A few years ago, The New Yorker published its first-ever food issue. I still have a dog-eared copy of the magazine that I saved for posterity. The serious treatment of food writing in a publication like The New Yorker was a vindication of sorts for people (OK, me) who have long enjoyed food writing of greater depth than the stereotypical article on choosing a Thanksgiving turkey or how to bake a bundt cake.
Because of food's universality, it offers a window into culture, politics, history, biology and personalities that goes well beyond what's for dinner. In short, food is about much more than food, and food writing is finally getting its due.Of course, literary food writing, as it's sometimes known, is nothing new. Writers like Calvin Trillin, Raymond Sokolov, Jim Harrison and the late M. F. K. Fisher have long mined the subject with brilliant results. What's interesting is that now some of the best food writing is found outside the pages of traditional food magazines.
The latest magazine to discover food as a journalistic subject is The Nation. The venerable weekly magazine is best known for its sharp, left-leaning political analysis and investigative reporting. Its Sept. 11 issue (not a coincidence, I bet) is its first-ever food issue. The cover shows a sleeping woman decked out in red, white and blue and the words "Wake up, America! Pay attention to what you eat."
The issue includes many of the usual suspects of serious, nonrecipe-based food writing such as Alice Waters, Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan. If you've read Fast Food Nation or seen Super Size Me, many of these articles will be familiar to you and echo similar themes: the industrialization of food is making us sick, poisoning the earth and endangering the health of farm laborers and food-service workers.
"What single thing could change the U.S. food system, practically overnight?" writes Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser in an essay on improving the state of what we eat. "Widespread public awareness--of how this system operates and whom it benefits, how it harms consumers, how it mistreats animals and pollutes the land, how it corrupts public officials and intimidates the press, and most of all, how its power ultimately depends on a series of cheerful and ingenious lies."
Several writers found both in the kitchen and in the laboratory gather on Sunday, Sept. 24, to discuss modern-day food issues at the Russian River Food & Winefest. Gathering at 2pm that day are What to Eat author Marion Nestle, writer Michael Pollan, whose latest is The Omnivore's Dilemma, as well as New York Times writer Kim Severson, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Marlena Spieler, local chef and author John Ash and event co-organizer and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf. Coming from divergent backgrounds and experiences, the panel will hash the "Earth to Table" issue that has become a major area of concern.
The Nation's food issue is off the newsstands by now, but is available online. It's well worth seeking out. There's nothing wrong with bundt cake recipes, but food is too important a subject and too important to the health of the planet and the creatures who inhabit it to relegate it to just the pages of Bon Appétit and Women's World.
Russian River Food & Winefest is slated for Sunday, Sept. 24, from 11:30am to 5:30pm. Artisan food and cheese samplings, barista and cooking demos and plenty of lovely, yummy wine. Extra events reserved for VIP ticket holders. Monte Rio Riverfront Meadow, Rocky Beach, Monte Rio. $20-$60. www.russianriverfoodandwinefest.com.
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