Reframing Food Media
A lot is said in what's unwritten, a recipe for blueberry dumplings, and the Heavy Metal Polka I can't stop listening to
I love stories. I love to tell stories, I love to listen to stories, but I also love how stories are crafted. How cadence creates tension, how dialogue develops characters, and how backstory creates motive. With every story there is what’s written — the facts and points that are straightforward. But then there’s a whole other narrative that’s unwritten — how a story is framed, what parts are glossed over, what sources are used, who is featured, who is not featured — which can sometimes speak louder than what’s physically written down on the page (or typed on a computer).
For example, a round up of the best BBQ joints in a city that doesn’t feature any Black pitmasters ignores the contributions of Black chefs as well as how closely BBQ is tied to Black and Indigenous history. A story in a women’s magazine about “dropping weight fast” creates a narrative that losing weight is easy and that “skinny is healthy” even though all of our bodies are different and perfect just the way they are. A blog post of an overly romanticized tale about how someone quit their corporate job to travel the world and now they make a living as an influencer doesn’t acknowledge the fact that they may have the resources to make those moves, and that there’s a huge population of people who don’t have the option to take such a giant leap of faith.
As a food and travel writer, I think about these things — a lot. I take my time and consider not just what story I’m presenting to my readers, but what the context of the story is telling. Is there an overarching message in my story that can apply to other areas of life? How does this story fit into the media ecosystem? Is the narrative helpful in debunking common misbeliefs? Does the story dismantle the power structures that hurt us — or does it uphold those toxic institutions? Is this story going to change the way my readers think about food and the world around them?
To me, food writing is hardly ever about food. It’s history, it’s tradition, it’s people’s livelihoods, it’s what sustains societies and cultures. Before currency, civilizations exchanged food which evolved into markets which evolved into trade routes. Food motivated exploration and fueled conquests which has led to great disparities in power and wealth and equity. Reporting on food is an opportunity to rewrite the history that has erased the outstanding work of marginalized communities and give credit where credit is due.
Every story is an opportunity to move the needle of our collective consciousness.
It’s a philosophy that I share with a lot of folks working to move food media forward, including a couple of my most recent guests on the Amuse-Bouche podcast. The first episode listed below features Emily Contois and her research on how gender roles shape the way we talk about food.
The second episode with Bettina Makalintal explores how food media used to frame suburbia as a culinary wasteland. We also discuss how her recent work on the Vice Munchies’ series “State of the Suburbs” is changing the way we think about dining outside the city limits. Each of these conversations challenges the stories we normally read and pushes the boundaries of food media.
I hope these conversations inspire you to think differently but also gives you the tools to read between the lines.
Emily Contois: Food & Gender
Why are salads considered feminine? Why is steak seen as a manly meal? Gender and the roles they have come represent is one of the many factors that shape the way our culture perceives food, thus dictating our relationship with eating. Emily Contois has spent her career as an interdisciplinary researcher and teacher exploring the ways in which gender, power dynamics, marketing and media contort our views on food. Her recent book, Diners, Dudes and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture is an analysis on the rise of the “Dude" and how Diet culture and marketing companies changed their messaging to target the dude demographic.
In this episode of Amuse-Bouche we discuss food and gender, how the Great Recession changed the way marketers position diet programs, how Guy Fieri fuels the dude machine, and ways we can challenge the patriarchy through the media we consume and produce.
Bettina Makalintal: Dining in the Suburbs
For a long time, food media portrayed the suburbs as a dining wasteland full of chain restaurants and unimaginative menus. But suburbia is changing. According to Bettina Makalintal, staff writer at Vice Munchies, we should be paying more attention to the evolving suburban foodscape. In a recent series Bettina helped develop called "State of the Suburbs" Bettina and other Vice writers make the case for how the burbs are burgeoning with culinary artisans, local farmers markets and clever restauranteurs taking some pretty ambitious leaps of faith, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
Recipe: Blueberry Dumplings
The weekend before the 4th of July is my favorite time to go blueberry picking. And in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, where the modern commercial blueberry was first cultivated, the branches of highbush blueberries are practically bent down to the ground, weighed down with grape-sized blueberries.
Being a South Jersey girl, I’ve got blueberries flowing through my veins. There’s a reason why the highbush blueberry is our state’s official fruit. One of my favorite, most highly anticipated summer time desserts, were blueberry dumplings, a recipe that came from my great-grandmother’s Great Depression Era kitchen. They’re so easy to make and only use a few ingredients.
There are no portions for the blueberry dumpling part of this recipe, because it really depends on how many blueberries you’ve got on hand. The general rule of thumb though is to make each dumpling palm-sized. Cut the pie crust into a square that fits in your hand, put enough blueberries to fill but not over stuff the dough, and sprinkle just a bit of sugar on the blueberries, so that when they bake, it creates a sweet blueberry syrup.
The cream sauce does have more strict rules though because it’s very easy to mess up and burn. Use low-medium heat for the cream sauce and stir almost constantly so that you don’t caramelize the sugar and cornstarch.
For Cream Sauce
1 cup milk
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut pie crust into small squares that fit in the palm of your hand. Put the square of dough in your hand and under fill the pie crust with blueberries. Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar on the blueberries. Pinch the edges of the pie crust together to create a dumpling.
Fill the bottom of baking dish with 1/3 inch of water. Stir about 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of sugar into the water.
Place each dumpling into the baking dish in the sugar cinnamon water. Bake at 350°F for 40 to 45 minutes.
While blueberry dumplings are baking heat ingredients for cream sauce over low-medium heat. Continuously stir until the sauce thickens. Once thick, remove from heat.
After the blueberry dumplings are finished baking, let them cool for 30 minutes. Serve with cream sauce and enjoy!
We get this random channel called RFD TV, a channel focusing on life in rural America. It’s got interesting programming about farming, travel and tourism to rural towns, and televised polka parties. Yes, polka parties, which is honestly the only programming that Jon and I are interested in on RFD TV. Mollie B Polka Party is the program we usually tune in to and it’s just polka bands performing at VFWs while locals polka their hearts out on the dance floor. It’s actually a blast and sometimes Jon and I try to polka along in our living room.
Last week while watching one of these televised polka parties on RFD TV, Jon and I wondered if there is such a thing as Heavy Metal Polka. There isn’t a lot, and for what there is, it’s not great — but this song, Cheval by Igorrr is what we wanted from the hyper niche Heavy Metal Polka genre.
Last week I partnered with ALDI to share ways to make entertaining affordable and fun just in time for the 4th of July weekend! I spent all morning appearing on talk shows, news programs, and radio shows to talk about ways to save money and time when hosting a summer get together. I had such a great time talking about everything from throwing budget-friendly BBQs to making easy desserts with ALDI.
The Functional Beauty of Wood on KitchenAid Stories
I spoke with woodworker, Jonathan Simons, about his experience carving wooden spoons. He definitely thinks about wood differently, and his perspective may give you a deeper appreciation for using wooden utensils in your own kitchen.