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Special needs vs. just plain terrific

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Looking at the sample section Sir Klc posted, I noticed articles about fast and easy meals, low calorie meals, etc., which I usually skip, having already internalized the basic tenets of both types of cooking. And I'm sure those articles are boring as all hell to write after a while. But does the public demand them? If you try to include recipes that take more than 30 minutes, and use perhaps a little more than a pat of butter, do you get angry letters in protest? In general, how to you balance the needs of your audience?

Many thanks,


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Gee, I don’t think of that section in that way, if you’re talking about the one of 5/15. We had a lead on grilled chicken for Memorial Day. But we did have one low-fat article, and I confess I thought to myself, as I proofread the recipes for that issue, “I can keep the low-fat police off my back for another  three months.”

But you’re absolutely on target: what is the role of a food section here? To chaperone people? To educate them? To entertain them. To browbeat them? To please them?  I keep a  stack of cookbooks in my office, targeted for those with special needs: diabetes, cancer, migraines, pregnancies, fibromyalgia, gluten allergies., migraines just to remind myself of all of the many requirements out there. And we try and we try to think of ways to use these recipes in stories except that …. In general, the recipes are awful,  just awful.  

Plus, we live in a city populated by The Food Police.  Lobbyists, special interest groups, government agencies, advocates, proponents, trade associations. Every week we get faxes of foods we shouldn’t eat, endangered foods, scientific findings, government reports. And we could fill the section every week with information that would drive people away from food.

So I go back to my mantra: Good Stories.  We’ve written stories about portion control (what does 4 ounces of meat look like and why you don’t need 8 ounces), about the colorful diet (a sane way of visualizing the unvisualizable government food pyramid), about the antioxidant values of  blueberries, about good books that help guide readers who have weight problems (“A New Way to Cook” by Sally Schneider), and about the 3000 ways you can cook salmon or lean chicken.

My hope always is never to marginalize readers, never to say: This is a story for Vegetarians, This  is a story for Those With High Cholesterol, or Those Who Observe Passover or Those Who Celebrate Christmas. Instead, I try to take account of those needs, preferences,  observances with Good Stories:  Great local chefs cook all vegetarian entrees from their gardens, potato latkes (Hanukah), standing rib roast (Christmas).

And I also feel strongly that there’s only so much you can do if people won’t take intellectual responsibility for their diets. We run what I think is an appropriate number of stories about nutrition. But every week we also run a nutritional analysis with every recipe: you can see exactly how much sodium, how many grams of fat, how much sugar is in each recipe.  But some people want stories just for them, a story all about low-sodium diets, or peanut allergies. And some vegetarians will never be happy unless we have a weekly column written by a vegetarian.

I’m just glad I don’t have to cook dinner for all of these people tonight

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