Vittles Season 6
Food and the Arts, Pitching Guide, Normal Country, Vittles Paris?
Good morning and welcome to Vittles!
A Vittles subscription costs £4/month or £40/year and will do until The Full English podcast finishes, when it will increase to £5/month and £45/year to reflect additional costs. If you’ve been enjoying the writing then please consider subscribing to keep it running — it will give you access to the whole Vittles back catalogue, all episodes of The Full English, all the new columns coming up this year, generally improve your life and make your hair grow back.
I’m very proud that Vittles is able to to publish more diverse, more ambitious writing than most legacy UK food publications, all while operating on a lower budget, without any advertising or investors, and also while paying its contributors more. If you’ve been considering a subscription recently, then please do take one now to support it and ensure it continues to grow!
A year ago this month, I went to Groundswell – a regenerative farming conference based on a farm outside Stevenage – and had the idea for what eventually became Season 5 of Vittles, which ended last week just in time for Groundswell 2022! This year, I will go again, just a little more clued up, a lot more invested in the minutiae of heritage wheat, and with even more I know I have to learn.
I hope this season has done something similar for you, connecting frayed strands of things you know well with things you didn’t know you always wanted to learn about: deep dives into the production of chocolate, black pudding, smoked salmon, grouse, mutton and whisky; looking at farming through the lens of mental health, urban spaces, language, dying traditions, linguistic history and leftist politics; complicating production by asking who produces taste, value and quality; and how national foods are often industrially produced, from biscuits and bottled amba, sugar and spice, to Worcestershire sauce and everything Gregg Wallace stands for. As someone whose writing often focuses more on consumption rather than production, this season has been something like a crash course. To those who already live it, I hope you found the articles reflected your lived experiences, and for those who don’t, I hope that you take some of what you’ve read here over the last six months into your own life and projects.
This has been the most academic of all the Vittles seasons so far, a strand of food writing I don’t always enjoy but I love when it’s done well: such as the work Gastronomica publishes, or the papers that get submitted each year at the Oxford Food Symposium. It is the symposium, funnily enough, that has unwittingly formed my thinking on what the next season might be, ever since I read that the topics each year always vacillate between the literal and the abstract to keep things interesting (so a season on Seeds might be followed by one on Power, one on Herbs and Spices followed by Imagination.) Food production is maybe the most literally ‘about food’ season imaginable, therefore the next season has to be equally as abstract.
This is why I’m excited to say that Season 6 is going to be Food and the Arts.
The Friday Columns
But first, some other news.
Over the last year, the Friday slot has become less like my unfiltered blog and now operates more as a publication within a publication. My goal this year is to build Friday into a more ambitious publication separate from Monday, and move it away from being solely London restaurant writing to articles that cover the whole of the UK (and beyond).
The columns that are already running will continue as they are, and Ruby Tandoh will start Incidental Eating, as announced last season. However, there will be a new column open to anyone in the UK called Normal Country, covering vernacular and everyday food culture across the entire nation. Red Wall Feasts will still run, but as a subsection of this column. To get an idea of the pitches I’m looking for, please read the original call out for Red Wall Feasts or the Hyperregionalism season. I’m interested in articles about the uniqueness of place and the ways in which regionalism manifests in a globalised country. If you’ve felt that most national restaurant writing doesn’t cover your area well, then this is your excuse to pitch! The fee for all Friday newsletters is £400.
For those in London, this doesn’t mean less writing. Rather, when the articles come, they will be much larger deep dives and guides into London food culture, similar in scope to the South Asian guides or the Worst Value Restaurants in London. The next project, for instance, will be a bumper guide to London pubs.
Oh, and I’m also now Vittles’s Paris correspondent (more on this another time).
Please send all pitches for Normal Country to email@example.com
Now Under New Editorship
It is my aim that with every additional season, this newsletter does something that it couldn’t do before, whether it’s long reads, columns or podcasts – both for my sake and for yours! It stops us both from getting complacent.
From the start of Vittles in March 2020 to now, the newsletter has changed attritionally to the extent that it is a very different entity to my initial conception of it, even though it feels like not much has changed and that the core of what it does remains more or less the same. With this season, I want to fast-forward this process of change. In fact, pretty much everything I’ve done in the last year has been working towards this step.
I have always described Vittles as a magazine, despite its lack of physicality. I love magazines and their collaborative nature, between writers, illustrators, artists and editorial directors. Magazines are teamwork, not Great Novels. They are also, for the most part, completely unprofitable and a create huge amount of stress. So, lately I have been thinking about what I like most about magazines and to make that more a part of what this newsletter does. And the first thing a magazine needs is a team.
I’m delighted to announce that from this season onwards, Vittles will be edited as a trio by Sharanya Deepak, Rebecca May Johnson and myself. Sharanya and Rebecca are both phenomenally talented writers and editors (you can find the proof for this in previous Vittles articles and their writing outside of it) — I’ve never had anyone else in mind for the roles from the moment I knew Vittles needed to grow. It’s always nerve-wracking to relinquish control of things you’ve started, and I’m not going to lie that there isn’t part of me that would like to cling on to power like a corrupt, elderly dictator, but I know I’m very lucky to have both of them on board. Sharanya and Rebecca are going to bring many qualities to Vittles that I have not and cannot bring, and from our preliminary conversations it’s obvious that Season 6 is going to be a leap forward in what this newsletter format can do. At the very least, it will decentralise London as the locus of Vittles: we can now truthfully use the tagline ‘London, Delhi, Harwich’.
By the way, this sentence will also hopefully be the last time I write to you directly as the sole editor of Vittles. Watch us now as we assimilate into the Vittles Borg!
Season 6: Food and the Arts
Any season on food and art has to first define what art actually is, which is perhaps a whole essay in itself. So while we don’t make any claims to say what art definitively is, nor are we interested in doing so, to make the season’s theme as expansive as possible we have decided to name it ‘Food and the Arts’ to be clear that our definition is not limited to paintings or what might get shown in an art gallery. It extends to sculpture, music, architecture, film, photography, sound installations, literature, poetry, handicrafts, traditional and nontraditional manufacturing of things that surround food, artistic practitioners who use food itself as a medium in making visual art and probably many other things that we haven’t yet even considered. Perhaps the only real criteria we have is that the person or people making the work consider it to be a form of artistic or creative expression.
For us, art goes beyond the exclusively and straightforwardly didactic, explanatory or instrumental – though those things can be aspects of artistic work. Art has an affective power on the bodies of those who encounter it; there may be mystery or ambiguity and emotion – and meaning might not be present in a straightforward way. It is through the encounter of viewers, listeners and readers that art – visual, audio/musical, literary – develops its significance. There is a political dimension to the production of art – how it is made, by whom, when, and how its status and meaning evolves through time and depending on who views it.
Therefore, for this season we are interested in essays (considered in the widest possible sense) that explore the presence of food within different artistic media. We want these essays to tease out emotional content, textures, political potencies and each writer’s personal responses. Rather than a straightforward ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ argument, we want rich critical explorations, though that could also mean an ode or a paean. We are also looking for pieces where the medium is itself the art. This means, for the first time, Vittles will be open to submissions of fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, music, audio and film, as well as pieces in translation, or where translation itself is the creative act. Magazines can do many things a newsletter cannot, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exploit what a newsletter can do. If we can find a way for it to work on Substack, we would love to see submissions of visual art or mixed media work that use text and images (and maybe video, where possible), or other varied forms of expression as they might be proposed.
Whatever the medium, as always Vittles is interested in texts that explore questions concerning food itself – its production, consumption, histories and political entanglements, and how something grand can tell us more about smaller, unglamourous things. We want to combat the lustre that ensues when we think of both food and art: yes, it is delicious and beautiful, but food is also labour and growing and power, while art should be radical and signify the lives of those who participate in it.
There are many antecedents on the subject of food and the arts, so rather than write a precise pitching guide with exact instructions, we thought we should list some of the things that have inspired us by thinking about this season. Pitching guide as vibe.
Our thoughts on this season have been informed by, in no particular order: Granta’s 1995 edition on food writing; the descriptions of farming in Virgil’s Georgics; the Food and Imagination theme of the Oxford Food Symposium; Digesting Recipes: The Art of Culinary Notation by Susannah Worth; the food metaphors in Meatless Days by Sara Suleri; the work of the Fluxus art movement; the role food plays in Karukku by Bama; Raymond Antrobus’s poems in The Perseverance; Riaz Phillips’s poem ‘Your Food Smells’; imagining what artists and poets eat, the descriptions of teabags in Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain; the appearance of fruit in Mughal paintings; the food at the Isobar, Gordon Matta-Clark’s NYC artist-run restaurant FOOD…
Given that Sharanya is based in Delhi, we also want to concentrate more on South-Asian food culture that isn’t being covered in other outlets (including Vittles’s previous coverage on demotic Indian and Pakistani foods.) We want to cover more folklore and language outside documented forms, and examine how food is used to convey emotional and social landscapes. Folklore is often written about, and not written in, as a mode; we’d love to read pitches outside the usual realm of dictated Anglophone writing and what are considered the ‘correct’ forms of storytelling. As always with South Asian writing, we are disinterested in anything that glorifies the lineages of the powerful or conceives of South Asia in polarising terms that conform to geo-political biases (India as colourful glitz! Pakistan as grim and troubled!) The big exception to this are plunges into ridiculous rich people things, which are always extremely welcome.
While Vittles’ non-fiction essays are, as usual, worked on from pitch to completion through a editing process, fiction submissions will be taken more or less completed, with minor editing. We have decided to cap submissions at 3,000 words, with no minimum submission length, but like with anything we publish, this is arbitrary and may be overruled on a whim.
All pitches should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (please note, this is a new email address.) We expect a high volume of pitches for this season, but we promise to get back to each one we receive within a month.
Terms and Conditions
The base rate for a whole newsletter for writers will now be £600, while rates for individual pieces will be worked out individually at something close to 40p per word.
Illustrations, where possible, will be £250 per newsletter. However, we’re also very excited to announce that for the first time Vittles will have a primary illustrator, Sing Yun Lee, whose work as the character Sinjin Li we have loved ever since their first illustration for Vittles on the food in Ursula LeGuin’s novels. We’re aware that this will mean fewer opportunities for other illustrators (and we will be commissioning illustrations outside of Sinjin when we feel the article needs it), but we are also looking forward to the newsletter having a more coherent visual language across the whole season.
Inspired by the work of one of our favourite online magazines, Pipe Wrench, we would also like to offer a contract to all freelance writers and illustrators who work with us. As writers ourselves, we are well aware of the precarity that comes with working with publications, whether large or small. We’d like to make a commitment in writing to continuing all the things Vittles already does: whether that’s being transparent about rates, paying on time (usually within a day, sometimes within minutes), offering good kill fees, or making sure every writer knows they own the copyright to their writing. We will be drafting a contract over the next few weeks and making it public when it’s ready.
Vittles would like to thank everyone who contributed to Season 5.
M.Z. Adnan, Robbie Armstrong, Kareem Arthur, Joseph Attlee, Ben Benton, Meg Bertera-Berwick, Barclay Bram, Alex Christian, Sharanya Deepak, Sebastian Delamothe, Jess Fagin, Lauren Fitchett, Max Fletcher, Justin Gayner, Charlie Harding, Josh Harrison, Joel Hart, Aimee Hartley, Lucy Haslam, Hester van Hensbergen, Rosanna Hildyard, Max Jones, Ada Jusic, Lily Kelting, Frank Kibble, Giuseppe Lacorazza, Sinjin Li, Valerie Littlewood, Heedayah Lockman, Reena Makwana, Kathryn Maude, Mina Miller, Teresa O’Connell, Natasha Phang-Lee, Olga Prager, Katie Revell, Jenn Rugolo, Kate Ryan, Jonah Schulz, Samia Singh, Christian Sleiman, Alia Wilhelm, Michelle Wong, Sean Wyer
An additional thank you to Sharanya Deepak, Rebecca May Johnson and Meher Varma for editing.
Thanks to Charles Baker and the whole team at The Fence for co-producing Forman’s Games.
Thanks to Jonathan Shainin for inspiring the seed of Season 5.
A huge thank you to Sophie Whitehead and Liz Tray, who shaped every word, dot and punctuation mark published on Vittles.
And thank you so much to everyone who has subscribed to Vittles for your support.
We will return in a few months!
SD, RMJ + JN