SO EXCITING! MT @hels: After 4 amazing years at Saveur, I’m leaving to go to @Eater. http://t.co/ugjzrJhULN
Stunning, honest. READ IT: I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps http://wapo.st/1qGhPSf @washingtonpost @Parentwin
The passing of @CharityHicksDet is a tragic loss—for Detroit and beyond. Help bring her home. http://ow.ly/yXF5b
If you’re looking for some summer reading, #AWE got a couple nice shout-outs recently:
- Molly at Word, the best little neighborhood bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, says “it’s a great investigative tale even if you’re not a sucker for The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Salt Sugar Fat.” Feel free to grab a copy of the book and see if you agree!
- And Will Budiaman over at The Daily Meal put #AWE in the first slot for “10 Must Read Books for Home Cooks This Summer.” And called it “gritty undercover investigative reporting at its best and most riveting.”
If you follow my Twitter feed @TMMcMillan, you’ll already know that on May 3, I was honored to receive the James Beard Journalism Award for Food Politics and the Environment. The irony of swanning around in a party dress with a champagne flute for writing about farm workers sleeping in the field is not lost on me — and neither is the fact that I should enjoy such things when they come my way. Here’s hoping this means that America, in general, is a little more interested in talking about things like farm labor than before!
Here’s what I”m thinking on my way to the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards tonight, where The American Way of Eating—as well as a feature I wrote on farm labor contracting for The American Prospect—is up for an award::
(1) Awesome: These nominations suggests that maybe, just maybe, the gamble I took in writing these works is paying off. Maybe this means we’re entering an era where food isn’t just a cultural touchstone, but can yield common ground to build a food system (and world) aimed at helping us all, not just affluent consumers delighting in fine meals. To be given recognition for the kind of work I do suggests that the things that I care about — class and race and improving the world — are becoming part of mainstream thinking. That’s awesome and hugely gratifying and gives me real hope.
(2) Problematic: All awards are a bit onanistic, rewarding inner circles and connections as much as quality work. And the elite food world—as everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Malik Yakini have pointed out—is part of that tradition. Most of the people working in kitchens aren’t white, but the cross-section of people at these awards (at least, the cross-section that showed up the last time I was nominated, in 2006) doesn’t reflect that. Fine cuisine is, by definition, an elite thing; you can bring in all the home-cooked influences and soulful tales of Grandma’s famous casserole you want, but it’s still an insular world. Being offered this kind of award is a nod that says I can join this club if I want; the question I grapple with is whether I do.
I’m thinking a lot about Malik’s comments at the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards last year:
We can’t really talk about food justice unless we have the people who are most impacted by that at the table, so I just want to put that out for you to think about…racism [is] a continuing plague on American society where people with white skin continue to have unearned privilege and continue to have greater access to resources and it creates this inequity in American society and so if we want a just food system we have to begin to find a way to eliminate racism.
In the end, this is all a bit navel-gazey. It’s awesome and amazing and a huge honor to have my work recognized. But I think it’s important to keep my feet on the ground and remember that an award isn’t going to change the world at large. But it does change mine, because instead of writing quietly and smallishly and talking into the great vast dark, I have people’s attention—if only a little bit.
So what do I do now?
A lovely nod this weekend from the New Yorker’s Daniel Fromson, via his recommended readings:
Theft is also a major theme in “As Common As Dirt,” from last September’s American Prospect, a narrative that is worth revisiting in light of its nomination for a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award on Monday. Tracie McMillan, author of the well-received “The American Way of Eating”—a “Nickel and Dimed”-esque account of toiling in a Walmart produce department, an Applebee’s, and the fields of California—returns to the last of these places and introduces readers to the seventy-five-year-old Ignacio Villalobos, who is lovingly sketched down to the plastic bags with which he lines his leaky boots. But it’s McMillan’s willingness to dig into a little-discussed corner of agribusiness, and the straight-talking tone with which she lays out the facts, that makes the piece stand out. The article is about farm-labor contractors, who “give American produce growers what companies like China’s Foxconn offer to Apple: a way to outsource a costly and complicated part of the business”—often at the expense of workers like Mr. Villalobos, who are routinely paid less than what they’ve been promised.