He created a legendary academic journal, so can Jeff Kittay do the same for food?


If you’ve ever wondered why cooks and line servers in cafeterias and commercial kitchens have to work with their heads covered, you should. There is no evidence that anyone gets sick after eating a stray hair or two. So why wear them? Well, Jeff Kittay can tell you that.

In case you haven’t heard of him, here’s a little background:

Kittay was a Yale scholar when he crafted a disarmingly simple but long-drawn notion: to create an accessible and responsibly provocative magazine about the sprawling academia.

So in the 1990s he succeeded with a small, small-print bimonthly, Lingua Franca, which was sophisticated and fun. No, it was more; in fact, a real gem. He has written great articles on the surge in scholarship over a tumultuous decade (“Who Owns the Sixties?”) Transformative hermeneutic of quantum gravity “that was purposely filled with gibberish.

He had a fine 11-year run before his obituary was written, even if it still inspires nostalgic and respectful analyzes, as in this Observer article from 2006.

Kittay headed for a variety of pursuits including helping run the Portland Press Herald in Maine as he sought to get out of financial difficulties. And while in New England, he got the inspiration for another smart window to an important world: inspecting the new food economy around us.

The result is New York-based New Food Economy, which seeks to find a niche that stands out from two core traditions of food reporting. And this is where you can find, “How the evolution of women’s fashion gave us the hairnet – and changed the food safety law forever.”

As said by her colleague and editor Kate Cox, who was a freelance radio and print journalist specializing in health policy (and, in a previous life, was a QVC lipstick saleswoman ), first and foremost in food writing is the “celebration, taste, and experiential cover mode – the realm of home cooks and restaurant eaters – where recipes and porn on the plate reign. ” Second, there is more trade-oriented journalism aimed at helping those in food production make more money by being more efficient and marketable.

So the new food economy tries to relate and weave stories where food is not the end product per se, but rather “the main character of some kind of bigger drama about money, power, law or policy, “as she puts it. .

So if you go to the site now, you will find “The Supreme Court Same-Sex Wedding Cake Case Hinges on One Question: Is Food Art?”

As Cox repeats, “This explains why the cake litigation, which has really been followed more as a cultural and political saga, has ramifications for all those who work in food – and all who eat it.”

It’s a smart piece and can inspire a lot more browsing which is produced by a team of seven nonprofits that so far are largely supported by a friend of Kittay’s (although he’s now starting to try to collect funds from readers, foundations and journalism – related companies).
So the next time you look at a food label, realize that most of these food additives are unregulated. No, a manufacturer just tells the government that they are safe and more often than not that is the site details.

Or the next time you see someone using food stamps at the grocery store checkout, realize that the Trump administration is about to approve candidate drug tests (as Wisconsin is now on the verge). to do so under the direction of Governor Scott Walker).

And when you come across television or online footage of a disaster in a far away country, realize that the administration is withdrawing its substantial funding from what’s called the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). It was created in response to a global food crisis in 2008, is run by four other countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and has spent $ 1.2 billion on agricultural projects in 41 countries.

The common denominator is a serious discussion of the food economy. As Cox suggested, not restaurant reviews or practical advice for producers to become more efficient.

“From the publisher of the legendary Lingua Franca, a serious food site with the kind of coverage that blurs the line between readable informative features and incisive, incisive food policy reporting; that’s exactly what we need right now, ”says Emily Nunn, journalist-author who worked for The New Yorker and The Chicago Tribune. His new book, “The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for The Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart,” is rated as one of the “Hot Five” books by National Book Review and has received other positive responses, including on NPR.

According to Bill Daley, editor for the Chicago Tribune, “This site seems to be fulfilling its self-proclaimed mission of focusing on underreported stories. The reason behind the hairnets was fascinating, and I had never heard of it. “Chefugees” (none in Chicago?). I love these kinds of unexpected stories. The report seems complete, there is no rush to present information in small, tidy bites – but the tone is generally conversational and Alive. Sounds like the “thoughtful, intelligent guy ‘who founded this site offered a’ thoughtful and intelligent ‘window on food issues.”

Like most journalism startups, there is a fair amount of trial and error. An interesting strategic failure was to attract young entrepreneurs. Kittay found obstacles in reaching them, not least because they are “too busy to read” and unwilling to pay.

It would be better to go further on the editorial front than initially thought, which means that “the reports on a more general food culture have attracted the readership”. It means focusing on a larger part of the food world – what he calls the space between “the happy farmer” and the gourmet “- and in the process trying to address stories of common interest. potential for processors, policy makers, advocates and those who, well, aren’t either but just love to eat.

Insight came from an early underestimation of how a particular story might behave. The story involved a Lakota tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation, North Dakota, attempting to build a bison processing plant on their land.

This was important to the tribe for many reasons, far beyond avoiding the practical frustration of trucking animals 1,200 miles to be processed and then brought back. “These massive animals represent what they always have for the Lakota: food, warmth, shelter and a connection to the traditions and beliefs that predate the arrival of the white settlers who nearly destroyed the population. buffalo in the 1800s and nearly wiped out the Lakota from their ancestral land. “

Although the federal government provided money to supposedly invest in indigenous products, such assistance never came to fruition. The story was evocative, in part about the gap between where food is produced and processed. But it added an undeniably alluring human element – and went viral, Kittay said.

There was also substantial interest in pasture-raised eggs, or, to put it better, how two companies produced eggs with their barn doors open, challenging the traditional notion that outside access was not feasible at large. ladder. He pointed to the “fraud” of “cage-less” eggs (which tend to be produced in large, windowless warehouses), versus the “bugs-and-meadow” model that people assume isn’t really up to date. ladder.

Journalist Joe Fassler inspected farms based in Austin, Texas and upstate New York to see what pasture-raised eggs actually meant to producers and animals – and if they could be put to scale (spoiler alert: the suggestion is that it is entirely possible).

“Eighteen months later,” Kittay says, venturing out for his second breakthrough publication attempt, “this remains one of our best articles read.”


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