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How to Write About the "Tough Stuff" in Spoon Articles

Food writer and celebrity Michael Pollan once said that eating is a political act. Not only does food reveal intimate details about our own personal lives, family background, and choices, but also about the group we associate with. It is for these reasons that food emulates many of the social struggles being faced by greater society. 

I often think that food journalists try to absolve themselves from discussing disparities and social justice within the foodscape. Rarely do I come across an article that recognizes (let alone focuses) on the disparities in access to food and restaurants. Over time, I've concluded that the primary reason these issues aren't discussed is because either food journalists see these issues as "not their place," or don't want to go to great lengths to break down the immense complexity of racialized, classist, and gendered systems. But in skipping over a discussion of social ramifications, food journalists (either intentionally or unintentionally) render these complexities moot. 

Generally speaking, in its current state, the Spoon University platform touches mostly on superficial topics. "What Kind of Toast You Are," "Here's What [x character] Would Eat in NYC," and "The Perfect Margarita Recipe for Summer" really don't dig into any of the challenges faced in the current food paradigm. They might be fun to write about, but for all intensive purposes, they don't do anything. 

Will you lose article readership? That's a possibility. But I would argue this is more of a question of journalistic integrity than anything else. You have an immense platform to make important statements; what does it say about your chapter if you'd rather just ignore those issues altogether and just float by as if it weren't your problem? 

Right now (and really, all the time) we need more solidarity and education than articles about the really good guacamole you ate on a road trip to California. Here are some of my tips for writing about the "tough stuff" in your articles:

Being worried about "seeing things that aren't there" is a valid concern, but doesn't absolve you from agency. 

"I don't want to make a big deal about it" is not a valid excuse for skipping over the justice implications of your writing. The reason why many social issues get swept under the rug is because people don't want to jump through hoops to identify and break down injustice. You may have to think outside of the box here, but that's part of the writing process. Here are some potential considerations you might make:

Restaurants & Food Venues: Menu price, decor, cuisine, and identity of other patrons

Recipes: Access to ingredients and cooking implements

Products: Availability in grocery stores, price, type of food, and  audience catered to (i.e. who is most likely to purchase and why)

Do your research. 

This is perhaps the most important part of any credible and well-written article. If you're going to make a statement, back it up with credible statistics and figures from other sources. For example, if you're going to say that most residents can't afford to eat at a specific restaurant, include the statistics for how much consumers in the area spend on dining or their average income. If you don't outright paraphrase or quote your sources, include a hyperlink for more information. 

Don't be afraid to piss people off. 

At my last editorial job, I almost got the boot when I published an article about the perpetuating racist and classist culture of sororities. My editor (who I assumed had some sorority affiliation) wasn't too happy with my venture and mere suggestion that some of our readers were contributing to decades of injustice. Moral of the story: in order to write about these issues, you have to take a stance. Some people won't like that, but it doesn't change anything. 

Recognize your own personal biases and gaps in understanding. 

Wouldn't it be great if we knew everything about everything? The reality is: you don't. One of the best things about Spoon (and college) is the variety of viewpoints represented. If you go to a predominately white, affluent college like I do (hey UVM), you can still find pockets of diversity in opinion- it just might require a little more digging. And if you do attend a PWC, maybe state that when it's relevant? 

Bias likely come up in almost every article. If you're from Connecticut and identify as a pizza-snob like I do (in Frank Pepe we trust), then every other pizza restaurant is going to seem sub-par. You might be biased to a particular type of cuisine because you've been exposed to it for so long. If you make any sort of opinion, it's influenced by bias. Unfortunately, our bias often constricts us to a particular worldview. By at least acknowledging its presence, we can work to deconstruct it. 

Be direct and concise. 

Your readers want honesty, not words made to appease a certain audience. If you're writing about a company that makes products that are way too expensive for any college student to afford, say that. Don't beat around the bush or linger on anything for too long. Say your peace and leave it at that. 

Avoid speaking on behalf of others. 

This is one piece of advice I personally need to adhere to more. It's easy to get caught up in a swell of information and put words into others mouths (e.g., "Lower-income people don't want to eat here because it makes them feel patronized.") Use statements like "Based on the information I gathered..." and "there is potential for [group] to feel excluded at this restaurant because..." rather than generalizations. People feel more and more marginalized when other individuals of privilege put words into their mouths - don't perpetuate this culture. 

Understand that if you're writing about it rather than living it, you have privilege. 


Leave a space "For More Reading" at the end of your article. 

You might feel like including too much information about the "tough stuff" will detract from the focus of your article. You can always leave space at the end of the article for more reading with hyperlinks. This way, your readers are encouraged to seek more information that may be different than what you introduce in the article.