A Few Food Stories We Wish We'd Written in 2016

December 30, 2016

Every year, the writers and editors of Bloomberg Businessweek publicize a jealousy list. It's an overstuffed backlog of writing that their teams wish they'd published or written first. This is something that every editorial team secretly maintains, and we’ve got our own backlog over here, too, baby. We're proud of a lot of the work we've published this year, but there are a lot of stories spread across the internet this year that we were in awe of.

So, as a salute to our colleagues in digital media, here are some stories about food that had us jealous this year.

The Rich, Delicious History of Italian Chef Kiss (Jay Hathaway, The Daily Dot)

The chef kiss! My favorite slice of internet verbiage. It's deployed when you see something so perfectly, carefully moronic that you must respond to it as a mustachioed chef might to his spaghetti sauce. Mwah! The discourse! Anyway, I really wanted to write this, but it was published on the third day into my job. I’m not even kidding. I even made a “Note” for it in my computer and complained to my boss about it.

See? I'm not lying to you.

Letter of Recommendation: Cracker Barrel (Jia Tolentino, The New York Times Magazine)

Shortform is an underappreciated art online. Of the many things that happened in 2016, I can’t help but think that the veneration of longform journalism has reached a precipice—form and scope does not always justify content; sometimes, presentation can outright mask insufficiency. You’d think we’ve all learned something from this, but the internet is awash with year-end lists slobbering over the best longform journalism.

Shop the Story

The art of being funny and evocative in a short space of words is a difficult one to master. Jia is so expressive about what is at once intoxicating and repellent about Cracker Barrel and the ideologies underpinning it. Unfortunately, the current landscape for prestige digital media does not reward writing this succinct. It just sinks further into the annals of the internet, and then people forget about it. That is bad and unfair.

The 1970s Monster Cereal That Caused a Pink Poop Panic (Cara Giaimo, Atlas Obscura)

Well into reporting my own story on the cultish “fascination” with Monster Cereals, I saw this nostalgic look into the quiet bodily terrorism General Mills inflicted upon American children in 1972 with their red dye Franken Berry cereal. Trip down memory lane! This was a great example of how to take a factoid that’s been reduced to a line in a Wikipedia article, flesh it out with some archival reporting, and package it in a narrative. We were beat to it by a matter of days! We've all been pretty stunned by the work Atlas Obscura's been doing this year. See also: Lindsey Weber’s piece on the origins of Rainforest Cafe and Ella Morton’s on the taste of the purple Skittle.

Nevada City Wine Diaries (Sarah Miller, The Awl)

These columns are wry and gut-punchy. Read them all.

The Harvests of Chernobyl (Kate Brown, Aeon)

Thirty years after the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl, Ukraine, there are those who forage in the woods around the disaster zone for cranberries—berries that "grow in radioactive soils, which means that they carry some of Chernobyl’s legacy in them.” This is a genius idea for an article, and executed with skill.

Joe Cool (Alicia Eler, The New Inquiry)

Why doesn't have Trader Joe’s have a social media presence? Here is an essay that illustrates how, exactly, this intentional silence manages to communicate a lot about the brand; not having a a social media presence is its own statement.

Teatox Party (Chavie Leiber, Racked)

Ah, yes, the definitive piece on the industry of laxative teas being shilled by celebrities on Instagram.

Remembrance of Tastes Past: Syria’s Disappearing Food Culture (Wendell Steavenson, The Guardian Long Read)

For Syrians, food is an especially important part of national identity. Syrian cuisine has evolved over thousands of years of conquests, trading and migrations, shaped and blended by dozens of peoples: Arab, Kurdish, Druze, Armenian, Circassian, Assyrian, Alawite, Turkish, Turkmen, Palestinian, Ismaili, Greek, Jewish, Yazidi. The Syrian table is an expression of a multicultural country and a way of living together that is being destroyed by civil war.

This piece on Syria' refugees deserved more attention.

The Orange Juice Boycott That Changed America (John Birdsall, Extra Crispy)

I hate to be one of those, “man, what a lede!” dudes, but here I am. This piece by friend of Food52 John Birdsall on Anita Bryant, an orange juice boycott, and queer resistance is riveting. I was hooked from the first line.

The Story Behind The 'Tea And Oranges' In Leonard Cohen's Song 'Suzanne' (Nina Martyris, NPR)

One of the things that is bad about digital media—especially digital media that's focused on a certain thematic prism (food, tech, film, what have you)—is the rush to find "the angle" in everything. This rush can feel especially callous in the light of a high-profile death. I would say this piece on one of Leonard Cohen's most famous songs, written just days after his death, avoids those heinous pitfalls. It's a good example of how to subtly pay tribute to an artist during a time of mourning.

Turkey in the Straw (Richard Parks, Lucky Peach)

This piece plumbs a ubiquitous jingle for its ugly backstory—one that has, unsurprisingly, been stamped from our cultural memory.

The New Food Economy’s coverage of Michael Pollan

This had us all pretty envious.

Love the Fig (Ben Crair, The New Yorker)

The produce section of the grocery store is a botanical disaster. Most people know that a tomato is technically a fruit, but so is an eggplant, a cucumber, and a spaghetti squash. A banana, which grows from a flower with a single ovary, is actually a berry, while a strawberry, which grows from a flower with several ovaries, isn’t a berry at all but an aggregate fruit. The most confusing classification, though, will start showing up on American shelves this month. Shoppers will find mission figs with the grapes, kiwis, and other fruit, but a clever botanist would sell them at the florist, with the fresh-cut roses. Although many people dismiss figs as a geriatric delicacy or the sticky stuff inside bad cookies, they are, in fact, something awesome: enclosed flowers that bloom modestly inward, unlike the flamboyant showoffs on other plants. Bite a fig in half and you’ll discover a core of tiny blossoms.

Ugh. I wish I wrote this.

What was some of the best food writing you've read outside of Food52 this year? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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    Mrs Currie
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


FamilyStyle F. January 4, 2017
Some links are broken in this piece - Michael Pollan, NPR Leonard Cohen, Trader Joe's.
marcellatp December 30, 2016
I laughed and laughed at this one:
Mrs C. December 30, 2016
Read it. Loved it. Thanks for the link!