On bringing something more to the table in D.C. food writing
November 9, 2019 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Lots of interesting food for thought in the essay. Here's a couple that jumped out at me right away:

“This view of people of color as sources of ‘cheap’ labor bleeds into our restaurant culture: Immigrant food is often expected to be cheap, because, implicitly, the labor that produces it is expected to be cheap, because that labor has historically been cheap,” she writes. “Pulling together a ‘cheap eats’ list rather than, say, an ‘affordable eats’ list both invokes that history and reinforces it by prioritizing price at the expense of labor.”

Onwuachi says a critic’s meal should be about cultural understanding, not cultural exploration. “If you’re figuring this out for the first time at this one restaurant, or maybe you had it one time, how are you the person who is writing and giving a professional opinion?” he asks. If there were more critics of color, Onwuachi contends, they might have different reference points to inform their reviews.

But that's only a small taste, there's more context to those quotes and a lot of other stuff to chew on as well.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:10 PM on November 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

I like this approach by the outgoing Northern Virginia food critic (emphases added)
One of Gans’ chief strategies for publishing culturally sensitive and culinarily accurate reviews is to lean on quotes. “I rely on the people cooking the food,” she explains. “If I don’t understand the cuisine, I think of it as a reported piece. I give a lot of quotes from chefs to make sure their voice is heard and I let them fill in the blanks.”
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:37 PM on November 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

Also immediately copypasted the list of food writers, bloggers and podcasters included at the closer (in the actual article, all names are linked to websites/twitter etc)
These are some of the local writers of color who contribute to food beats at local media outlets. Follow their work. Lenore T. Adkins, Stephanie Williams, Christina Sturdivant Sani, Lani Furbank, Sam P.K. Collins, Sidney Thomas, Stacy M. Brown, Aparna Krishnamoorthy, Priya Konings, James Wright, Julekha Dash, Jai Williams, Natalie Delgadillo, Sabrina Medora, Marcus K. Dowling, and Kari Sonde.

Bloggers and podcasters of color in D.C. include Johnna French of Johnna Knows Good Food, Jessica van Dop of The Dining Traveler, Kimberly Kong of Nomtastic Foods, Mary Kong-DeVito of Girl Meets Food, Maame Boakye, Nina Oduro, and Nana Ama Afari-Dwamena from Dine Diaspora, Lydia X. Z.Brown of For The Love of Injera, Lanna Nguyen of Eat Drink DC, Ruth Tam of Dish City, Micky from What Micky Eats, Rock Harper of the Chef Rock Xperiment, and Eddie Kim of Shift Drink.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:41 PM on November 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

I appreciate how the article points out that a food critic that’s a person of color isn’t automatically going to understand cultural context. But us POCs are less likely to reject an experience just because we don’t understand it. Most people of color are constantly forced to learn the White context of something on a daily basis. We’re automatically in that investigative state of mind when we encounter something like a new restaurant. I can understand how a white critic would reject a new experience when they are accustomed to everything aligning with their own personal context, but this makes no sense in a city where 60% of the residents don’t share this context with the writer.
posted by Become A Silhouette at 11:51 PM on November 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

I’m a big fan of this article, it’s awesome, but let’s please adopt a practice of linking to both an article and its plain.txt that’s free of maddening slotmachine-style ads. Please.
posted by Sterros at 12:16 AM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Great piece. I wonder how having more representative food journalism in the area might have changed the coverage about our minimum wage for tipped workers law (which passed in our local election but was then repealed by the Council and Mayor).

I like Tom Sietsema’s method of sending less recognizable (and privileged) people ahead of him to see if they’re treated with a different level of service.
posted by sallybrown at 6:46 AM on November 10, 2019

Not exactly the point, but TIL DC still has full-time food critics of any variety.

The 2008/9 recession pretty much stalled the careers of everyone I knew even attempting to make a living at journalism around here.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:33 AM on November 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Food criticism is probably going to be the last thing to go. The restaurant reviews/ guides are probably 95% of the reason that anyone buys the Washingtonian or whatever the suburban equivalents are.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:10 AM on November 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

Soleil Ho's work here in SF has been AMAZING. I actually liked Michael Bauer -- relative to an earlier generation of food writers we was fairly progressive, and highlighted some great restaurants outside of the typical fancy places. But later in his tenure his work became pretty sleepy, and definitely lacked bite. Having Ho writing has been AMAZING, the piece on Le Colonial (mentioned in the article) manages to be both brutal and nuanced. Her work is not just political (it is very political), she also just comes at things from a fresh angle and every piece she does gets me thinking as well as hungry.
posted by feckless at 8:37 AM on November 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

Having food critics who are POC could also raise the profile of restaurants in Prince George's county and East of the Anacostia river. I rarely see reviews for restaurants anywhere Southeast of DC, and some positive attention is greatly overdue.
posted by hoppytoad at 10:39 AM on November 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

This was a super interesting read, thank you! Maybe some of the future MeFi meetups in DC can be at some of the places mentioned.
posted by wicked_sassy at 5:55 AM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

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