Until now, food stories have tended to lack the gravitas of, say, big investigative pieces on government graft. Maybe that’s because food security in this country is pretty solid. There’s an abundance of things to eat (though, arguably, not enough of it is nutritious), and even with the food scares of late, our supply is generally quite safe. But with the world’s population expected to climb to 8.5 billion people in about thirty years, food production will need to rise by as much as 2 percent annually—and the earth already has one billion malnourished residents. Our need to feed ourselves, and the impact of that demand on our landscapes and lives, will likely complicate the role of food reporting in years to come. Certainly the current global crisis has made it clear that food coverage has to go way beyond anything we’ve done before.
The food writers of yore waxed beautifully and meaningfully about what we eat and how. But as much as, say, M. F. K. Fisher did for food consciousness, she was not a journalist, nor did she try to be. Today’s food reporters face a different challenge.
It used to be that we humans spent hours each day looking for food. Many of us, myself included, still do—only it’s not for survival, and we do it with a keyboard, or by flipping the pages of a magazine or newspaper. We can only guess at the roots of the phenomenon. It probably comes from some deep need to connect with life, with the earth, especially in an age of such thorough alienation from what sustains us. In any case, it has engendered reams of lovely, enriching stories about perfectly crusty bread and spectacularly inventive chefs.
Much of this food porn is great—truly delectable stuff. Still, it seems that all of the recipes, the celebrity chefs, and the collective food fetishes are a portal to something else. We have built entire media economies on food, and now we’ve found ourselves facing a food reality with consequences, one that actually matters.
It’s a new story. Time to dig in.