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Welcome to Vittles. Thank you so much to everyone who has signed up.
I set up Vittles in March 2020 for a multitude of reasons - concern, boredom, spite - but the main one is because I want to platform a new type of food writing in the UK. With lots of chefs not working, and with many restless people wanting to try their hand at something new, this seemed like the perfect time. I’ve always thought it strange that food writing - something that literally everyone in the world, no matter what class or race or religion, has an opinion on - is actually one of the least democratic forms of writing that gets regularly published, with most of the “expertise” concentrated into the hands of a very small number of people, all of whom seem to be the same type of person. I hope that if anything, this newsletter can show the variegated ways that this amorphous thing called ‘food writing’ can be tackled, all the different ways we can use our city and communities and give back to them, that we did not know about. If you haven’t sent me anything because you’re not a food writer/haven’t written before, please bear in mind that I was in exactly the same position as you two years ago.
There are loosely going to be six main groups of writing Vittles will be publishing, all of them in some ways related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the fascinating things that this pandemic has done to us is evacuate central London and made us stay in our local areas. We are all living in our little urban bubbles now. I’ve been thinking of Chris Marker’s description of Tokyo in his 1983 film Sans Soleil where he says “At nightfall the megalopolis breaks down into villages, with its country cemeteries in the shadow of banks, with its stations and temples. Each district of Tokyo once again becomes a tidy ingenuous little town, nestling amongst the skyscrapers.”. London has now again broken down into its little wards and communities, free from the tyranny of Zone 1’s inexorable pull. Local community projects are going to be more vital than ever before (please see all the COVID mutual aid groups here). I know a little about what is going on in mine, but please do send me any information and tips about what is going on in yours so I can collate them here in one space.
This is fairly straightforward. One, I want to pay chefs who are out of work for their knowledge, and two, I want to platform chefs who you may not know. Ideally these recipes are fairly simple but not necessarily things you would have considered making with that tin of chickpeas and that Breville toaster you never use. I’m looking for devilishly ingenious recipes that make unexpectedly tasty things from simple ingredients, as well as recipes that will use ingredients from the multitude of shops we have around us. For ingredients I’m looking for pitches on easy to find staples that go a long way: tea, coffee, rice, chickpeas, yam, plantain. I want to know more about how to use these beyond the obvious. I also want to publish interesting pieces on tinned and long-life foods, not recipes as such, but putting them into their context and advocating why they are good beyond cheapness. I had a spam fritter fried in beef dripping the other day and I want more! One of the best pitches I’ve received is on tinned ackee which I cannot wait to read.
The reason why I write about the restaurants that I do isn’t just because I believe they’re great (which they are) and that the chefs who run them can cook rings around many more lauded ones (which they absolutely can), but also because I believe that we, as Londoners, do not utilise our city enough. We talk about multiculturalism, but we also segregate ourselves in ways that are unconscious. I’ve heard idle chatter that perhaps these places want to be left alone, to only cater to their community. To which I would say: have you actually talked to anyone who runs them? They are businesses, of course they want custom! Although I can write about restaurants I am terrible, TERRIBLE, at doing the same about shops. Near where I live in south London there are plenty of west African markets and shops which I am inept at navigating because I’m not sure what I’m looking for and I do not have the experience to buy things like, say, locust beans with confidence. I’m sure it’s the same with many of us, with Asian supermarkets, with Turkish, Indian or Pakistani shops, with Polski skleps, with Latin American tiendas with Romanian corner shops. Now we are all back home, supermarket shelves cleared, this seems to me to be exactly the right time to be learning about them and integrating them into our weekly routines.
Restaurants may mostly be closed but I think there’s still a way of writing about them, about what they meant to us, why they’re important, how they can adapt and what we want them to look like in the future. For this I’m looking for pitches from writers, but also from chefs who I’m sure have plenty of opinions on the subject.
Fermenting, pickling, baking, salting, brewing. Not to get all ‘rise and shine Twitter’ on you all but we have a lot of time - this is the perfect time to start that project, or open the Noma Guide To Fermenting that you got for Christmas. Things that take time can be daunting so I want to publish pieces on how easy it is to start doing these things and why it is good to do them.
This is anything that doesn’t fit into the other five categories but will mostly be thoughtful pieces directly related to the current crisis. One thing I am adamant about is that this restaurant crisis is not the result of just a freak occurrence (although it is that too) but that all the conditions have been in place to make this a catastrophe for a while. I’m talking here about low wages, financial instability, the gig economy, high rents, lack of unionisation, unscrupulous landlords, unscrupulous operators. These things are not going to go away and will need fixed once this is done. I’m willing to pay extra for these pieces due to the time that will go into them.
Which leads me to the issue of payment. I want to be very transparent with each article about how much has been paid (or if the piece has been donated) and where payment is going (some chefs have kindly asked if payment could be donated to their staff). I cannot pay a huge amount right now, but I hope in time I’ll be able to pay roughly what an established website could offer. Also, I am taking commissions from illustrators and designers (with the same caveat about payment).
To pitch, please email me at email@example.com . I’m not looking for pieces of polished writing in any particular style or form, but please remember that all articles must relate back to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you do wish to donate anything each month to contribute to Vittles upkeep then please do on Patreon.