The question of whether an awards competition designed to confer legitimacy upon food writing should honor a writer who doesn't have an editor, discernible code of ethics or known identity has reached Anthony Bourdain -- and he's seized upon the occasion to condemn food writers everywhere.
City of Ate last week first reported that food writers were trading opinions about Ruth Bourdain's nomination for a James Beard award, a topic of some interest here since RuBo's competing with our own Alice Laussade for the foundation's inaugural humor prize. Ruth Bourdain tweeted a link to the story, which was in turn picked up by a number of sites which cited its source. Anthony Bourdain, who scoffed at the notion that anything could "cheapen" food journalism, didn't bother.
Serious food writers credit their colleagues, and -- Bourdain's tirade notwithstanding -- they don't
"spend their hours and days writing about 'kicky new muffin recipes' or attending launches for bottled water, restaurant openings, and anywhere they can fill their plastic lined pockets with free food and swag."
As our sister paper The Village Voice smartly points out, Bourdain's guilty of exactly that: The same blog in which he excoriates food writers for freeloading ends with a shout-out to his buddy Michael White for making sure he's "well-looked after."
OK, so Bourdain isn't a serious food writer. But neither are the sycophants and moochers that Bourdain describes. Just as there are businessmen who warm up Sysco-made food and call themselves chefs, there are bloggers who show up at press events and call themselves writers. Those "writers" are no more likely to score a Beard nomination that the line cook at your local bowling alley.
What makes a Beard award prestigious is the commitment and hard work demonstrated by its nominees, who "spend their hours and days" thinking seriously about food culture -- or would if they weren't distracted by having to explain to publicists why they don't attend press events. A Beard award is a rare perk for food writers who seek out stories rather than belly up to free wine dinners.
James Beard Foundation committee member Kat Kinsman, who runs the show over at Eatocracy, took Bourdain to task for lumping all food writers under one dishonorable banner. Here's what Kinsman wrote in response to Bourdain's blog:
"As one of the 'Beardies' on the journalism committee that established the Humor awards this year, I'll note that if you're thinking that every last food writer out there is either in the 'zOMG Cuppycakes!' 'The sanctity of perfect pie crust' or 'Free gum! Please permit me to shrimp you!' category, I've got to wonder where the hell you're doing all your reading.
"Plenty of us have read our Britchky and Liebling, same as you. Plenty of us getting dirt under the nails -- or at least reporting on the farmers, workers and cooks who do -- doing what we can on teeny budgets. See Barry Estabrook up for 3 journalism awards? See the unnamed schnorrer you cited up for none? One brush should not tar all."