The Food Readers Organization

Previous Featured Authors

Previous Featured Author names are listed on the left side. Please click their name to visit their biography and food-focused Q&A.

 
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Dina Di Maio is the author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People. Di Maio has had a 20+ year career in writing and publishing. Her first short story with Italian themes was published in David Kherdian’s Forkroads: A Journal of Ethnic-American Literature at the age of 19. Ironically, David sent her a letter asking for her bio to let the readers know her experience--that she was “not 19…unless” she really was 19. Well, she was! She has had a long career since the publication of that short story, including another short story in Voices in Italian Americana. She earned an MFA in creative writing from NYU and has written and/or edited for Glamour, Family Circle, Time Out New York, Scholastic, the American Bar Association and more. Di Maio is also a lawyer in New York and Tennessee and was an author for the prestigious law guide, Vault Guide to the Top 100 Law Firms. 


Growing up in an Italian family with a rich food heritage, she has always had an interest in food writing. Living in New York City and taking advantage of the plethora of ethnic restaurants, food festivals, and markets also inspired her to write about food. She has interviewed Cake Boss Buddy Valastro and published a recipe in the women’s fitness magazine Oxygen.  She has taken food writing/blogging classes at the New School for Social Research and the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC.  She won a CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) award to study marine sciences in Maine and toured a lobster wharf and halibut hatchery, as well as ate fresh oysters from an oyster farm in the Damariscotta River.

 

For almost ten years, she has written a food blog all about her food adventures. The blog focused heavily on New York City, but now is primarily focused on Italian foods and traditions. Her blog is http://huntingfortheverybest.wordpress.com. You can reach Dina at Twitter @hunting4best.

What is your earliest food memory?

I have so many wonderful food memories of my childhood. Like many people, food and my childhood conjures up visions of my grandmother. She passed over ten years ago, but I still see her picking mint leaves in the backyard. She was the center of our family, and she was an excellent cook. I miss those trips to all the Italian specialty stores during the holidays—the fish market, the butcher, the bakery. Grandma made all the Christmas Eve fish like eel, baccala, octopus, calamari. Her kitchen was magical. I remember standing on a kitchen chair, watching as she kneaded dough to make bow cookies and struffoli. I watched as she used a fluted pastry wheel to cut the dough into strips. I would fold them into a bow shape as she taught me and then she would fry them. Oh, and I will never forget the smell in the house when she fried calzones or made a pot of tomato gravy on Sundays. We still make these foods, but somehow the memory of Grandma making them is much more potent. 

 

What does food mean to you?

This is a difficult question to answer because it means many things. Food is so much more than the act of eating. Food is memory, as we’ve just discussed. Food is tradition. It’s history. Food can be adventure—trying a new cuisine or type of food, or traveling to discover new foods. It can be art. I’m thinking of chefs like Jesus Nunez who created beautiful works of art with food, having been an artist and chef. Food is political. Food is economics. Food can be nourishing or it can be damaging. Food means many things. I love to study the Italian traditions tied to food. I like to read about food history from a sociopolitical/economic lens. And what is happening to our food today—the adulteration, the GMOs, the food allergies, autoimmune disorders, etc. It’s a complicated issue.

 

 

What is your favorite dish?

It’s funny. I’ve eaten at some of the best restaurants in New York City like Per Se, Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison Park, Daniel, but at the end of the day, it’s always my mom’s fusilli with tomato gravy and ricotta. So I think that I am very tied to food as keeping traditions alive.

 

 

What compelled you to get started in the food system industry?

First and foremost, a strong family connection to it. Food is such a big part of the lives of Italians. My great-grandfather had a restaurant in Italy and opened a butcher shop in the United States. His children had butcher shops and restaurants/pizzerias. Many relatives owned restaurants, including my parents. So it was a part of my life growing up. However, I wasn’t compelled to open a restaurant or work with food like going to culinary school. I always knew I was a writer from a young age. Writing about food came naturally because I was so tied to it.

 

What is your greatest/most memorable accomplishment? Did you have any hurdles? If so, how did you overcome them?

I’m very proud of my book, Authentic Italian. I researched this topic for years, and it can also be said, that it was a lifetime in the making because it deals with deeper topics than just “food.” I would say being a writer is in and of itself a hurdle. The writing landscape has changed in the 20+ years I have been doing it. I look at this through the eyes of a writer and lawyer. Writer pay has gone down. Writers have lost some of their rights. While at the same time, there are more avenues for writers to publish and self- publishing has made it so much easier for writers to get their stories out there.

 

If food was out of the picture, what profession would you like to attempt?

This is an easy one. I am a writer, always have been, always will be. I have written on other topics and will continue to write about other topics. There are so many things in this world that are interesting to me, I would not run out of content.

 

What advice do you have for the up and coming younger generation who are interested in getting into the food scene?

I think, as with anything else, it is important to do your research, learn everything you can about your subject. And persevere. You will be told “No” many times. But I have found that when one door closes, another opens. So it’s cliché, but stay positive and don’t give up. If you are passionate enough, that will shine through with the right audience.

 

Any parting words? How can we get in touch with you?

Yes, I think it’s important to control your own story. That’s what I hope to have accomplished with my book. The Italian people in the United States have contributed so much. They are much more than how they have historically been portrayed. They do not deserve the unfair characterizations in the media. And they do not deserve to have their foodways denigrated. I hope, by writing this book, that I have authenticated their experience. My grandma deserves no less.


I would love to hear from you. You can contact me on Twitter @hunting4best.

 
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Dr. Adrienne Rose Bitar is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of History at Cornell University and recent graduate of the PhD program in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford University.  She has been researching and writing about food topics for more than 10 years, beginning with her publication titled “Magic Metabolisms of Competitive Eating” on competitive eating while an undergraduate student majoring in American Studies at UC Berkeley.  

 

She recently completed her first book Diet and the Disease of Civilization published by Rutgers University Press.  The book analyzes hundreds of diet books published over the last century to reveal underlying philosophical themes about American identity, politics, and religion. Each chapter maps out an imaginary chronology of human origins, beginning with the Paleo diet, transitioning to the Eden diet and primitive diets, then ending with detoxification diets. All four genres raise the fundamental questions about human nature and human origins, asking “Who was natural man?” and “When did he live?”  Each diet provides a different answer, locating true human nature in the cave (Paleo), the garden (Eden), the world before colonialism and globalization (primitive), or the more recent environment before industrialization and pollution (detoxification).  

 

Her current research project is on the history and technology of meat analogues. Inspired by today’s revolutionary technologies of cultured or “clean” meat, she is working on uncovering the role of meat analogues in American political and military history.  She is particularly interested in how the American government pioneered the search for meat substitutes during war, beginning with Ulysses Grant’s search during the Civil War and Herbert Hoover’s campaign for soy substitutes and stretchers during World War I. 

 

She also has written for popular audiences on food topics in BuzzFeed, Bon Appetit and op-eds in Wall Street Journal (on locavorism), San Francisco Chronicle (on health promotion), and San Jose Mercury News (on child agricultural labor). 

 

She teaches interdisciplinary Food Studies courses and other courses such as that incorporate themes of health, nutrition, fitness, and the food industry. She is interested in interdisciplinary collaboration, speaking engagements, or writing opportunities. You can reach her at adriennerosejohnson@gmail.com or arj67@cornell.edu.  

What is your earliest food memory? 

My first food memory is of those splintery wooden spoons that come with tiny plastic cups of ice cream.  It’s an institutional food mainly – nursing homes, hospitals, places where hygiene is an issue and meals are partitioned on trays.  Something about the self-sufficiency and technology of the cup captured my imagination.  I remember feeling proud that I had my own cup, my own spoon, that the two worked together and they both belonged to me.  

I read not too long ago that ketchup is particularly important to children.  Children are so reliant on adults to dole out their food, moderate their portion sizes, dictate their meals that, when children are given ketchup, they take immense pride in their ability to control the condiment.  Ketchup is their independence.  They can squeeze however much they want, eat it according to their own appetites.  That may have been how I felt about the wooden spoon – that this was my tiny cup of ice cream, this was my splintery spoon, that I owned this and, to a degree, exerted control over my world. 

 

What does food mean to you? 

I approach food in two different ways.  First, I think we’re at a pivotal time in our food history.  New controversies and crises are hurled our way every day: the environmental impact of agriculture, the obesity epidemic, and the persistent tragedies of famine. The enormous promise of new food technologies like lab-grown meat are also poised to revolutionize the relationship of humans to the natural world. 

 

Second, food is a hugely rich source of cultural and historical meaning. Food offers a fruitful inroad to discuss the ideas which make the world worth thinking about: God and man, nature and culture, sin and salvation, history and the future, systems of government, humans and animals, and so on.  Food dramatizes the process of being alive – of having a body and feeding it, of living as an animal, of confronting the body and its many weaknesses.  When I looked at eating contests, I saw a theater of living; when I read diet books, I saw the stories help us make sense of our history and urge us to create a better future.  The Paleo diet is not just a plan to lose weight, but also a manifesto and manual to create a better world.

 

In both ways, food toggles between symbol and fact, a source of great cultural meaning and cause for critical political activism. 

 


What compelled you to get started in the food system industry? 

I quickly saw opportunities to join the discussion about food and culture in the United States. When I was first captivated by competitive eating, I was surprised to find a real lack of writing on the topic.  After all, competitive eating had been a spectacle and sport for over a hundred years.  Yet, despite its popularity, no one had seriously written about the sport and, once I decided to do it, I found real support from both academics and competitive eaters themselves.  I loved meeting and interviewing the eaters (gurgitators, as they’re sometimes called) and carried that enthusiasm to meeting other “subjects” like the many dieters I encountered while writing Diet and the Disease of Civilization. 

 

If food was out of the picture, what profession would you like to attempt?  

I’d be a writer, plain and simple.  One of the reasons I work on food topics is because the vocabularies keep changing: I love terms like gurgitator, detoxer, SAD (Standard American Diet), and all these bottom-up language innovations from the food world.  I love the interviewing, boots-on-the-ground aspect to my work as well.  Food truly is democratic and has introduced me to dozens of different subcultures – learning diet histories, food perspectives, dishes, ethnic histories, and so on.  I would be a journalist or writer, conducting interviews, following trends, and writing for a general audience. 

 

What advice would you have for the younger generation interested in getting in the food scene?

Since food studies is so broad and interdisciplinary, I’d narrow down your interest to a loose subfield.  Are you interested in food policy? Food and the environment?  Global nutrition issues like hunger and famine?  Food media?  Food trends?  Labeling? Technology? I’d read widely – for example, the work of Marion Nestle (especially Soda Politics) inspired me to look closely at food policy and Jeffery Sobal’s work led me to think closely about food choice and gender.   You could find these texts by searching for “food studies syllabus” online.  

 

Dozens of college syllabi reveal how food studies instructors segment their courses into broad themes like food art, global nutrition, infant feeding, immigration, and so on.  Choose a few syllabi and read through the recommended texts on Google Books preview to get a sense of the broad topic before committing to a few books.  

 

Any parting words?  How can we get in touch with you? 

Feel free to reach out to discuss my book Diet and the Disease of Civilization, diet books, diet history, weight loss, fake meat, or anything else food-related.  I also enjoy giving talks or guest lecturing for food classes.  My e-mail is arj67@cornell.edu and Twitter is @adriennebitar. 

 
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Joshua Sbicca is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University where he has worked for four years. His research focuses on contentious food politics, focusing on how social inequalities intersect with the food system and how social movements use food in their mobilization. He is particularly interested in urban food systems, the complexity of food movement organizing and networks, and the tensions inherent in trying to create food system change amid the pressures of mass incarceration, gentrification, racial stratification, and neoliberalization. Underlying these interests is an ongoing engagement with how activists and scholars articulate and practice food justice and what this means for building broad based social movements.

 

His first book, Food Justice Now!: Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle, is an investigation into the expanding food justice movement. The United States is a nation of foodies and food activists and yet their overwhelming concern for what they consume often hinders their engagement with social justice more broadly. Food Justice Now! charts a path from food activism to social justice activism that integrates the two. It calls on the food-focused to broaden and deepen their commitment to problems both within and beyond the food system. Focusing on carceral, labor, and immigration crises, it tells the stories of three California-based food movement organizations, showing that when activists use food to confront neoliberal capitalism and institutional racism, they creatively expand how to practice and achieve food justice.

 

He is currently working on an edited volume with Alison Alkon and Yuki Kato tentatively called Back to the City: Food and Gentrification in North America. It will explore three topical areas. These include how urban growth machines mobilize foodscapes for development, the loss of food spaces due to gentrification and displacement, and forms of food activism and food policy that resist and ameliorate gentrification.

 

The other major project in the works will look at the intersections between food and carceral politics. This will include the political economy of major prison food providers, conflict over food quality in prison, agriculture and food prison industries and labor, and strategies such as hunger strikes that prisoners use to fight for change.

 

He also teaches courses on the sociology of food and agriculture, food justice, social movements, and social problems.


For more information visit Joshua Sbicca’s website: https://joshuasbicca.com/. You can reach him at j.sbicca@colostate.edu. He is also on Twitter @joshsbicca .

What is your earliest food memory? 

I remember sitting on the carpet at the base of the stairs in my parent’s apartment when I must have been less than two years old. The memory presents itself like peering through a looking glass to find in my hands a Gerber’s baby food jar. This would have been 1983 or 1984. I don’t know how that jar made its way into my hands and I don’t actually remember eating the food. I just recall that I had food in my hands and the sense that this was something quite different from breastmilk. I was breastfed for the first year of my life, which I don’t remember, so maybe combined with my developmental stage the Gerber’s was striking? It’s strange to think about that memory with respect to the spread of industrial food and how our exposure to such foods in the United States begins at a very young age.

 

What does food mean to you? 

Food is a socioecological relation. Food is an embodiment of both social ingenuity and culture and ecological systems. As such it is a complex material object that connects and divides people. Food is one of those unique signifiers that can also stimulate discussion. It’s viscerality, coupled with how this interacts with memory, means that food is in a sense hardwired into our humanity. We have been telling stories about and through food for so long that there is a conviviality associated with the experience of eating. At the same time, food ultimately comes from the land (although there might be a debate about the production of jarred baby food). It ties us to ecological cycles, regional particularities, and a sense of place.
What compelled you to get started in the food system industry? 

 

What is your favorite dish? 

San Diego-style burrito, hands down! In all phases of my childhood, burritos were a constant. That fresh tortilla, filling of choice, pico de gallo, guacamole, and green and red hot sauce always made my day. I now live in Colorado and wish that someone could same-day send me a burrito from Juanitas in Encinitas, California.

 

What compelled you to get started in the food system industry? 

I’m currently an educator and scholar who teaches and studies topics related to food justice. However, my interest in food justice stems from participating in several campaigns in my late teens and early twenties. Two are particularly relevant. The first was a campaign that students and I waged while studying at Santa Clara University. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers called for a boycott of Taco Bell until they signed the Fair Food agreement. They visited colleges and universities all over the United States and students were one of many constituents that after four years, helped push Yum Brands, Taco Bell’s parent company, to sign the first-ever agreement. The second inspiration was the nationwide Killer Coke campaign of the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). Several other students and I attended the annual USAS conference and came back to Santa Clara University fired up about getting the Coca-Cola contract canceled, which we ultimately succeeded in doing.

 

So, at the end of the day, my interest is equitable social change. I use my research and teaching in the capacity of learning about pressing food and social inequities in order to figure out the best ways to achieve their elimination. There is a lifetime left of work to be done.  

 

If food was out of the picture, what profession would you like to attempt? 

Investigative photojournalist that covers protest movements, revolutions, and contentious politics. I would love to travel the world to cover closely these historic events! Even in the current social media era, where movements can bypass traditional communication channels, there is not enough daily coverage of one of the most important drivers of historical change: social movements.

 

What advice would you have for the younger generation interested in getting in the food scene?

Identify people who share similar values and goals. Speaking to my experience as a professor, while I was trained as a sociologist, I also engage with geographers, anthropologists, historians, and environmental studies and food studies scholars. Because my interests in food go beyond single disciplines, I like interacting with those asking similar questions and participating as scholars in public ways. In the context of higher education, there are also many other pockets of potential mutual association, from fellow students and professors to on-campus food workers and administrators. Making connections and showing up sets a solid foundation to build on no matter what your food-related goals may be.

 

Any parting words?  How can we get in touch with you? 

As an Australian who went by the name of Chicken once told me, “Life’s a garden. Dig it.” Feel free to reach out to me through email (j.sbicca@colostate.edu), Twitter (@joshsbicca), or my website (https://joshuasbicca.com/) to chat about food, social justice, and social movements. I am also available to give talks on food justice and food movements as well as guest lectures in classes that are using Food Justice Now!.

 
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Alicia Kennedy is a Long Island–born, Brooklyn-based food writer. Her work focuses on the intersection of food and politics, veganism, and spirits; it has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Splendid Table, Eater, and more. She is the food columnist for How We Get to Next, “a magazine of the future,” and host of the podcast Meatless, which features conversations with chefs and writers on issues around culture and meat consumption. Her vegan recipe column for Nylon will debut in February 2019.

What is your earliest food memory? 

Funny enough, considering I’m now vegan-plus-oysters, my first food memory is telling my grandmother I wanted lamb chops around age 3. When my grandfather walked in the door from work, she sent him right back out to get some that she could cook for me. Her influence on my very young life made me both a gourmand and a spoiled brat.

 

What does food mean to you? 

Food—specifically writing and talking about food—is the way I mediate the world. I don’t believe in some utopian political vision through which eating the various cuisines of the world we can somehow access world peace, but I do believe that honest conversation about the political, economic, cultural, and environmental implications of how we choose to eat can lead to the kinds of considerations that generate a mindfulness that perhaps leads to decisions that consider the entire food system, from root to farmworker to market.

 

 

What is your favorite dish? 

Raw Peconic Bay oysters, French fries, and a 50/50 gin martini with an olive.

 

What compelled you to get started in the food system industry? 

In my mid-20s, I started baking a lot, then I went vegan and tried to continue baking but realized I hated the quality of all the vegan fats on the market, and then I realized how much the origin of an ingredient, as well as every step it takes on the way to the consumer, is as important to flavor as the recipe. The quality of our food is dependent upon the health of the earth.

 

What is your greatest/most memorable accomplishment? Did you have any hurdles? If so, how did you overcome them?

The community created at the Food Writers’ Workshop, a one-day conference I organized with fellow writers Layla Schlack and Emily Stephenson, was pretty incredible. We sold out of tickets in one day and were able to create a really affordable day of education, with breakfast, coffee, lunch, and dessert provided, and recorded the four panels so that they’re accessible. Had we taken on sponsors, it would’ve been a smoother process overall, but we’re really happy to have kept it DIY and created an ad-free space for food writers to meet. We’re planning the 2019 edition now.

 

If food was out of the picture, what profession would you like to attempt? 

I’d write about books or I’d write fiction. I’m a writer before I’m a food person, but food is the thing I’ve found easiest to write about.

 

What advice would you have for the younger generation interested in getting in the food scene?

Listen to the panels from the 2018 Food Writers’ Workshop. Read. Cook. 

 

Any parting words?  How can we get in touch with you? 

Find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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Tia Keenan is a New York City-based writer, cook, cheese specialist, food stylist, and community organizer.  She writes the “Cheese Wisely” column for the Wall Street Journal, and is the author of The Art of the Cheese Plate: Pairings, Recipes, Style, Attitude (Rizzoli, 2016), Chèvre (Short Stack Editions, 2018) and Melt, Stretch, & Sizzle: The Art of Cooking Cheese (Rizzoli, 2018). Her pioneering restaurant-based cheese programs reinvented the cheese course and distinguished her as a creative force in the food industry. She oversaw the cheese program for The Modern, at the Museum of Modern Art, and pioneered the “cheese bar” concept by opening New York City's first cheese bar in 2007.  Her work combining an international selection of cheeses and unique house-made condiments shifted the paradigm of what a cheese plate could be, inspiring countless chefs, restaurateurs, and cheese professionals to re-think and expand their own programs.  Over her career, Keenan has worked on a broad range of food-based projects, from concept development for Walt Disney to restaurant and retail programs for Murray’s Cheese. Keenan’s work has been featured in various media outlets, including Food & Wine, The New Yorker, Parade Magazine, and The Food Network. Keenan currently co-leads NAWS (Neighbors Against White Supremacy), which works to engage white and non-black People of Color to challenge anti-black racism in themselves, and their communities, and to create intentional communities engaged in the multi-racial struggle for liberation. She serves on the boards of several organizations, including Ruminate, a non-profit that supports food systems with a conscience and fosters smarter connections between good people and good food, all through the lens of the cheese plate. She lives in Queens, New York City with her husband – award-winning sommelier Hristo Zisovski – their son, dog, and a small flock of backyard chickens. 

What is your earliest food memory? 

My earliest memory is breastfeeding, and I’ll tell you how I realized that: when I first started using my palate intentionally and rigorously in [cheese and wine] tastings, I realized that when I was identifying flavors I had “breastfeeding” as a mental note. I had a flavor associated with my mother’s breast that I would recognize in certain foods, deep in my flavor memory. To be clear, I don’t explicitly remember breastfeeding, but I had a certain flavor experience that my memory connected to breastfeeding. It’s a sweet and sour flavor that’s fleshy and sweaty and so overwhelmingly positive for me. 

 

What does food mean to you? 

Food is one of the ways I show love and care for people. Food is also a medium by which I’m able to connect to ideas and concepts about our society and culture. And on a very personal level, food is comfort. It’s something  - for better or worse – I’ve always found comforting. I eat when I’m lonely, or sad; I eat when I’m happy, and to celebrate. It’s also one of my creative mediums, and so it sustains me spiritually and bodily.  

 

 

What is your favorite dish? 

That’s such a hard question! Eggs are my favorite food, and that’s one of the reasons why I have four backyard chickens in my small NYC yard. It’s quite possible that a very fresh egg, fried in my great-grandmothers cast iron pan, is my favorite food.

 

 

What compelled you to get started in the food system industry? 

As a working class person, restaurants were an accessible industry for me to enter and grow in. At first, I was just trying to pay my bills and survive. As time went on, I realized food was the intersection of politics, memory, art, and love. Not much else matters to me, so here I am. 

 

 

What is your greatest/most memorable accomplishment? Did you have any hurdles? If so, how did you overcome them?

Healing, and continuing to heal from early childhood abuse and trauma is my biggest accomplishment. Having a family, being a community organizer, writing books, all of those accomplishments are possible only because of the work I’ve done inside myself to heal from some very deep wounds. That may be a surprising answer, but it’s the truth. Like every person coming from trauma, just finding space for myself and my needs was a big hurdle. 

 

 

If food was out of the picture, what profession would you like to attempt? 

I’d like to work in some kind of care and healing profession, maybe as a midwife or a therapist of some sort. 

 

 

What advice would you have for the younger generation interested in getting in the food scene?

Go where the creative working class and poor people are. If the work itself doesn’t inspire you, make sure the people you work with do. I ended up in food because that’s where the other creative working class and poor people were. I’ve never regretted that North Star. 

 

Any parting words?  How can we get in touch with you? 

People who have experienced hunger should be leading conversations about food systems.