I’ve met many students who want to write about food and I try my utmost to be encouraging. It’s always been difficult to earn a decent living as a writer but I can’t remember a time when it has been more challenging.
Even so, there are doors that are open a crack and with a little ingenuity and masses of determination it is possible to push them wide open.
It is important to know, what exactly, a food writer does. Scott Jones, Food Editor of Southern Living and a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) grad describes it well: “Writers research, write, edit, proofread, and check facts (including testing recipes) in jobs such as: newspaper columnist, cookbook author, and restaurant critic. As a food editor for a publisher, you’ll review cookbook proposals and take an accepted book from contract to print. Editors also work for magazines, newspapers, and television shows, setting the content and style of their food section or programming. In this field, you’ll need strong writing skills, knowledge of culinary principles, and familiarity with current consumer and industry trends.”
That all sounds good. So, let’s look at the bad news first. The prospects of landing a job as a syndicated newspaper writer are slim and getting slimmer. The possibility of finding work as a regular newspaper columnist are thin and getting thinner as circulation and advertising numbers shrink, and few funds can be found for opinion pieces. Many resort to simple seasonal recipes with text, recipes and photographs provided free by commodity boards. Cross off newspapers as a potential employer unless you decide to become a hard food news journalist where hyper-local is the current trend. This job has to be undertaken by a local writer.
How about food magazines? As we all know, Gourmet is gone. The bad news here is though a fortunate few manage to secure freelance writing assignments. They are a precious few and they are, (sorry to say), often big names or “known” to the food editor. So forget about FOOD & WINE, Bon Appetit or Saveur and the other giants in the field.
This brings us to all the good news. The familiar food magazines do not provide the only home for your writings. Go to any of the major booksellers, and scan the incredible number of magazines that offer opportunities you may not have previously explored. Look at local publications too. Often the chamber of commerce or real estate groups publish their own (sometimes very handsome) magazines as do medical groups and other special interest organizations. And don’t forget about food blogs for food magazines.
Wegmans is just one of the many excellent supermarket publications, and then there are the huge number of trade magazines: FOOD ARTS, Chef magazine and Chef Educator Today, Nation’s Restaurant News, Restaurant Business, Restaurant Hospitality, Tea Times, Mushroom Growers, as well as catering and specialty food industry publications. Check online to find the names of the astonishing number there are.
There are other ways to dip your toe in the food writing world. There are food writing courses and coaches and writing programs to choose from, though I highly recommend New York University Steinhardt Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health.
But whichever direction you decide to travel, you must write regularly. The difference between a writer and a professional writer is the professional never gives up.
There are three reasons a writer becomes successful; no one knows what they are.