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Taking food seriously

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In Britain and America, food is not generally regarded as a subject worthy of serious discussion. (I never tire of quoting your comment that “food writing’s guilty secret is its intellectual poverty.”) Thus, the few food writers who are very widely known in intellectual circles tend to be those who made their reputations in some other area.

Have you ever been invited to write for, say, the New York Review of Books, Mother Jones, The Nation, NY Times Magazine or any similar high profile mags? Do you think it would be worth making the effort through self-promotion? Or do you prefer the quiet life?

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

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This is a very difficult question. I have done some writing for major publications but on the whole it has not been very rewarding to me apart from financially (where it is VERY rewarding and which is why I still occasionally do it). I'm not really complaining here because part of it is my own fault. Almost all publications these days are editor driven, which is to say that pieces have to be shaped to that particular editor's taste. There are exceptions -- The New Yorker comes to mind -- but this is so much the case that you start to think that writers are so used to intuiting this that it doesn't make any difference even if it IS the New Yorker. To put it metaphorically: who would allow a television show that left many viewers in such a state that they threw their television out the window? You can do that still with a book. But I don't know any magazine that invites that kind of writing: it's always preaching to the converted. You could even argue that movies still get made that are equally provocative (I think, for instance, of Barbet Schroeder's OUR LADY OF THE ASSASSINS). Of course, Simple Cooking isn't in that league (!!) but I do feel totally free to write as I think about whatever I want, with the cost being simply some readers justifiably telling me to go....well, you fill that in. This probably sounds self-righteous, but the reason I chose the film I did was to indicate that this is not really what it's all about.

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