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The Season 5 Reading List
Where to read more about food production
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The Season 5 Reading List
Hello everyone! I know I’ve said I’m still on a break, but those who know me IRL are aware I’ve had an unusually busy and stressful week, and I didn’t quite have the headspace to research the deep dive into the similarities between Irn Bru and Latin American soft drinks that I really wanted to send you. I’m sure it will come eventually, but I hope you don’t mind a more prosaic list-based newsletter that will materially improve your life, even if it won’t elucidate the secret recipe of Kola Champagne.
The commissioning process for Season 5 has been the most difficult thing I’ve done at Vittles so far ─ a good sort of difficult in that I’ve received so many engaged and interesting pitches, from new and established writers, and have had to whittle them down to about one in ten. But the sheer volume has surprised and overwhelmed me. It certainly feels like there is a huge amount of interest in writing about food production right now, and I’m sure this is only going to grow as the issue of production becomes more and more central to our lives.
Parallel to commissioning, I’ve been poring over publications dedicated to food production and producers, partly to help decide the narrative of the season, but also to recommend places where the stories that don’t quite fit to this season might find a home. Vittles is still open for pitches, but there are so many other publications covering production ─ please do consider pitching to them if you feel you have the right story. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy reading this non-exhaustive list of magazines, books, online publications and articles I’ve found inspiring over the last month.
If there’s one British publication I would say is currently bridging the gap between production and the more chef/restaurant-focused side of food media, it’s Wicked Leeks, an online and physical magazine published by Riverford Organic and edited by the brilliant Nina Pullman.
Magazines attached to larger operations can be a bit tricky, having to weigh up radical content against corporate concerns, but I’ve always felt Wicked Leeks gets the balance just right: their summer 2021 issue featured big names like Asma Khan on food and female power and an opinion piece by James Rebanks, but also articles other publications might shy away from, like Col Gordon on interrogating land ownership.
You can read Wicked Leeks online, or sign up to the weekly newsletter and subscribe to the quarterly magazine.
I’ve been sending lots of articles to British food writers lately to give them an idea of what is currently being discussed in terms of urban food production (which has been by far the biggest topic I’ve received pitches on for Season 5) and many of them have been from the marvellously titled Jellied Eel, a London-centric publication that tackles the green fringes of the city: city farms, allotments, urban gardens, grocers, sustainable restaurants. I’ve particularly enjoyed all the articles under the Learn category.
There are a few audio publications dedicated to food production, not least BBC’s The Food Chain (and to a lesser extent, The Food Programme), but the podcast I’ve learnt the most from is Farmerama, run by Katie Revell, Abby Rose and Jo Barratt. The main podcast is roughly monthly and usually tackles a big subject within the farming world from both domestic and international perspectives, but their most ambitious work has been their long-form series which have become increasingly radical in their conclusions.
I would recommend listening to all of them: first starting with Cereal, which looks at the industrial production of bread at each stage in its development from farmer to miller to baker. Then their pandemic podcast, Who Feeds Us?, which profiled various food producers and showed the diversity of the small-scale farmers, growers, slaughterers and fishers who kept Britain fed in 2020. The latest project, Landed, narrated and written by Col Gordon, is the smallest in scale but perhaps the most vital of all of them, tackling the issue of land ownership in Scotland and interrogating the romantic idea of the small family farm. Over four episodes it provoked me to reexamine a lot of shibboleths I’d taken for granted about the value of smallness.
You can listen to Farmerama on their website, or on Spotify.
The Land emerged out of an earlier publication called The Land Is Ours, both of which centre access to land as the cornerstone of justice and democracy, as opposed to access to money. The Land is probably the most inward-looking publication featured here, in that it is primarily the farming world talking to itself; it’s edited by dairy producer Simon Fairlie (among others) and publishes farmer-thinkers such as John Letts and Chris Smaje. However, the lack of need or desire to make the writing commercial means it is also one of the most fascinating and idiosyncratic food publications operating in the UK. I also love the woodcut style illustrations.
Market Life, by rights, should just be a vehicle to promote Borough Market produce in the manner of a parish newsletter, yet it has become much more than that due to the editorship of Mark Riddaway and the work of writers like Clare Finney and Ellie Costigan, who have pushed Market Life into very interesting directions (I particularly love Costigan’s Q&As with people like Dee Woods and Carolyn Steel on food provision). It also helps that even the more commercial minded writing is excellent (Ed Smith is their recipe writer and Thom Eagle is doing a series on ingredients).
One of the big failures of the British Left is that it has generally neglected to consider food writing as part of its remit, even when food is central to all the most crucial political questions of our time: from immigration to food access, from labour to climate change. New Socialist, edited by Left Twitter’s own josie sparrow and Tom Gann, is an aberration: the Ecologies season features several ambitious long reads which explicitly deal with food production, including the case against rewilding, agroecology in Cuba, the cultural politics of fermentation and, my favourite of all, Amardeep Singh Dhillon’s essential piece on Kisaan Andolan and the history of the neoliberal food economy in India.
You can read New Socialist here, but also consider subscribing so they can keep growing.
Not precisely a publication as much as a collective that self-publishes work that engages with labour struggle, Angry Workers has been responsible for some of the most vital writing I’ve read on British food production in the context of factory work (itself a shadow of the physical work they do in terms of organising). A good place to start is the introduction to their book, Class Power on Zero Hours, and if you like that then do consider buying it.
Not the most obvious place to look for food writing, but when you are talking about food production you are inevitably talking about the space it’s produced in, and when you are talking about space you’re also talking about architecture.
The first thing I read from the food edition of AR in 2018 was Edwina Atlee’s delightful reverie on the caff as a space, but I have since bit the bullet and bought the whole thing, which contains everything from ready-meal production to the slaughterhouse, via a fantastic essay by Andrea Stuart on sugar production in Barbados and how it enriched Tate & Lyle’s coffers.
You can buy the food edition of Architecture Review here.
Another one-off that also combines food and architecture, Food: Bigger Than The Plate was one of the landmark exhibitions the Victoria and Albert Museum held in 2019, with creative curation from Catherine Flood (previously of the Disobedient Objects exhibition) and May Rosenthal Sloan, pushing forward the remit of what is sometimes perceived as a stuffy institution (a perception I don’t think tallies with the cross-media experimentalism of the last decade of V&A curating).
Food: Bigger Than The Plate also came with an accompanying book, which tackles food production in two sections in particular: composting (which talks about the role sewage has played in food production) and farming (which argues for a less passive urban relationship with agriculture). Rosenthal Sloan also went on to edit a book released last month called London’s Kitchen, about the majestic Park Royal industrial estate - one of my very favourite places in London - which partially looks at factory production there, both historical (Guinness) and present (McVitie’s). I love this book, and you should consider buying it before it sells out.
I don’t know if I can say anything new about Stephen Satterfield’s Whetstone that hasn’t already been said, but this is the model that all of us need to look to in food media: a publication that has grown responsibly without sacrificing a bit of its integrity, and actually seems to become more radical the bigger it gets.
Whetstone is concerned with the idea of food origins: sometimes this means the cultural origin of a dish, but often it also means the origin of the produce itself. Under Vidya Balachander’s editorship, the South Asian vertical has quickly become the best place on the internet for South Asian food writing (along with Goya), with many articles focusing on production: from Kavither Iyer’s critical piece on fortified rice, to Joanna Lobo on the Goan garden.
I get the impression Whetstone is on the cusp of a big announcement, plus it will soon include a whole load of independent audio content from various writers, chefs and thinkers to go along with its already exceptional podcast Point of Origin. I’m sure 2022 is going to be another huge year for them.
Started by Sana Javeri Kadri in 2017, Diaspora is an spice vendor based in the US that puts the welfare of the producer at the heart of its mission, sourcing and explaining the history and production of spices from a decolonised perspective. Recently, they teamed up with Whetstone for a series of spice articles, all of which can be found on Diaspora’s journal, which detail the production of nutmeg, asafoetida, and chocolate, as well as their own articles on cardamom and saffron.
You can read Diaspora here.
Based in London but taking in a truly international perspective that links the local and global, and the specificity of produce to its wider cultural and historical context, Sourced was only started last year by Anna Sulan Masing and Chloe Rose Crabtree and has quickly become a home for idiosyncratic pieces of food writing that fuse together poetry, history, storytelling, audio and even performance. Not everything here is about food production, but it has published articles on cockling (in the UK and in Asia) and this ode to growing Taiwanese cinnamon by Clarissa Wei.
You can read Sourced online here.
My biggest compliment to Mold is that it is, by far, the weirdest publication on this list and I still actually haven’t worked out how to navigate its website or who is even behind it. Whoever it is, there’s clearly a fertile mind somewhere in the commissioning and design stages, because every article seems utterly original and of its own, while the accompanying images always feel so textured and sticky, and so unlike the sanitised cleanliness of most food publications.
The common theme that connects the disparate articles that make up Mold is what the future of food looks like, many of which touch on the potential revolutions (or return to old ways) in food production: from fishing in the Thames to using archeology to revive knowledge of food growing that can help the future.
So much of the most interesting food writing, particularly food writing on production, is being done in academia. Two publications everyone needs to know are Frontiers, which publishes peer-reviewed research and is science heavy, and Gastronomica, which is right at the cutting edge of global food studies. The latest edition, edited by the brilliant Krishnendu Ray, has multiple articles linking consumption to production, and if you can’t afford to pay for it then do listen to their podcastwhich feature many of its writers.
Resilience isn’t a food focused publication, but is dedicated to covering anything around the topic of building community resilience – meaning climate change, the energy crisis and biodiversity. This means that many articles inevitably lead to issues of land, of soil, of sustainable farming and regenerative agriculture. Resilience do publish their own work, with two UK editors and a US editor, and , but they also republish relevant work from other publications, such as this article in The Conversation which is one of the few I’ve read looking at the issues of COP 26 from a food perspective.
You can read Resilience online here.
Outside of the lists of ‘best places to visit’ that most people are familiar with, Gastro Obscura (the food arm of Atlas Obscura) is putting out consistently excellent writing on food origins and production, from examining citrus orchards to covering Michael Twitty’s project to reclaim the gardens of enslaved people for food production. It was Gastro Obscura that also hosted one of the most important pieces of Indian food writing I’ve read in recent times (almost a sister article to Amardeep Singh Dhillon’s on Punjab) which is Sharanya Deepak’s article on how the Bengal famine has been forgotten in food writing, even as its ghost still hangs over Bengal today.
You can read Gastro Obscura here.
The US’s dedication to agriculture stories is much more developed than the UK’s, perhaps because the rural imagination is so central to America’s identity, so they need less of a shout out. Even still, the sheer quality and quantity of work that is coming out of The Counter right now blows my mind, a testament to the editorial team there, which includes Cynthia Greenlee.
In just a week last month, The Counter published an incredible critical deep dive into the idea of the family farm by Sarah Mock, an investigative report on sickness in poultry factories by Tina Vasquez and a fascinating read on the value of fish in Indigeinous cultures by Lela Nargi. And it does this just about every week. Above all, its investigative writing on food production in prisons has been absolutely vital.
You can read The Counter here.
Another great agricultural online publication, again with a focus on the US food system. Kinda the closest thing to a legacy publication on here – I would love to see British papers start covering food in a similar way.
You can read Civil Eats here.
Last but not least. I don’t need to introduce Alicia to anyone, but it’s worth mentioning again that she has been weaving together articles on food production with wider societal issues such as climate, ethics, politics and justice like a huge loom through her Substack newsletter for a good couple of years now. She somehow always does it in a way that is never boring or heavy, wearing her knowledge lightly, and always making quicksilver connections between seemingly unrelated things. In so many ways her newsletter, which has pushed lots of people I know (inc me) into thinking differently about food and the choices they make, has been a big influence on the impetus for Season 5 of Vittles. If it inspires half as many people then I will consider it a success.
You can subscribe to Alicia’s Substack here.
If there are any other publications dedicated to food production you love, then please leave a comment!