At the 2018 Food Tank San Diego Summit, Danielle Nierenberg moderates a panel discussion on the importance of storytelling in food and agriculture. The panel highlights the challenges food journalism faces in an increasingly online world as well as the transformative potential of storytelling for our food system.
Food journalists are grappling with changes to the way people are learning about food. Online review platforms like Yelp give any eater the opportunity to talk about what they’re served. Restaurant influencers make hefty sums promoting up-and-coming establishments on their social media accounts.
While allowing more people to shape the dialogue around food can empower individuals, several panelists highlight how this can make it difficult to grasp the full story about food. “Our biggest challenge is that there is this cadre of food bloggers in town,” says Michele Parente, reporter for the San Diego Tribune. “They’re talented, but they’re going to dinners around town for free and they never say a bad word about these businesses.”
Yelp reviewers have a tendency to focus on the final output of food—taste and presentation—rather than the stories that fall in between the farm and the table. “So much of it is about conclusions, not reasons,” says Michael Gardiner, Food Writer for San Diego City Beat. “As food reviewers, we give reasons and we give context.”
Telling the full story about food can have positive effects on our food system. Food intersects with issues like climate change, soil health, and obesity, and people who produce and prepare food play an important role in raising awareness and generating solutions. “These overlying issues need to be addressed through the story of food,” says Maria Hesse, Magazine Editor for the Edible San Diego. “And food is enticing.”
Ultimately, the transformative potential of storytelling around food falls on its characters—the people who produce and consume it. “Telling stories has always got to be something that people can relate to. They need to be able to relate it to their own lives, they need to be able to see the effect of it, they need to be able to feel the effect of it, and ultimately that’s done through people,” says Gardiner.
Heather Lake, Broadcaster at Fox 5 San Diego, discusses how local San Diego chefs are bringing attention to the issue of food waste by finding innovative ways to incorporate food that would normally be discarded into their menus. Before hearing chefs talk about food waste, she didn’t understand the magnitude of the problem. Now, she’s able to bring the problem—and solutions—to her viewers.
“I just hope to find more ideas, and better ideas, that get families around the table at the end of the day and solve solutions to food problems,” Lake says. “Luckily, I get to share that.”
You can view the panel discussion below: