How Do I Become a Food Writer?

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Anonymous asks: How do I get into food writing? I've wanted to be a food journalist since graduating from college.

Dear Anonymous: It's a very tough market for food writers, as you know, with some universities barfing out large volumes of grads with MAs and MFAs in "Food Writing" and "Food Studies," academic disciplines they basically invented out of whole cloth, and often staff with professors of dubious meaningful credentials. Publications (e.g., the Huffington Post) have learned they can pay literally nothing for food writing. And nearly gone are the days when glossy mags like Gourmet routinely paid writers $3 per word.

Actually, a career in food writing was never as easy as it supposedly once was. And the challenges of pursuing such an occupation continue to be formidable.

Here's how I did it, and it's still a good way.

Get a day job that pays the rent. I worked as a secretary, a photo editor, and then as a financial analyst for years in an era when computer skills were less common. If you have the chops and inclination, waiting tables, Web design, and office work can be good choices, but for many careers in food writing (as a critic, especially), it's probably better to stay away from restaurant work and public relations.

Start a blog on a subject that's startling and not yet well-covered. The Evolution of the Pizza, Jogging for Foodies, Urban Fishing, Dish of the Day, One Neighborhood Per Week, Food and Sex, Root Vegetables Only, Fast Food Eaten Slowly, Cheapest Meal I Saw Today, Being James Beard, One Random Restaurant, Following Yelpers, and Where Eater's Never Been are some examples. Start a Twitter, and start a Facebook page trumpeting your adventures.

Once the blog is up and running and excellent, use it as leverage to pitch stories -- modest ones at first -- to Web and paper publications.

Study every website, magazine, and newspaper that publishes food writing. Then study those that don't. Find ways that ones that don't can incorporate food writing into their editorial mix, and then tell them how. Offer a sample of what you could do for them on a regular basis, illustrated with great photos. Cast yourself as a totally self-contained journalistic unit, and invest $300 in a great camera.

Do the same thing for the publications that already use food writing. Tell them an area they've missed, and offer an excellent sample. (If Time Out doesn't cover ethnic groceries in obscure areas, prove that they need to by producing scintillating pictures of food products almost nobody has ever heard of.) Create a need where none exists.

Second, worm you way into food publications that seem to use an army of food writers. Try Serious Eats. To come up with something no one there is doing yet will be a real challenge. This is for the purpose of résumé building, not income generation. When someone asks you, you can say, "I've been published 17 places, and here is a random collection of my clips." Remember, everything you publish is important, and increase the volume as you move forward.

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8 comments
Omnieater
Omnieater

As someone who just turned went into food writing after being a former academic, I think the best advice I can give to anyone interested in food writing is write, write, write. Yes, Mr. Sietsema's advice is sound.. but the proof is ultimately in the writing, and the only way that writers get better is writing. Find your niche. And go for it. The good thing is that because there are so many outlets for good writing, you will eventually get published. The bad news is that (and Mr. Sietsema is absolutely SPOT on about this) is that you will NOT get paid. Unfortunately, the state of new journalism is based upon free articles. (Just ask Huff Po) But...there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Keep on writing and you will get recognition. But it will be slow coming. It won't come in a year. It may not come in 2 years. And you may never get the a "permanent" job in food writing. But keep at it and keep on writing well and you will get there (but definitely keep your day job...). Good luck!

peachesncream
peachesncream

What about going to culinary school? Does that increase my chances of getting hired as a food writer? 

hvandenengel
hvandenengel

Better advice: become a beer writer instead. More fun and a less crowded field. 

megandubmoore
megandubmoore

As someone who has been published online as a food writer who is about to graduate from a food studies program with a master's degree after being advised by a preeminant agricultural economist and taught by well-red authors, entrepreneurs, nutritionists, historians, and anthropologists, i'm going to go ahead and call bullshit on Mr. Sietsema's snarky categorization of my kind. I'm sure that all emerging disciplines (cinema studies, gender studies, etc.) we're once accused of being "invented". Holler!

amarjalok
amarjalok

My website is www.sampleyum.com. I am trying to make it a plaform to review and rate food dishes like a food critic. The future path would be to host "The next food critic star". The aim of the website is to provide recognision to food critics. I think its a wonderful profession. 

KennethConway
KennethConway

 @Bobby There are many "preeminant" economists who would beg to differ with you, sir!

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