Good morning and welcome to Vittles!
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After the exploration of Food and the Arts in Season 6, we are turning our attention to a topic that, at first glance, might be considered its opposite: Food and Policy. This can often be a dry and daunting aspect of food writing, but we think it is crucial, since policy is – if we look around – everywhere. We want to take the approach that we took in Season 6 and think about policy expansively, looking at all the ways that it manifests in our lives – from the most intimate settings to large-scale ecological and geopolitical impacts, the hidden motivations behind policy-making and unintended outcomes.
Why policy rather than politics? Because ‘food is political’ has become an empty slogan. When people say ‘food is political’ they rarely add what those politics really are or talk about what policies and systemic transformations they think would help to ensure a fairer and more equitable food system. And yet every aspect of our eating lives is shaped by policy. The preservation of cuisines, new leaps forward in processing and our day-to-day eating habits can all be transformed by policies which are mostly unknown or impenetrable to us. While how we eat is still a matter of preference, income, heritage, pleasure and urban planning, it is also shaped by those who write those policies and hold the power to dictate how we live and eat.
Who decided what textures should be on biscuits, crisps and cereal?
Why does the flavour of a milk-based ice cream change over time?
How does the corporate control of fruits and vegetables change their presence in the world?
How do we come to associate some foods with childhood, sustenance and survival?
Why are things like rice and wheat considered ‘staples’ and who decided they are?
Between the three of us, we have lots of different thoughts on what ‘policy’ looks like, but we share the thought that by focusing on policy, it’s possible to reflect in concrete terms on the politics of food.
One way of approaching this season would be to look at a banal policy and extrapolate it, Butterfly Effect style, into an essay on how this seemingly insignificant law affects our everyday existence. These don’t need to be conclusive ‘policies’, but can be some kind of arcane legislative guideline that hinges on a percentage point. Many food policies are there to regulate new and emerging industries (think delivery, food AI, artificial meat), police authenticity (food definitions, PDOs, authentication) or ensure health (sugar taxes, hygiene ratings).
Policy can also be about land, marine ecosystems and the other places that food travels to and from before it reaches the plate. These laws, which are often hierarchical, can mean the systems that shift and affect ownership of land and produce, which often changes the shapes and form in which we consume food. Wartime rations, trade, corporate control and how food is affected by geopolitical changes are all seldom discussed in the main current of food writing but this is crucial to do, and it can be done in interesting ways. ‘Policy’ can also be something that is not in the remit of states and governments, and is an overarching social code, like in the case of South Asia’s patriarchal policing, class and, most crucially, the senseless, but ever-present ownership of caste.
We are very much interested in the political philosophies that lie behind food policies, e.g. the sugar tax and the kinds of society it intends to create. And, in that context, how ‘policy’ as a solution can be a dead-end for more ambitious political imaginations that seem intended to prevent people from thinking about the bigger picture. We are interested in hearing about utopian – or, perhaps, completely realistic – changes to policy (e.g. subsidies, land use, food production) that could improve people’s lives, but also how it might be part of a larger shift towards a different society.
Policy, for us, doesn’t mean we want to solely publish impersonal or academic essays (although, if you are an academic and want to write something more populist, here’s your chance!). We would love a mix of politics, everyday life and, well, policy, both related to contemporary times and history. Policies related to housing and how people cook in consequence to them, like cooking in communal spaces, squats, or housing types that do not allow cooking. How received understandings of what ‘normal’ foods look and taste like are derived from policies and lobbying at national and international levels, e.g. how EU laws on seed sales mean that some varieties go extinct. We want to read funny or moving or strange, everyday stories related to policy; memories and oral histories of different approaches being lived out in small ways.
Although the theme of the season is Food and Policy, this doesn’t necessarily mean the policy must be about food, nor does the essay need to concentrate on policy itself – rather this can be the route into the article. Neither does it have to be a written essay – we published both video and audio last season and would like to continue doing so! Whichever medium you work in, we would like these pieces not to simply unpack policies or give summaries and contextual explanations, but to think about how they intersect with life and food, and be precise in the policies that are chosen and the stories they tell. One recent article we enjoyed that uses that ploy is this Eater piece on what goes into bone broth, which ends up covering the most baroque food policy imaginable and goes down many delightful, recursive, ontological rabbit holes. We don’t want pieces that are dense and weighed down by data and explanations, but when required, we do want articles to use evidence from reliable sources to support claims. The tones of the essays for the season can be serious, funny, angry and moving, and we encourage writers to work in their own style. Our only request is from Sharanya, who would prefer to not read pitches about economic liberalisation in urban India. And a gentle reminder: we generally do not accept pitches about American issues.
Please send your pitches to email@example.com. We may take some time to get back to you, but we answer every pitch and try to give feedback and advice where we can.
Terms and conditions
The base rate for a Monday newsletter, which is normally between 2,000-2,500 words, will now be £800. This comes out to around 40p a word, a long term goal of ours, as it means Vittles is competitive with most legacy publications with many times the budget, all without advertising or outside funding. This does not mean that we will rest on our laurels. The writers we work with put in a huge amount of labour into every article and we will keep trying to increase the rate so it is commensurate with this. In a time when online media is imploding, and when so many writing jobs are poorly paid, we think it’s vital to be able to both pay fairly and be financially sustainable, so if you have enjoyed Vittles in the last year then please do consider taking out a subscription to fund more of the same.
The Season 6 to Season 7 Interim: Two New Columns
We expect the gap between Season 6 and 7 to be as long as last time, so we are going to fill the interim with two new rotating columns written by some of our favourite/dream writers — Edna Bonhomme! Anuradha Roy! Sheena Patel! Ruby Tandoh! Tom Usher! — so you don’t have to wait.
The first is Cooking From Life, our
first second ever recipe column.
People often complain online about recipe columns where you have to read a life story in order to get to the recipe. We fully intend for this column to be these people’s worst nightmare. Each will be written by a writer — often not a food or recipe writer — made up of a short essay that leads up to a recipe and will examine ‘subjective domesticities’. Cooking From Life will be a window into how food and kitchen-life works for different people, in different parts of the world, with different lives; cooking as refusals, heritage, messiness, routine.
The second column is The Hater.
We used to be a country of professional haters, but lately in the food world – particularly the London Food World, whose renewable fuel is hype for mediocrity – there is no longer much room for real hating. And yet, there is so much in the food world right now worthy of some real hatred.
By hating, we don’t just mean hyperbolic negative reviews for Mayfair restaurants that no one but the ultra-rich are ever going to go to, but creative, generative critiques of social mores and homogenous trends that we all observe day to day. The essays we have planned are written by both haters and observers of hating, and we hope to get more veteran haters on board before the start of Season 7.
There will also be another column, not The Hater or Cooking From Life, but a secret third thing. You’ll have to wait until next Monday to find out about it.
There will be a paywall on some of the columns, so if you want to read all of them then, again, please subscribe.
Goodbye to Season 6, and thank you.
We all loved working on Season 6 and we’re thrilled that so many of you wrote in or told us that this has been your favourite season so far. We published essays on poetry, painting, memoir, folk song, pop music, dance, epic verse, classical music, architecture, design, protest songs, vernacular graces, tattoos, adverts, British literature, religious song, still life, manga, pottery, printmaking, Japanese literature, packaging and TikTok. We published compilations of food as art and food in art. We published short stories, sound art and commissioned essays on film in the medium of film. It has been a joy to put together and many thanks are in order to the people who made it possible.
We would like to thank our writers: Vida Adamczewski, Daniyal Ahmed, Joel Blackledge, Barclay Bram, Hugo Brown, Jen Calleja, Kambole Campbell, Tice Cin, Mark Corbyn, Roisin Dunnett, Thom Eagle, Abi Finley, Deborah Finley, Chris Fite-Wassilak, Ophira Gottlieb, Virginia Hartley, Angela Hui, Rachel Karasik, Amy Key, Andrew Key, Frank Kibble, Ana Kinsella, Huw Lemmey, Georgina Leung, Megan Luddy O’Leary, N.A. Mansour, Steph Marsden, Nina Mingya-Powles, Daniel Neofetou, Matt O’Callaghan, Aiman Rizvi, Bethany Rutter, Amandeep Sandhu, Louis Shankar, Philippa Snow, Jelena Sofronijevic, Ruby Tandoh, Sangeet Toor, Deirdre Tynan, Aaron Vallance, Ben Vallance, Rachel Vallance-Pegg, Kevin Vaughn, Digby Warde-Aldam and Farah Yameen.
A special thanks to Steph Marsden, who came up with the idea for the Tell Me About Your Food Tattoos newsletter, Joel Blackledge, who edited the Redefining the Food Film series, Abi Finley and Tice Cin for their beautiful recordings, Megan Luddy O’Leary for her artwork and Samia Singh, Harry Vallance and Klaussie Williams for their wonderful illustrations.
Many thanks to Okka and the team at Modern Poetry in Translation who allowed us to republish food poetry from around the world. We would like to thank the translators who gave us the permission to use their work: Eric Abalajon, Salma Harland, Mohammad Shafiqul Islam, Archana Madhavan, Ro Mehrooz, Hubert Moore, Yolanda Morató, André Naffis-Sahely, Nasrin Parvaz, Niina Pollari, Ian Rowland, Csilla Toldy and Ryan Van Winkle, as well as all the poets – dead and alive – whose work was reanimated into English.
The biggest thanks of all are to the two people who have kept this season looking pristine: Sinjin Li for their consistently astonishing art and Sophie Whitehead for her creative sub-editing and thorough fact-checking.
Thank you so much for reading and supporting Vittles in the last year and helping us to grow. We will be announcing another major change next Monday and publishing the first columns the week after. Season 7 will happen when it happens.
Vittles Season 6 was edited by Sharanya Deepak, Rebecca May Johnson and Jonathan Nunn
Sharanya Deepak is a writer and editor from and currently in New Delhi, India. She writes about food, language, the commodification of culture and is currently writing more essays. Her work has been published in Orion, Eater, Vittles, Popula, Atlas Obscura, Wasafiri, Longreads, Roads and Kingdoms, FiftyTwo, The Believer and The Baffler among others. In October 2020, she won the Wasafiri new writing Prize for her essay "Seamless". In 2022-23, she was a fellow at One World Media, and South Asia Speaks. She is currently working on a book of essays.
Rebecca May Johnson is a writer and editor based in Essex. Her first book SMALL FIRES : An Epic in the Kitchen was published in August 2022 by Pushkin Press (UK) and was shortlisted for Foyles Nonfiction Book of the Year 2022. It will be out in the US on June 6th 2023 (pre-order here). Rebecca is also the editor of the dinner document newsletter, which contains short essays, diary entries and recipes in text and audio.
Jonathan Nunn is a writer and editor based in London. His writing about food, cities and restaurants has been published in The Guardian, 1843 Magazine, Critical Quarterly, Tribune, Eater London, Prospect, Dezeen and Frieze. He founded Vittles in March 2020, and his first book as editor, London Feeds Itself, was published with Open City in September 2022.
Hi, I have a topic I'd like to pitch to you. It's about street food and policy in SE Asia. What's the best way to reach you with pitches?
Got permission to use those actors’s images? Not Fair Use.