most power. If you benefit from the way the broken system works, it was probably built for you. But it wasn’t built for all of us.
Q. What would a perfect world of food writing look like to you?
A. It would accurately reflect the world around us.
* * *
You might also like:
- How to Write a Cookbook That Gets People Talking
- The Culinary is Political
- Diverse Identities are Central to Food Writing, says Nik Sharma
- Want to Understand Food Media’s Lack of Diversity? Here are the Numbers
(Photo of Julia Turshen by Khadija Farah.)
(This post contains an affiliate link.)