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I may be all thumbs, but none of them are green, so I don’t know a whole lot about pruning. My friend Shaker, though, is an expert on the subject: He’s a professional plant pathologist.

Shaker Kousik is really a friend to all of us who eat across the South. That’s because his job at the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory involves finding ways to strengthen watermelons and make them more delicious. In the last two years, he’s published papers on yellow stunting disorder, powdery mildew, and fusarium wilt.

Because watermelons don’t grow on trees, Shaker doesn’t spend too much time pruning. But he was wiling to explain the concept as it pertains to other fruits.

“Technically, it’s selective removal,” he told me. “Let’s say you have a tree with dead branches. Sometimes, that weight can make the tree fall.”

Folks, The Food Section has a few dead branches.

As you know as a reader of this newsletter, when you signed up for The Food Section, you were given a choice between paying to support its independent and original food journalism and receiving scraps of its coverage for free.

Hundreds upon hundreds of people who find value in The Food Section have gone with the first option: Paid subscribers can anticipate a full report later this month on The Food Section’s progress.

Yet there are another few thousand people who’ve decided it’s fine to browse what The Food Section’s selling even though they have no plans to buy.1 And up to a point, they’re right: The Food Section is offering something unique, and it can take readers a few weeks to decide whether this newsletter is right for them.

It’s the long-term looky-loos who take a toll on the whole operation.

Too often, instead of being out on the road pursuing stories, I’m at the computer, pursuing conversion dollars. Rather than reporting, I’m begging and pleading and cooking up promotions for readers who I’m certain need just one more nudge. That’s hardly fair to paying subscribers.

Or, as Shaker puts it, “With a tree, let’s say you open the top off. Then more sun goes through, so you get better fruiting.”

So, although this runs exactly contrary to what every media consultant would advise, I’m taking the top off. In one week, I’m pruning The Food Section’s email list by 15 percent.

Obviously, every paid subscriber is safe, as are readers who joined up in the last six weeks. I’m not a monster (although those poor newbies who’ve just discovered The Food Section must have their doubts.) Otherwise, the only way to avoid the axe is to subscribe today.

Between now and next Friday, all subscriptions will be discounted 15 percent, so it will cost you $7.65 a month to make sure you don’t lose access to The Food Section.2

If you’re on the paid list by May 13, you can count on getting The Food Section’s dynamic mix of features, interviews, columns, and restaurant reviews in your inbox three times a week. You’ll also enjoy the satisfaction that comes with being an active and engaged member of a community that cares deeply about the Southern foodscape and how it’s chronicled.

And if you’re not on the list of paying subscribers by Friday the Thirteenth? I don’t know, man: The elimination will be randomized. Will you be the reader who gets cut? Maybe! Luck isn’t as reliable as, say, rigorous journalism.

From the way Shaker describes it, springtime pruning isn’t fun, especially because the tree doesn’t look quite so impressive once it’s been trimmed. But it’s the only way to keep a specimen healthy and fruitful. I’m looking forward to a robust future of The Food Section and very much hope you’ll be part of it.

Thank you for your support.

Take care,



It’s also possible they’ve been stymied by Substack’s account management system. If you’ve had trouble upgrading to a paid subscription, check out the official tip sheet here.


As always, if that figure represents a financial hardship for you, let me know: No prospective subscriber has ever been locked out of The Food Section for lack of funds.



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