A recent post by Amanda Hesser on Food52 highlights the difficulties of making a living writing about food. Actually, there are a number of avenues open to someone who wants to support themselves by being a food writer.
The safest path is to plan ahead, preferably prior to your conception. If it doesn’t destroy your spirit, a significant trust fund can go along way to supplying you the lifelong education and comfortable lifestyle Food Writing demands. Lacking this sort of foresight, you could:
* marry well * work as a pole dancer* join a monastery * win the Lottery.
In other words, FERGITABOUDIT.
As of this writing it is not possible make a living as a food writer. Along with the economic downturn, the devaluing affect that the internet has had on creative people, the collapse of conventional publishing and the proliferation and devaluing of food TV, the traditional paths to food writer solvency are either dead or dying.
There is enormous opportunity on the internet, in e-books, web-casting, podcasting and even small-scale guerilla print publication, all of which afford the writer to create and publish her own work, to build her own platform and manage her own sales. However, it is not clear when new paradigms will become steady revenue streams, therefore, in the developing world of online publishing, it is important for the food writer to create a safe and secure life, while building toward a well-paid future.
First of all, get a marketable skill and practice it seriously. I know of no food writer who spent less than ten years working a “B” job. I worked as a chef, a college counselor, maintained a botany lab’s greenhouse, taught English as a second language, catered, worked as a photographers assistant in the decade after college when I was scrambling to make a living and educate myself with travel, restaurant visits and continuing education courses. During the first five years of my freelance career when I was a columnist at Boston Magazine and Food & Wine magazine, I supplemented this income by ghost writing cookbooks, wine books, memoirs and academic papers. I worked as a recipe developer and food stylist. I tried to take paying jobs that advanced the knowledge and experience necessary to play in the big leagues.
Michael Ruhlman, Dorie Greenspan, Mark Bittman and Melissa Clark supported themselves for over a decade ghostwriting other people’s cookbooks. Russ Parsons, the food editor at the Los Angeles Times, supported his food writing ambitions by working as a sports writer. Ruth Reichl worked in a restaurant, worked for over a decade as a freelance writer and eventually edited the food section at the Los Angeles Times. Judith Jones worked as a book editor for five decades before emerging as a recognizable author.
Anthony Bourdain ran a restaurant during the years he wrote his first book and continued to consult there long after that book became the launching pad for his television show. Months after the publication of her first book, Gabrielle Hamilton is still making a living running her restaurant on the lower east side of Manhattan and Tamar Adler continues cheffing special events even as she writes her second book.
An increasing number of serious writers work seasonal farm jobs today — Wes Jackson, Elliot Coleman, Barbara Damrosch and Severin von Tscharner Fleming , founder of TheGreenhorns.com, to name a few. Others are running farmers markets. In Alaska, Kirsten Dixon runs and is the chef at three luxury wilderness lodges while writing about food for the Anchorage newspaper. Several of the most exciting new voices in food — Hank Shaw, Wendy Petty — – work as foragers, gardeners and fishermen to support their writing. Georgia Pellegrino leads women on hunting trips.
The key is to find a skill that feeds your creative soul and supports your life-long education. One well-known food writer is now writing pot-boiler mysteries, another is writing gothic porn. One of the most talented writers I work with supports herself by running a luxury goods business, another runs a gigantic not-for-profit, yet another cuts hair. Mark Miller supports his research in chili peppers by consulting for a huge corporate restaurant group — they send him around the world a few times a year. Melissa Guerra supports her writing by running a kitchen and tabletop shop in San Antonio.
Teaching has long been a source of reliable income for cookbook writers. Paula Wolfert wrote her remarkable ouvre while traipsing around the country teaching cooking classes (and raising two children). The academic courses he offers at the New School has provided the support that Andrew Smith needed to complete about a dozen books, including the Oxford Companion to American Food. The rise of food study programs offers even more teaching opportunities — and even more competition.
NEVER STOP WRITING. HARD WORK & TALENT ALWAYS PREVAIL.