This is my third post about the lack of diversity in the wine writing world, especially compared to the world of food writing. The first post framed the issue and the second set out the financial barriers to wine writing. You may find some of the background helpful before moving on here.
One caveat worth repeating – some of this discussion is about wine and wine industry jobs, not strictly wine writing. But all the factors contribute to the result of having a less diverse wine writing population. Some of the connections are obvious: almost all wine writers drink wine. The link between wine professionals and wine writing is less obvious, but a great many wine writers worked in the wine industry in some capacity. Although I don’t have any data on diversity among wine drinkers, the wine industry is markedly less diverse than the U.S. workforce as a whole. This lack of diversity certainly carries over into wine writing as well.
In this post, I’ll discuss two additional barriers to wine writing vs. food writing – I call them structural and institutional barriers.
Structural barriers are exactly what the name implies: the food and wine writing worlds are built differently, especially in the age of social media. More and easier opportunities means more diversity in the food writing world.
There are many more ways to be part of the food writing world than the wine writing world.
The food writing world is much larger to start, and you don’t have to be the person with the byline per se. You can be a recipe developer, recipe tester, food stylist, researcher, or photographer, just to name a few.
Wine writing doesn’t have the same range of jobs or the scope of the food writing world. You can still be a researcher, stylist, or photographer, but in the wine writing world you’re generally the person with your name on the piece. Even if you’re not writing wine reviews.
The food world is geographically much larger than the wine world.
Wine is made in many places, but food is everywhere. No doubt the wine writing world still has places to discover and more things to say about wine producing regions everywhere. But these pale in comparison to the sheer number and varieties of cuisines worldwide. And many of those cuisines developed without a wine culture to accompany them.
Almost anyone can become a food writer with little effort or investment.
Food writing can start with something as simple as making an inexpensive meal, styling and photographing it well, and putting up an Instagram story linked to a recipe and some commentary. If you like cooking and have a well-stocked pantry you can create photo-worthy meals without a lot of extra expense. With some trial and error you can also develop and post very short videos that allow your personality to come through. Sometimes that’s as important as the food you’re making. A handful of wine people have managed to break through in video, but it’s a lot tougher since you have to use your words instead of counting on the imagery to look as good. Kitchens are natural backdrops for food videos, and it’s tougher to find the right place to take wine videos.
Wine and wine writing so far haven’t adapted well to Instagram compared to food. And you don’t have to take just my word for it: Amber LeBeau recently wrote a piece called “Why do winery Instagram feeds suck so much?” If wineries can’t do it well with all the built-in imagery they possess, imagine how much harder it is for wine writers posting a photo of a bottle and wine in a glass. Even a great 140 character wine review doesn’t register without a great photo.
Wine writers tend to do better in slightly longer form, like blogs. Back when I began blogging, it was possible to start small by posting about an inexpensive bottle with dinner. This is what my wine blogger friend Jon Thorsen did more than 10 years ago with Reverse Wine Snob. Wine blogs don’t have the cachet they used to, though, and they don’t have as much influence. It might still be possible to duplicate Jon’s success starting a blog today, but it won’t have the punch of what social media can do very well. Or the potential reach, which is important for getting readers. Just providing a Twitter or Instagram link to your post won’t do it without the right visuals unless you’re already a well-known quantity. And even then, most people will only look at the photo and not click through.
These structural barriers are what they are – not that things can’t change, or that wine writers can’t find ways to break through them. But they apply to everyone across the board. This makes them different from institutional barriers: the roadblocks faced by people due to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other factors in daily life also apply to wine writing and serve to make the field less diverse.
I’ve written about the lack of LGBT people in wine production and importing. But as a middle-aged White man, I can’t credibly address race and ethnicity. Julia Coney, a DC-based African-American wine writer, posted a discussion last year on the lack of diversity in the wine world and you absolutely should read it. I can only add two things to elaborate on what she said.
Julia Coney’s point about non-White wine drinkers getting pigeonholed by wine industry professionals into particular categories is supported by my own experience and conversations I’ve had with others in the wine business.
A wine shop owner friend told me that he has had African-American customers thank him for treating them like they’re serious about wine, rather than just steering them to the Moscato. I’ve heard something similar from two of my customers – buying wine online is colorblind and they can select what they like instead of what someone else assumes they’ll want to drink based on their appearance.
Coney also believes that seeing few people of color working in the wine world discourages people of color from trying more wines and learning about them.
But those non-White people who get entry-level jobs in the wine industry aren’t always welcomed by every customer. I recently listened to Jehan Hakimian talk about his sense of other-ness in his early jobs in wine retailing as part of Bâtonnage 2019, a form on women in the wine industry. Born and raised in the U.S., Hakimian’s parents are Iranian and South Asian. One of the first things many customers would ask him when he approached them to help was “What are you?” They weren’t necessarily hostile. They just clearly expected to see a White person working there. And statistically, that’s who they’d encounter.
The food and food writing world also has institutional barriers. Again, I can’t speak to these barriers as someone who has experienced them, just provide examples of what I’ve heard and read lately. But unlike most of what I’ve seen of the wine writing world, the food writing world has been making an effort to change things for the past few years. Here are two of the institutional barriers I’ve learned about recently.
Most non-“American” or non-European food writing is still treated as exotic rather than everyday food.
I recently listened to a Sporkful podcast, with host Dan Pashman interviewing Madhur Jaffrey and Priya Krishna about Indian food in America. Both agreed that Indian food is more mainstream than it used to be, but there’s still a long way to go.
Jaffrey needs no introduction to most English-speaking food lovers. If you don’t have one of her books, you may have seen her on TV or in movies. Krishna’s new book is called Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family. Jaffrey’s first book was published decades ago and had a lengthy subtitle designed to reassure people that they could indeed make this food in their American kitchens. Unfortunately, Krishna tells us that 45 years later the publishing world doesn’t yet think Indian food and flavors have reached the point where most people use and make them at home, despite her family’s experience. “If your book isn’t about roast chicken, [publishers and distributors] will label it as ‘international’ rather than something you could use every day,” she said.
The recent Food Writers’ Workshop I attended confirmed the problem, and panelists discussed how they experience this same bias. There’s a “We’ve Already Got an ‘Insert-Your-Ethnicity-Here’ Cookbook” attitude among publishers. Meanwhile, those same publishers jump on any paleo/gluten-free/instant pot proposals, no matter how many they currently have in print. And some cuisines don’t even get the one book. Two panelists with significant presences in the food writing world said they were told that there wasn’t a market for their proposed books on Filipino or Caribbean food (other than the ubiquitous jerk chicken, that is).
The food writing world also encourages marginalization by relying on the same few “experts” in so-called exotic cuisines.
Panelists at the workshop made the point that the most visible person in a particular food community isn’t necessarily the one who should be on the record. Especially when that “visibility” comes through hits on search engines in English, conducted by people who don’t take the time to seek out those who might not have such an anglicized presence. Obviously, that’s endemic to any writer on a deadline, not just food writers, but it can be particularly marginalizing for cuisines that aren’t well known to U.S. food media consumers. Cuisine “experts” at minimum need to acknowledge the humanity of the culture in order to qualify for the term. That hasn’t always been the case in the food world.
But the fact that this is just the latest year of multiple workshops with panel discussions dedicated to significant diversity issues indicates that the food and food writing industries take diversity seriously. For example, one of its major initiatives is designed to erase the old excuse of not being able to find a qualified person who isn’t White and male. Equity at the Table (EATT), started and overseen by a group of food world heavy-hitters, provides a directory of women and people of color for nearly any position, task, or job in the food world. Not everyone will look past their old boy network, but responsible employers will at least find that they have a more diverse pool to pick from.
I don’t want to make it seem as if the wine industry has completely ignored the diversity issue. Bâtonnage and other groups/organizations make an effort to enable more people of color to attend wine industry discussions. This has made its way into wine writing as well, although much more slowly. Some wine writers use EATT for people with wine and wine-writing expertise, which is a start. And there are other things the wine writing community can do to help with diversity, which I’ll discuss in a separate post.
I’ve been making a lot of food lately, and it has made for plenty of leftovers. Some leftovers are easy to reuse, especially if they’re already kind of liquid-y. But others are more difficult. Leftover sauced pasta isn’t usually great heated up. (Some people like it cold from the fridge, but I don’t find that appealing). Shapes like penne seem to do better than spaghetti, but they’re still often pale imitations of their original selves. So when I had a half-recipe of Linguine Carbonara left over, I wanted to find a way to make it taste as good as it had the first time.
What I came up with is something that works for any leftover sauced pasta with or without meat. Roast a cruciferous vegetable like cauliflower, broccoli, or brussels sprouts. Throw some sliced onion in there too unless you’ve got carbonara, which already has a lot of them. Mix with the pasta and a little stock, put in a greased baking dish, then top with grated cheese or breadcrumbs (depending on the pasta dish and how much cheese it might already have) and bake for 20 minutes. Serve with a big salad, and you’ll have a meal for four people.
The wine you’ll serve depends a lot on the pasta you start with. But a light-bodied red works well, even in summer. Cave la Romaine Côtes du Ventoux Rouge Tradition ($10) is 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache, and 100% easy to drink. Open the bottle and stick it in the fridge for 20 minutes, it will be ready to serve and just the right temperature.
I know you’ve come to expect much more elaborate recipes from me, but hey – we all need a break. And if you went through the trouble of making a lovely pasta dish, you should give it the royal treatment without too much work for you.
Serves 4 with a large salad, 2-3 without
½ a recipe of leftover sauced pasta – use one that started with 1 pound of dried pasta, such as Linguine Carbonara, Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce (remove the clam shells), Pasta Bolognese, or Spaghetti with marinara.
Vegetables: 2 stalks broccoli, or ½ of a large head of cauliflower, or a dry pint of brussels sprouts
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Nonstick cooking spray
½ of a large onion, sliced into thin half moons (you can skip this if you start with Carbonara)
¼ to ½ cup vegetable or chicken stock, or water (if needed)
½ cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano – and/or — ½ cup dry bread crumbs mixed with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Set a large rimmed baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables: for broccoli, trim the bottom of the stalks then cut the stalks off. Slice crosswise into 2-inch lengths and peel off the outside skin, then slice ¼ inch thick. Cut the florets into ¼ inch slices as well. For cauliflower, break into florets and slice ¼ inch thick. For brussels sprouts, trim off the bottom and then slice ¼ inch thick.
Combine the vegetable and the onion if you’re using it in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil, plus ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper and toss to coat everything. Add another tablespoon of oil if you need it. Carefully take the hot baking sheet out of the oven, quickly spray it with nonstick spray, then pour the vegetables and onions on. You should hear a good sizzle when the vegetables hit the pan. Working quickly, spread the pieces out and put the sheet in the oven. Roast for 20 minutes, then stir everything up and roast for five more minutes if things aren’t getting a little browned. Remove the sheet and let the vegetables cool slightly, but keep the oven on.
Heat the pasta for 30 seconds to a minute in the microwave to loosen it up. (I leave it in the container it was stored in, although I don’t normally microwave in plastic this makes things easier and it’s not in there long.) Spray a 2-3 quart souffle dish with nonstick spray. Gently stir the vegetables and pasta together in a large bowl (or the souffle dish if it’s big enough) with ¼ cup of stock or water. You may not need to add the liquid if there’s plenty of sauce, but the mixture should be moist. If not, add up to a total 1/2 cup of liquid. Pour into the greased baking dish. Top with the breadcrumbs and/or cheese, and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve.