I had been thinking about starting a blog for a while now. I even took a class on it. But I wasn’t sure what I had to say, or even what specifically my blog would be about; I wanted to talk about books, and style, and food, and feminism, and travel, and literary theory…basically a lifestyle blog for hungry, well-dressed nerds (hm..that sounds like a tagline). But that didn’t seem very marketable. Then, this past weekend I attended the Cherry Bombe magazine Jubilee, which was advertised as “a day of celebration and conversation with some of the most inspiring women in the world of food.” Here’s a tiny bit of background on me: I’m a woman. I like celebrating and conversing. And I am both personally and professionally involved in “the world of food”; I love to cook and bake and eat, and I spend my 9-to-5 hours editing cookbooks for America’s Test Kitchen. I also went to graduate school to study women’s writing and feminist theory, so in many ways this conference sounded made for me. I have a subscription to Cherry Bombe and follow their podcast and their social media posts. I think they are doing smart, interesting, and aesthetically pleasing things. I was pretty much all in. What’s not to like, right? I was ready to be challenged and inspired and celebrated. New York City, here I came.
But of course, a mind-blowingly perfect and beautiful experience wouldn’t really make a good opening blog post for my new project. So here’s where the story takes a turn. I spent last Sunday pretending to belong in a crowd of gorgeous, impossibly stylish (mostly) women at a very chic and trendy Chelsea hotel listening to panels full of famous foodie ladies spew love and acceptance and inspiration all over each other and the rest of the room. I ate kale salad and yogurt parfait with rose petals and local honey and vegan cookies and was a little angry when those things were all delicious and I couldn't snark about them on Twitter. I surreptitiously tried to read people’s nametags to figure out whether I was supposed to know who they were. I think I accidentally sat next to a pretty famous chef and also a major magazine editor for several hours without acknowledging them. I observed many of the gorgeous, impossibly stylish, probably famous (mostly) women wave, and shriek, and kiss, and embrace, demonstrating their insiderness, their preexisting affinities, the way they already belonged in this chic and trendy room.
Here is a tiny bit more background on me: I am pretty introverted, and I’ve never lived in New York City.
I’m not the world’s best networker—I’m shy, quiet, and awkward around strangers. But I want to meet new and interesting people, especially those who have the potential to share so many of my passions. I really wish that the Jubilee had done a better job of facilitating connections and introductions between people who didn’t already know each other. I have no idea what percentage of their audience this would have benefited, but I don’t see how it could have hurt. I wonder if there was a way they could have used the non-presentation time to do this. Perhaps at lunch there could be designated locations for connecting with people in particular fields/with particular interests—a room for restaurant industry networking, a room for culinary networking, a room for journalist networking, etc. Yes, some attendees would have ignored this and just talked to people they already knew, but those of us who were new to the room and unattached could have used some help. (On a related note, it would have been nice to know a little more about the demographics of the conference—were the majority of the people there actually veteran restaurant industry professionals from New York, or did it just feel like it?)
And then there were the panels. It’s wonderful to see so many super smart, savvy, and successful women up on a stage talking to each other and to a group of interested people. But thought-provoking these conversations were not. The default mode seemed to be early 2000s motivational speaker, the questions posed by moderators to panelists were the very definition of softballs (“What inspires you?” “What’s your favorite meal?” “Beatles or Stones?”), and the only thing with any real life in it seemed to be the jokes. Don't get me wrong; I’m all for jokes, but I thought there would be some Big Ideas and Tough Questions on the docket here. The Cherry Bombe Twitter account seemed to be trying to make the conversations appear weightier than they actually were. I don’t think the question of whether modernist cuisine is gendered was really touched upon at all, for instance, although that’s a fascinating thing to think about and I would have loved to hear it addressed. And it’s not as if there aren’t relevant, interesting conversations going on in the contemporary food/gender world. I think some discussion of the recent kerfuffle during Food52’s tournament of cookbooks, The Piglet, would have been a perfect topic for a roomful of women cooks and cookbook authors, for just one example. And while I can understand why they might be wary of inviting any dissent in the ranks, the sheer breadth of participants in the Jubilee felt like it should have precipitated more interesting frictions—what can Dominique Crenn say to Ina Garten, for instance? What might have happened if a paleo proponent was put on a panel with a vegan baker? How does the narrative of the famous and established TV chef compare to that of the up-and-coming social justice crusader/food truck owner?
There were some other provocations I saw poking at the edges of these sleek and well-groomed “conversations” trying to get in—issues of who is on stage, who is speaking, and what they are being asked to say; issues of women’s bodies in the dialogue about work and food; some strange trends in the buzzwords and the larger-scale concepts that the presenters leaned on ("authenticity," "actualization," "revolution"). Without a doubt there were also genuine highlights and people I very much enjoyed hearing from, including Charlotte Druckman, Jordyn Lexton, Padma Lakshmi, and Jordana Rothman. But for a variety of reasons, I was left wanting more. I love the work Cherry Bombe is doing in the magazine, on the podcast, and in much of their social media. Unfortunately, I don’t think that work was fully represented in the Jubilee, which was more of a beautiful, stylish, fluffy little cool kids love-fest. Maybe I’m just bitter because I don’t fit in, but I don’t think many important and lasting conversations are going to come out of last Sunday. And to be completely fair, maybe that’s not what it was meant to be.
That brings me to my big question: Are there other, better places where people are coming together to discuss issues of food and gender? If you know of any, please let me know. I attended a one-day symposium at MIT earlier this year on “Consuming Food, Producing Culture: Past and Present Worlds of Food and Gender” which had some issues if its own, although it was certainly heavier on the Big Questions and lighter on the haute style than the Jubilee. I’d love to find a place where these conversations are going on that acknowledges the nuance, complexity, and depth of the topics without straying completely into academic abstractions. If you have recommendations for books, articles, blogs, conferences, or people to look into, please leave them in the comments or email me!
In any case, thanks very much for reading and WELCOME TO MY BLOG! I promise it will not always be quite this critical. In fact, today’s tirade will be followed up by a much less wordy/whiny one on the *other* things I did in NYC this weekend as the first entry in what will hopefully be an ongoing series of travel posts, so please check back soon.
Cherry Bombe magazine