anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Posts Tagged ‘food writing

Soleil Ho

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“…you can choose to continue learning about perspectives that aren’t your own: “I don’t know” isn’t an end, but a beginning.”

-Soleil Ho

Food can be a unifying force. It can also be a divisive one. Through food we carry memories, experiences, people. What we eat and what we make often tells a story of who we are. Food is also a lens and a bridge to so many other topics, an entry point to tackling the critical issues of our time–like gender, class, and race.

Soleil Ho is doing just that. You may know her from her podcast Racist Sandwich, or now in her position as the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. She’s a self-described “ethno food warrior,” and she’s using this platform of food as a way to challenge people to rethink their perceptions, their assumptions, and their judgements about people, food and in turn, culture.

Growing up in New York, she spent over a decade working in restaurants. Her grandparents came to the United States as refugees from Vietnam, and that family history has informed her work. She has been diligent about showcasing how embedded racism and oppression is in food, writing pieces on food assimilation, how white chefs win most food awards, a restaurant chain that tried to ban Hawaiian businesses from using the word “aloha,” how to avoid cultural appropriation, and the outdated concept of colonial food. As she wrote in her review of Le Colonial, a French-Vietnamese restaurant, “nostalgia is a blurry lens through which we can view history. We often rewrite it so that the hard, inconvenient parts are pushed to the sidelines in favor of what makes us feel good.”

Food criticism has always been a mostly white and male dominated profession, and her position as the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle offers the opportunity to bring an entirely different lens to looking at restaurants, one that’s more holistic and honest about what making and serving food means. As The Washington Post wrote in a profile of Ho, “Having traversed both sides, she’s uniquely positioned to tackle some of the most pressing issues in the food world, some of which were themes in her first reviews: What’s the difference between appreciation and appropriation? What’s the true cost of food and the labor to produce it? How do we make the restaurant industry more equitable, more accessible, more just?”

These are essential questions, because they are not just questions about what we eat, they are also questions about who we are as a culture, where we have put our values, and how we might challenge ourselves to not avoid the inconvenient parts of history (as well as those of modern day) but to acknowledge harsh realities and build a better system moving forward.

I am so glad that Ho took time to answer some questions for the Women’s Wisdom Project, and I hope that perhaps she might challenge you to start thinking a little differently about what’s on your plate, and your own connections to food.

What does wisdom mean to you?

The way I try to act out wisdom is through silence: really considering my words before I speak so that I can stand by everything that I say. To me, it’s also accepting that I don’t know everything and making sure that, to the best of my ability, I consult with others and do my research before talking about things that are new to me.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

After the trial that let George Zimmerman off for the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2017, filmmaker Tanya Steele wrote an incisive and real essay about the constant work that Black people need to do to look harmless to white strangers. There’s a line from the piece that I keep going back to: “I will stop contorting my being to accommodate white neuroses. That’s my new civil rights movement.”

Your work includes being a chef, podcaster, writer, and restaurant critic. What would you say is the driving force behind what you do? Is there a common thread that ties all of those things together? 

Each of those roles was motivated by the acknowledgement that food — like many cultural productions — is an easy way for us to talk about bigger things. A chef knows this because food (and by extension music, decor, language) is part of how they tell their own story. I see my role as a writer and critic as respecting the thought put into that by interpreting and analyzing what those values mean in our social contexts. There is so much that lies beneath the surface of our most minute actions and interactions; revealing the breadth of what everything means is the point of my job, in my mind.

You’re currently working as the SF Chronicle food critic. The Washington Post has referred to you as the “third wave” of food critics. Does working in an industry with such a long history that you are consciously working to change feel like a lot of pressure? And along those lines, how do you see the food media landscape shifting and how would you like to see it continue to evolve?

It does feel like a lot of pressure! If you’ve been working to diversify your field and then become that diversity, the pressure to perform excellently is enormous. I think that thought about food has become more rigorous and serious — no longer an escape from politics — thanks in part to the burgeoning interdisciplinary Food Studies work in academia, and that excites me. With that in mind, it’s also really important to not just discount the work that’s been done in the field prior to that professionalization: people outside of academia and the professional critic class have understood how food could serve as an apt metaphor for social issues for a very long time. So many indigenous and marginalized organizations around the world have historically focused on food sovereignty as a way to galvanize their communities.

Through your podcast Racist Sandwich and your writing you have focused on food as a lens for tackling important issues like race and gender. Why do you think food is a good vehicle for doing this?

Food makes for an excellent starting point for a Socratic way of getting to the politics of everything. Why are you eating this? Who made it? Why do you call it X? Where did it come from? Who harvested this?

How do we work to better amplify marginalized voices, whether that’s in food or elsewhere?

A good thing to always remember is that you can choose to continue learning about perspectives that aren’t your own: “I don’t know” isn’t an end, but a beginning.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

You’re gay!

You can also sign up for Ho’s weekly San Francisco Chronicle newsletter, Bite Curious

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

October 9, 2019 at 08:16

I Am Launching a New Quarterly Print Publication!

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Comestible by Anna Brones

It could be considered moderately crazy to launch a print publication, but I finally decided to take the leap on a creative challenge that I have been thinking about for over a year: a print quarterly dedicated to real food. The quarterly is called Comestible and it’s launching this spring. I am both excited and nervous. But mostly excited!

Here is a little bit about Comestible:

In this day and age we are inundated with food media; glossy food magazines, elaborate food blogs, celebrity status chefs. But has all of this made us eat better? Not quite.

We live in a world of extremes, obesity and fast food on one end and the superfood craze on the other. Certainly there has to be something in between. This is where Comestible comes in. Part food narrative, part food guide, part cookbook, this is a journal devoted to real food.

Comestible is themed by season, based on the belief that we should all live a little more in balance with the natural world, not just because it’s what makes sense, but because it’s what’s good for us. There will be guides to what’s in season (think of it like a simplified Farmer’s Almanac) and how to put that food to use; the kind of guidebook you wish was available next to the farmers market stand when you’re wondering what to do with all those vegetables.

Ultimately, Comestible is a celebration of real food, accessible to real people. Simple, informative and fun, Comestible should inspire you to do more with your food. To cook something, the plant tomatoes, to build a beehive.

Comestible is about celebrating the one thing that sustains us and brings us together, no matter who we are or where we are in the world.

***

I am raising the initial print funds for the first issue on Kickstarter, and if you want to preorder a copy, I would be thrilled to have your support. You can pledge here.

You can also follow Comestible on Facebook. 

Written by Anna Brones

February 29, 2016 at 16:28

Wild Culture: A New Column Devoted to Fermentation

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I am excited to be launching a new column over on Paste Magazine, all about one of my favorite subjects: fermentation!

The first column is devoted to the subject of SCOBYs, the gelatinous looking organism that you have to have in order to brew kombucha at home. Amongst those who brew their own kombucha, I have found that many people have stories about their SCOBYs, as well as a sense of emotional attachment to them. One friend of mine even named his.

An excerpt:

Today we have a renewed appreciation for this old tradition, and people are taking to fermentation with fervor. Some of us get into baking sourdough with a starter and others launch into the world of pickling. But whatever kind of fermentation you do, there’s a high chance that you’re adamant about it.

Kombucha is the perfect example.

For many, kombucha has become a gateway drug into the world of fermentation. Fueled by an increasing interest in the health benefits of probiotics, the sales of kombucha have grown exponentially. Kombucha sales for 2015 are projected to be upwards of $500 million. But at one point or another we realize that our addiction to the bottles at the grocery store is becoming an expensive habit, and it’s high time that we brewed our own. This is the moment that we turn from kombucha fan to kombucha fanatic.

You can read the column here.

Image: Iris

Written by Anna Brones

October 6, 2015 at 10:20

Use Up Those Root Vegetables: Beet and Carrot Fritters (Plus Some Thoughts on Eating In Season)

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Use Up Those Root Vegetables: Beet and Carrot Fritters

This week on Foodie Underground I’ve got an easy recipe for Beet and Carrot Fritters, because we can never have too many root vegetable recipes. Especially this time of year as the winter winds down and we start to get sick just at the thought of them. But don’t worry, all that seasonal spring bounty (asparagus! radishes!) is just around the corner.

Speaking of which, I wrote an essay for Paste Magazine recently looking at what it takes to eat in season and locally. I spent a week really keeping track of everything that I cooked and ate, and the resulting essay is titled What If You Really Just Ate in Season?

Here’s a little excerpt:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Anna Brones

March 12, 2015 at 09:52

A New Column! And It’s All About Coffee…

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I am a bit behind on this announcement, but last week my new column for The Kitchn launched. And what is it about? Take a wild guess…

Coffee!

Titled “Smart Coffee for Regular Joes” the column is going to take on the coffee world, looking at the ins and outs of how to make coffee, exploring coffee culture in other countries, and celebrating the drink that so many of us love.

“Coffee isn’t just a drink, it’s a cornerstone of our everyday. A building block of our routines and our social interactions. Coffee fuels us.”

Read the first installment of the column and follow along in the discussion. What do you want to learn about in the coffee world?

Written by Anna Brones

April 7, 2014 at 07:30

What is Food Gentrification?

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Have you heard about the new term “food gentrification“? It’s this week’s topic on Foodie Underground.

“Food gentrification” started as a hashtag by writer Mikki Kendall, who wrote about the impact of turning ordinary products into trendy ones, and the ultimate social impact. “My grandmother was a master of turning offal into delicious, and I still use many of her recipes to this day. But now, once-affordable ingredients have been discovered by trendy chefs, and have been transformed into haute cuisine. Food is facing gentrification that may well put traditional meals out of reach for those who created the recipes,” Kendall wrote in January.

Just like rebuilding neighborhoods has shot up real estate prices and pushed out locals, rebuilding the food movement, putting certain common-day vegetables on a pedestal, in turn making them more expensive, is pushing people away from eating them.

There was a time when we all had access to fresh food and ingredients. Think back to our grandparents. There were few things available, but the things that were available were real food. There were vegetables, there was fruit and there were no Doritos. Often there was a garden. People ate real food simply because it was the only thing available.

Hop on over to Foodie Underground to read the full article.

Written by Anna Brones

March 19, 2014 at 12:08

When it Comes to Food, Are We Superficial?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about food and food marketing lately, and feeling a bit frustrated that we’re quick to hop on board and buy trendy foods instead of just eating what’s good for us. It’s the topic of this week’s Foodie Underground column.

“We like to accuse the industrial food world of using food marketing to keep people eating unhealthy, citing examples of sugar cereal that’s branded as part of a complete breakfast. But let’s not kid ourselves, the healthy food world does it too.

Take the example of superfoods. First of all, there is no exact definition of the word “superfood.” You can slap that name on any food that is power-packed with nutrients. Second of all, do you know where your superfoods are coming from? Sure, goji berries might be good for your health, but the majority of them are grown on industrial fields in China. We say we want to be locavores and then we go dousing our salads in berries and grains that are imported from across the world.”

Read the full article here.

Written by Anna Brones

February 26, 2014 at 09:26