Extra, extra: TFS adds local editions

Meet the newsletter's bureau chiefs

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When people learn The Food Section launched with the support of a Substack grant, they understandably assume the prize entailed a lengthy application process. In fact, I only had to write 250 words about my vision for a publication. Here are 126 of them:

I am a firm believer in the power of independent, ethical, and rigorous food journalism, and am lucky to work for a news organization which has allowed me to practice it. But I am keenly aware that newspapers elsewhere continue to treat food as a lighthearted diversion. This occurs despite the outsized role that restaurants play in Americans’ lives, particularly in the realm of labor, race and gender relations, health, and their shared built environment.
In the South, where food is exceptionally important and culture is contested, the scarcity of true food journalism is shameful. My goal in starting this publication is to correct for this blind spot across communities by providing a forum for the kind of food news I’ve published in Charleston since 2013.

My goal hasn’t changed since I submitted those paragraphs in April 2021. But I’ve known from the start that I alone wouldn’t be able to replicate the work I did at the local level in every place deserving of in-depth coverage. Prior to the pandemic, I spent about 80 hours a week reporting on an area that’s home to roughly 0.5 percent of the American South’s population. Obviously, expanding my beat from one city to nine states would take more than just getting up a little earlier.

What it would take is a team.

I am enormously proud today to announce The Food Section’s first three local editions, each one headed up by a talented journalist committed to rooting out undertold food stories and explaining why they matter. Please join me in welcoming The Food Section: Nashville, The Food Section: Baton Rouge, and The Food Section: West Virginia to The Food Section fold.

Starting in February, each of those local newsletters will appear on a biweekly basis. But it’s not too early to get to know the people behind them.

To be clear, these bureau chiefs aren’t employees of The Food Section. Instead, they’re running independent operations with the flagship publication’s editorial and administrative support. And I know they would appreciate your support too. If you’d like to be the first to know when subscriptions go on sale, just click the button below.

Now, meet Mark Blankenship (TFS: Nashville), Rebecca Holland (TFS: Baton Rouge), and Davina van Buren (TFS: West Virginia). I’ve asked them to introduce themselves in their own words.

The Food Section: Nashville

Mark Blankenship has been an arts reporter for over 20 years. Earlier this year, he wrote the souvenir book for the Broadway musical & Juliet and produced the show’s official podcast. He has contributed to dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Vulture, Variety, Fortune, Playbill, American Theatre, Backstage, and TDF Stages, which he founded and ran for over eight years. He’s been on two game shows: Jeopardy! (where he didn’t win) and Name That Tune (where he won big.)

Are you as curious about Nashville as I am? The city’s in the midst of an incredible evolution, with an influx of newcomers adding fresh dimensions to a culture that long-timers have nurtured for decades. I visit the neighborhoods and the neighboring towns, and I feel it. Every street fair and tiny restaurant and independently owned beverage company has an energy that suggests people are thrilled to be trying things. I want to know more. 

Listening to my fellow Nashvillians gives me—and hopefully all of us—a chance to belong to this area. I’m a Chattanooga native whose parents fell in love in Murfreesboro, but I’m new to Nashville proper. I know I love it here; I know I’ve got much to discover; and I know food is the perfect way to learn. I want to tell stories about how we’re eating, drinking, cooking, and grocery shopping, because I know that will help me hear the voices of everyone in town.

And I want you to join me! The Food Section: Nashville is designed to let us discover each other. I can’t wait to hear your suggestions for stories that need to be told. I’m looking forward to raising a glass with you at an improv show or sharing music recommendations over an enormous platter of tacos. That sense of connection has defined my 20 years in journalism and my entire life as a Southerner. I’m eager to make this newsletter a conduit that connects us all. —Mark

Reach Mark at mark.blankenship@gmail.com. Follow him on Instagram @iamblankenship

The Food Section: Baton Rouge/South Louisiana

Prior to moving to Louisiana, Rebecca worked as a freelance food and travel writer and lived all over the place, including in Italy, Jordan, Iraq, and a few months here and there in a bunch of other places. She grew up in a very small house with a very large vegetable garden in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin and studied at University of Wisconsin and Northwestern University.

Hello! And welcome to the South Louisiana edition of The Food Section. I moved to this crazy, complex state a year ago and have been eating and learning as much as I can since then. It’s taken me to sugar mills, aboard shrimp boats, through crawfish ponds, on a nighttime frogging adventure (that was wild), and to lots of incredible restaurants and kitchens. I can’t wait to tell you about it. 

This newsletter will focus on stories about policy, history, culture, immigration, climate change, and how that influences what you eat in Louisiana. But it’s not all serious. We’ll also visit festivals, talk with local chefs, share family recipes, drink plenty of daiquiris (the best I’ve had are at Manolito in New Orleans, but it’s up for discussion), and dig into the great, seemingly unsolvable, gumbo debate. 

Speaking of gumbo, I’ve been eating a lot of it and recently thought: What if I try every gumbo in South Louisiana? Subscribe to the newsletter to follow that journey––and please send recommendations! —Rebecca

Reach Rebecca at hollandrebeccalee@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram at @rebeccaleeholland.

The Food Section: West Virginia

Davina van Buren is a food and travel writer based in Charleston, West Virginia. She writes for publications such as Food & Wine, BBC Travel, Southern Living, AFAR, and Modern Farmer. Davina grew up on her great-grandparents’ farm in the Sandhills region of North Carolina, where she learned to tend livestock and the family garden. She came of age working in restaurants, which shaped her life path. She graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism & Mass Communication in 2008 and set out to combine her two loves: food and writing. 

On April 29, 2018, I settled in for my weekly ritual: watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. I lived in High Point, North Carolina, where I’d built a strong community of chef friends and food producers. This was my reward for a week of hard work, both at my laptop and in the Growing High Point gardens. 

My Sunday evening “date night with myself” tradition involved ordering takeout from somewhere new-to-me or “special” to eat while I watched the show. Special meant dependable and delicious—somewhere like Sumela98 Asian Bistro, or Giannos.

I didn’t know my life would change that night. 

I’d watched Parts Unknown since the inaugural Myanmar episode, but none of them—not even HanoiIran, or Congo—moved me like West Virginia. Watching the show that night, I knew in my bones it was where I belonged. 

The next year, I connected with Lost Creek Farm owners Mike Costello and Amy Dawson to report a story about poke salad for BBC Travel. Then I came to visit. And just like that, I moved here in February 2022. 

When people ask what brought me to West Virginia, I tell them it was him—Bourdain—a brilliant, imperfect man I never met, but who changed me forever. 

As The Food Section: West Virginia bureau chief, I intend to explore The Mountain State’s culinary offerings from the Northern Panhandle to the Greenbrier Valley to the Heartland Region and Potomac Highlands. And while restaurants are my specialty, in the spirit of my mentor, I’m always available for a home-cooked meal. —Davina

Reach Davina at thefoodsectionwv@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram @TheAppalachianFoodie.




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    • Avatar photoHanna Raskin says

      Kevin, I sent it to you yesterday when you requested it by email. You might want to check your spam folder, or just search the website for it: Use the magnifying glass in the upper right hand corner.

  1. Avatar photoDavina van Buren says

    So excited to helm The Food Section: West Virginia! I can’t wait to tell Appalachia’s food stories.

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