On Tuesday, Food52 founder Amanda Hesser wrote a blog post, "Advice For Future Food Writers" that spread like wildfire through the online food community. The crux of Hesser's post (which is worth a thorough read for anyone interested in food media as a career) is that food writing doesn't pay well, but there are a lot more opportunities now to break into food than there used to be. Although parts of the future seem bleak (if you actually want to afford rent, for example), Hesser isn't down in the dumps. "This new era is actually better," she argues.
John Birdsall of CHOW, in a post titled "What Amanda Hesser Got Wrong" called Hesser the "Internet's Debbie Downer on Tuesday" and summarized various Twitter reactions "as if Hesser had announced that Thanksgiving, Mardi Gras, and the Aspen Food & Wine Classic had all been canceled this year."
Parts of Hesser's post might have been misinterpreted though -- Hesser wasn't telling all budding food writers to run for the hills. Instead, she argues that it is a smart idea to diversify one's talents:
Better to see writing as part of a more personally-crafted career that will allow you to pursue an array of interests -- and a career that you will need to treat in an entrepreneurial way, inventing and reinventing what you do along the way. Your lifestyle may still not be that lavish, but it will at least be yours to shape. You will have the chance to have a much more varied and engaging career; I wish mine had begun this way.
In many ways, this is an amazing time to become involved in food, whether it is as a lowly paid writer or in another capacity. The opportunities for many food jobs did not used to exist. The website Good Food Jobs, which officially launched in October 2010, has posted almost 4,000 jobs since its inception and has over 19,000 registered users. Taylor Cocalis, the co-founder of Good Food Jobs, emailed me her two cents:
I'll willingly admit, when I knew I wanted to 'work in food' -- but also knew that I was more interested in restoring food culture in America than running a restaurant -- I used to dream about writing for Gourmet magazine. Am I sad that the dream never came to fruition? Not really. I had to create an opportunity that was off the beaten path, and hopefully both the (food) world and I are better for it
People are finding food careers in all sorts of places. They are pursuing food as an academic discipline. Small food businesses are sprouting up on every street corner in Brooklyn. Nonprofits devoted to issues such as food access are getting noticed by more individuals, thanks in part to Michelle Obama's efforts. If the recent pink slime controversy has taught us anything, it is that people care a lot about what they are eating.
Will you be a millionaire by exploring relatively uncharted food careers? It is highly unlikely. But you will have the opportunity to join a growing field in which you will be continually impressed by the amount of knowledgeable and passionate people that are deeply dedicated to writing, reading, cooking, teaching and learning. Thanks to my pursuit of a food career, I've had the chance to meet all sorts of food professionals: chefs, writers, event planners, bakers, sheep farmers, small business owners, bloggers, chocolate makers, marketing professionals, local food advocates, food photographers, farmers' market coordinators, professors, vintners and countless more. The more people I meet and interact with, the more I am inspired by the ambition and dedication of people that have chosen food as their jobs.
Shared passion might not replace a high paycheck, but having a source of daily inspiration can be a pretty powerful natural high, and one that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning.