Notch the belt

Two more journalism awards for The Food Section

The Local Independent Online News Association this week held its awards ceremony in Durham/ Provided photo by Inspired Storytellers
The Local Independent Online News Association this week held its awards ceremony in Durham/ Provided photo by Inspired Storytellers
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As much as it pains me to publish two non-newsy newsletters in one week, a reader has reminded me that paying subscribers like to see what their support makes possible. In response to my recap of Sunday’s Spirited Brunchette in Durham, she commented, “I think congratulations are in order for the IACP award with Paula Forbes?!”

No congratulations required, but I was remiss in not reporting that The Food Section last weekend tied with for the Best Newsletter prize in the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual awards competition.

Apparently, it was the only tie in the group’s contest history, although that distinction had a short shelf-life, since emcees at the Brooklyn event—which I sadly couldn’t attend—minutes later announced two winners in the Narrative Food Writing Without Recipes category. In any case, I’m excited to share the virtual podium with Paula, who brings reportorial rigor and a strong point-of-view to her cookbook industry coverage.

For readers who’ve added their names to the newsletter’s circulation list since the start of the year, I’ve included below links to the three stories I submitted for judging, along with excerpts from my accompanying entry form. All three stories have my byline because The Food Section wasn’t in a financial position to hire freelance writers until late in 2022.

Now, though, showcasing the work of food reporters who might not otherwise find homes for their hard-hitting stories has become one of the newsletter’s central components. In fact, The Food Section won another award this week for serving independent journalists: the Local Independent Online News Association named me Community Member of the Year for “go[ing] above and beyond to support fellow news entrepreneurs.”

On that topic: Time is running out to submit your bureau chief application! If you’re interested in launching a city-based version of The Food Section in your hometown (located within the newsletter’s coverage area), please make your intentions known by Monday. Thanks to the terrific journalists who’ve already filed compelling applications, and many more thanks to the paying subscribers facilitating this significant expansion.

Maybe that is news, after all.


Please describe the function and purpose of [your newsletter].

The Food Section was launched in September 2021 with the aim of restoring and reinvigorating independent, rigorous food journalism across the American South.
As local newspapers have shriveled and vanished, they’ve taken hard-hitting food coverage with them, even though food plays an outsized role in the most urgent issues confronting our communities, including climate change, race relations, economic inequalities, and public health. The Food Section, a twice-weekly newsletter, prompts its readers to reflect on all of the above through a dynamic mix of investigative reports, in-depth feature stories, restaurant reviews, essays and travel guides.
While The Food Section doesn’t shy away from the joys of food, publishing columns that emphasize the fun of gathering for suhoors at Waffle House or reconsidering the role that mules played in Southern food for generations, it is devoted to advancing social justice in the culinary sphere. Whether looking into the surge of car crashes inside fast food restaurants, which pose a mortal risk to low-wage workers and patrons alike, or examining how biscuits are depicted on Instagram, The Food Section tries to enhance readers’ empathy for the people who grow, make, and sell Southern food, and understanding of the region behind it.
In 2022, The Food Section moved closer to its goal of becoming a food journalism organization by publishing the work of freelance contributors representing a range of experiences and perspectives.
Because The Food Section is committed to compensating its freelancers fairly ($1000 for 1200 words), the effort has thus far been limited to one post a month, but posts in 2022 included a personal essay by a daughter of Nigerian immigrants who came to understand Southern food and her African-American identity through Popeyes fried chicken; an exploration of how clamming parties organized by Vietnamese immigrants in northern Florida have dwindled in the face of coastal degradation, and a reported feature on how Black residents of Southern Louisiana have struggled with prescribed gluten-free diets because of what flour signifies in places formerly colonized by the French.
In response to that last story, a reader wrote, “Damn, that was so interesting. I have made similar comments about gluten free choices and may have to reconsider my prejudices.” That final phrase is the function and purpose of The Food Section.

How is the work different from others of similar type?

The highest compliment I received after leaving the daily paper in Charleston, South Carolina to launch The Food Section was a local business tidbit: According to my source, the city’s hospitality PR industry was in trouble because now that any restaurant owner can get his or her news into the paper, nobody’s paying for publicists’ services.
Obviously, my goal at The Post and Courier wasn’t to keep PR firms afloat. But it’s a testament to what I consider food journalism–and how my interpretation of the genre differs dramatically from that of most media outlets.
As The Food Section‘s About page says, we don’t traffic in “breathless new restaurant coverage orchestrated by swanky PR firms; mindless parroting of popular opinions or reflexive veneration of popular people; unsubstantiated rumors, unearned praise, unfair treatment, or the unquestioning acceptance of authority.”
In short, we don’t run shrimp-and-grit listicles or point readers to the South’s Next Big Food City (determined in part by a tourism board coughing up money for a FAM trip.) Instead of propping up the status quo, we hold all of our coverage—which is produced in accordance with the Association of Food Journalists ethics code—to the same standard that we challenge every potential contributor to meet. As our pitch form says, “How does your story complicate the narrative, challenge assumptions, or hold power to account?”

How does it make a difference in the culinary landscape?

Perhaps an email I received yesterday from a news editor in Georgia answers this question best. He wrote: “Loving The Food Section — it’s a standard we’re using to try and elevate food writing here.” If The Food Section can help improve local food coverage, it will make a tremendous difference to eaters and workers in the food industry across the South.
More concretely, since its launch, The Food Section‘s stories have inspired hospitality professionals in Columbia, South Carolina to organize a fundraiser for LGBTQ rights organizations in memory of a gay chef profiled by the newsletter and prompted the state of Alabama to correct the wording of a historic marker honoring civil rights activist and cook Georgia Gilmore.

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  1. Avatar photoSusan Marquis says

    Congratulations! Awards for your own writing are well-deserved and not at all bad to receive. Awards for helping others write and publish are recognition for you and a gift to the community. Brava!

  2. Avatar photoHanna Raskin says

    Have to admit I was wary about clicking this link, since random online references to my Jewish heritage don’t always end well. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Avatar photoPhayvanh Luekhamhan says

    Former LION staffer here: congrats on the award. Those community member awards have always been close to my heart.

Here's what else you missed in The Food Section this week

Shrimp fried by Brown's Quality Seafood/ Photos by Michael Stern

Waynesboro, Georgia’s alchemic deep fryer

Everything is golden at Brown’s

Diners at a KFC outlet in Mirpur/ Provided

Jihadists meet their match at KFC Pakistan

Nation’s love for Zinger sandwiches overwhelms anti-chain campaign

Pigs in Dorchester County, South Carolina/ Photos by Hanna Raskin

Trust the process

NC builds up slaughterhouses serving small farms