#7: Kitchen Table Issues
A new food media sampler hot off the press
Hiya readers, welcome back to Lunch Rush, the official newsletter of Lunch Group, highlighting some incredible folks reimagining equitable futures for F&B. At the risk of getting a little ✨meta✨, this month we’re marinating and meditating on the current state of food media, and sharing a few projects that demonstrate its promising potential. Beginning with the onset of the pandemic and especially following last June’s wave of Black Lives Matter protests that reverberated around the globe, we’ve watched the same predominantly white voices behind legacy publications falter in the face of increased scrutiny from an inquisitive and rightfully critical readership. Fed up with stereotypical stories of “discovery,” the whitewashing of cherished recipes and ingredients, and an unabashedly extractive approach to storytelling, readers and writers alike have turned to a crop of new platforms offering different perspectives. In this issue, we’ll introduce a handful of our favorite digital innovators: Vicky Gu of Currant, Zoe Adjonyoh of Cooking Up Consciousness, Zaynab Issa, who you can find on TikTok, and Ian Moore of DEMI. Although these projects span four different media, they’re united in offering their audiences an opportunity to not only consume stories, but to actively engage with them and their narrators.
First up, we’ve got an image from illustrator Naomi Anderson-Subryan, an illusionistic submission from the ongoing UK-based instagram drawing challenge Still Here Still Life. Our profiles, written by Daisy Zeijlon and Salonee Bhaman, offer just a taste of the four creators mentioned above – be sure to click through and follow each one for the full scoop. From Abena Anim-Somuah aka @baking_beanss, we’ve got a spiced up version of a family recipe to savor hot, cold, or even spiked. And of course, we’ll round things out with some Lunch Break recs from writers and editors that you’d be wise to double tap, RT, like & subscribe.
*Sometimes email providers will clip the end of our messages due to size; be sure to click through for the full issue!*
Still Life (Party Egg) (2020) by Naomi Anderson Subryan
Working predominantly with ceramics and paper-collage, London based illustrator Naomi Anderson-Subryan is recognised for her bold use of colour and creating distinct, expressive characters. Heavily influenced by her background in performing arts and a love for all things kitsch, theatricality and nostalgia are at the heart of Naomi’s work. The worlds she creates feel both vaguely familiar and yet unlike anything else. Naomi has worked with clients such as Nike, It's Nice That, Time Out, The New York Times and Nooworks.
Extra! Extra! Read, Listen, Watch & WhatsApp All About it
Introducing four F&B media innovators to follow
Vicky Gu Asks More of the Reader
by Daisy Zeijlon
Reflecting on a year of tremendous transformation, Vicky Gu admits that she isn’t afraid of stepping into the unknown. "What I’ve found is the more you put on the line, the more exciting prospects are ahead,” says the founder and managing editor of Currant, whose other projects include Studio QQ and hyperdisciplinary. She left her 9-to-5 as a marketing manager at W&P in late 2019, intending to freelance while she looked for her next job. 2020 had other plans, making her leap into independent consulting full-time. “COVID has shown us [that] what we think is certain is probably not,” she notes.
Talking to her, you get the impression that this gutsy move wasn’t out of character. Vicky grew up in the suburbs of Dallas before moving to Washington, DC for college. But it was a semester abroad in Copenhagen that prompted her to question if the finance track was right for her. At Noma’s Food Lab, she found a community that affirmed her passion for food: “I had never really engaged with food through such a critical lens. It was intellectual. It was cerebral, but it was also super visceral.”
After working adjacent to the New York food media scene for several years, she was irked by a sense that its major players could be doing more. She began daydreaming about starting a publication that considered food the same way her Chinese American family had growing up: “That side of my heritage approach[es] food with such a generous, loving, and abundant mindset.”
She launched Currant in November 2018 as an online community to explore our cultural, social, and political relationships with food. It deliberately defies categorization. As Vicky explains, “You can almost say we're a long-form narrative publication that happens to look at the world through the lens of food, instead of looking at it as a food media publication.” Topics range widely, from diet and gender identity to what it means to be a transnational Asian chef.
Team Currant is generous and intentional about whose stories they tell. “There’s a balance of featuring voices that are already well-known, voices that are emerging, and trying to dig deep for those voices that are little seedlings,” she explains. This work is made easy by a small team that trusts each other, and Vicky is adamant that Currant would be nothing without them. She puts compensation at the front of Currant’s business model; any discussion of growth prioritizes equitable pay for its contributors.
Currant also prioritizes its readers by refusing to underestimate them. An essential part of a more equitable food media future, Vicky argues, is asking more of the reader. She envisions a more dynamic model of consumption: “What I want to see is just more active engagement from both sides. From writer to reader, from producer to consumer, I want there to be a more regenerative flow between the two.” Readers can apply to join the publication’s channels on Discord, where they’re able to interact with its contributors.
“We’re figuring it out as we go,” Vicky says, reflecting on both Currant’s trajectory and her own. “When I feel disenchanted with the world, I remember the breadth and depth of what I come from and the shoulders I stand upon. I use that to re-inspire the work that I'm doing in the present.”
Zoe Adjonyoh’s Podcast Shifts the Paradigm
By Daisy Zeijlon
Podcast host is the most recent addition to Zoe Adjonyoh’s collection of proverbial hats, including chef, activist, writer, and thought leader. As the founder of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen and author of a cookbook by the same name, she’s spent the better part of the last decade introducing people to Ghanaian food, using it as a lens to grapple with issues of equity, culture, and identity.
Based between New York and London, Zoe’s career has been one of unexpected twists and turns. After earning her undergraduate degree in law, she had “100 different jobs” doing everything from editing a travel series to setting up an event promotion company. She even spent time making videos with the World Air Sports Federation (if you’re pausing to google “air sports”, you’re not alone). Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was born in 2010 from the same experimental and excited energy, first serving groundnut stew out of her apartment and slowly growing to include supper clubs, kitchen residencies, and catering.
But through it all, a common thread began to emerge: building community across industries and jobs, she always found herself speaking to people making change. Cooking up Consciousness, her podcast which launched last week, is a natural evolution of this work seeking to build consciousness in and out the kitchen. “I’m always talking to people about who they are and why, and making a living out of that. It’s about people who are shifting paradigms, but doing it in a way that is completely authentically themselves.”
It’s also a reverberation of the pandemic, which gave Zoe an opportunity to reflect. “The universe made us stop, right?” One outcome of this forced pause was a realization that she wanted to be of service while being fully herself: “I didn’t want to be under the thumb of anybody else’s intentions.” For years she has been labelled the “Queen of Ghanaian Cuisine”—a title she didn’t ask for. “It used to feel so restrictive, because that’s not the only thing I am. I am all of these other things, and nobody would ever give me the space to be those.” In Cooking Up Consciousness, she is creating that space for each of her guests, highlighting sides of them that the public might not otherwise see.
Zoe also invites the audience into the conversation, recognizing that podcasting inherently limits their participation. Each episode will come with Clubhouse Q&As, IG lives, and other extras for listeners. “It’s this beautiful way of democratizing conversation and ideas,” Zoe explains. It’s a heavy lift for a small team, but cultivating community remains a priority in the same way it has for each of her past projects.
As we collectively navigate the simultaneous joy and anxiety of re-entering a changed world, it seems that her podcast has arrived at exactly the right moment. “I’m doing it because I hope it inspires people to understand that wherever you are right now is exactly where you're supposed to be,” Zoe says. “Be who you are, follow your joy, and the rewards will come.”
Daisy Zeijlon (She/Her) is a creative consultant, brand strategist, and food studies scholar based in Brooklyn. She is currently pursuing a master's degree at NYU with a concentration on the intersection of food and gender. What's for Dinner, her most recent project, is part of the emerging Food and COVID-19 NYC Archive and examines the pandemic's impact on the unpaid work of food preparation in the home.
Zaynab Issa Pivots to Video
By Salonee Bhaman
Zaynab Issa wants people to make the food that they see on her TikTok, whether it’s a decadent tray of cardamom spiked cinnamon buns or a hummus platter (so much easier than the ubiquitous charcuterie board!). Having spent her formative years as her grandmother’s sous chef, the 23-year-old credits hours spent watching the Food Network during Ramadan as a crash course in culinary media. Her recipes range from easy, week-night versions of the East African and Indian meals her family enjoys to spins on various prompts making their way through the world of food TikTok (recent examples include baked oatmeal pudding and a potato challenge). What they have in common is accessibility: Issa’s videos do away with the painstaking technique-driven storytelling of her favorite Food Network stars in favor of a streamlined, swiftly-moving, almost ASMR-adjacent style.
Issa first started to think about food media while developing a self-published cookbook for a design class last spring, just as the pandemic put a stop to in-person learning. After several weeks of developing recipes, photographing each dish herself, and laying everything out, Issa released her zine-style cookbook of easy East African and Indian recipes, Let’s Eat, soon after she submitted it for a grade. Like her TikTok, the book is a reflection of her culinary roots: her grandmother grew up on a farm outside Dar es Salaam, as a member of an Indian diaspora within East Africa.
After lurking on TikTok during the early months of lockdown, she began to share her cooking videos. Although it took her a little while to get the hang of things, her videos now adopt a breezy confidence that makes the complex seem achievable. Using a crane tripod and her phone camera, Issa has delighted followers with dishes like kuku paka, an East African chicken and coconut curry, and a roasted eggplant and potato curry. She designs the recipes to be easy to follow, thinking her way around deep frying and pressure cooking in order to make each one accessible to even lukewarm home cooks. While Issa remembers watching her Food Network faves in an almost academic fashion, her own videos are meant to move, allowing viewers to become transfixed by the process.
She loves seeing how followers riff on her recipes, and considers each tribute photo as a sign of trust that she doesn’t take lightly. She loves the iterative nature of the medium, and makes an effort to engage with comments and questions as if they had occurred in person. Unlike many food influencers, she and her husband make an effort to eat everything that she cooks – a commitment to sustainability that limits the number of view-grabbing desserts she showcases. While the trends of TikTok have been generative for her, Issa has been expanding her reach: she regularly pitches recipes to print and online media outlets. She likes to respond to comments on her videos and recipes. Recently, Issa and a friend Mehreen Karim began to curate and develop recipes for what they called the Ramadan Recipe Club – a series meant to embody the spirit of celebration during the holy month. Ultimately, while the building blocks of Issa’s brand may be camera-friendly TikTok riffs, what she’s building is a community.
Ian Moore’s Digital Dinner Party
By Salonee Bhaman
Ian Moore is captivated by the idea of transplanting the exuberant alchemy traditionally conjured within the four walls of a restaurant into new contexts. Before launching DEMI, a primarily text-based community connecting users with host-chefs, he helped launch Empirical Spirits, an irreverent and inventive beverage distributor helmed by the former heads of research and concept at Noma. Empirical, they hoped, would help translate the duo’s complex understanding of regionally sourced ingredients, fermentation, and flavor to a wider audience through a medium with a stable shelf life and wider reach: booze. When the pandemic began, Moore joined forces with Lisa Grimm to found DEMI, a platform for connection and community centered around food.
The project began with “Love Letters,” an open invitation for the newly locked-down to write notes sharing appreciation, memories, and good wishes with their favorite restaurants. As pandemic conditions continued to keep restaurant workers and patrons alike at home, the DEMI team expanded its purview. Moore, who had worked in restaurants during breaks from a former life as a touring musician, found that he missed not only the creative flair and ingenuity, but also the chaos and camaraderie of kitchens. Food had been one of the first ways that he learned about and experienced cultures outside of his native Ireland. DEMI was conceived as a way to bring together the energy of a restaurant, the diversity of experience and taste that a room full of cooks and eaters may have, and the intimacy of a dinner party.
Launched on WhatsApp, each community is hosted by a chef with a particular theme and few other hard and fast rules. Much like they might at an IRL dinner party, the hosts were tasked with encouraging interaction and empowering their guests to feel comfortable; formally they’re moderators on the open internet, but in practice they’ve found themselves among fast friends. To Moore’s delight, the magic of the dinner party translated to this medium: conversations across DEMI’s seven communities have been a lively jumble of advice on technique, report-backs on successful projects, questions about ingredients, and – occasionally – discussions about politics and current events. Like long-distance friends or lovers, members send messages across WhatsApp that they can choose to read or engage with on their own schedules and in their own time zones. What could have veered into chaos has been reined in by the intimacy and openness of all those involved: Moore is happy to report that even the most contentious topics have benefitted from open-minded audiences invested in understanding each other and sharing their experiences.
Moore is hopeful that this intimacy might make DEMI a vehicle to help people understand the world at large through the lens of food, something he sees as a universal connector. Moreover, his vision for DEMI reaches beyond the WhatsApp roots of the communities: the company is slated to release a platform of its own in the coming weeks. For his part, Moore hopes that the communities could look something like a food journal, underpinned by community and plugged into a naturally evolving marketplace, helmed by creators.
Salonee Bhaman is an interdisciplinary scholar and writer who lives and works in New York City. She co-writes the food newsletter Digestivo, buys books at Bluestockings Cooperative, organizes with the Asian American Feminist Collective, and is finishing her PhD. Her work has appeared in The Boston Review, The Washington Post, Truthout, and the Gotham Center Blog. You can find her on Twitter at @saloneee.
Momma Anim’s Sorrel Punch
Abena Anim-Somuah is the Chief Baking Officer over at @baking_beanss and founder of the hashtag #5BlackBakers, an Instagram initiative launched during the height of the BLM protests last June to spark joy on the timeline. Baking is her true love, but besides running these sweet projects, she’s also the co-founder of Food Supply, an online platform transforming how we engage with food on the internet. Her biggest recent flex is getting published in Cherry Bombe’s Julia Child issue, which was truly a dream come true!
“With hot vaxxed summer fast approaching, this is a recipe for anybody who can appreciate a good healthy drink. Every summer, my mom would make this punch in lieu of some sugary store bought thing. My mom isn't much for a recipe person but when I moved away from home, she was sweet enough to write something down which I've adapted and fixed over the years. I also like to spike it with tequila or rum depending on my mood!”
2 cups of dried hibiscus flowers
8 cups of water, or more if needed
1 orange, sliced into rounds
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
6-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 pineapple, cut into chunks
1/4 cup of raw honey, more if needed
Wash hibiscus flowers under running water for thirty seconds to remove any impurities.
In a large saucepan, add hibiscus and 8 cups of water. If you prefer a lighter drink, add closer to 10 cups of water.
Add sliced oranges, lemons, cloves, and boil for 25 minutes. Remove from heat
Add ginger and pineapple to a blender and blend until smooth, about 1 minute.
Pour blended ginger and pineapple into boiled hibiscus drink and mix.
Strain the drink through a sieve. Add honey and sweeten to taste.
Serve hot or iced – I prefer it over ice for summer, but once we get those coats out again, make sure to try it hot!
A dedicated section for suggestions and recommendations from friends and collaborators
Rachel Karten (she/her, social media consultant and person behind Link in Bio newsletter): Is it normal to give yourself pep talks on how to re-enter society? Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. In between those moments of anxiety, I have been eating doubles from Bridgetown Roti, adding this knit set from Callahan to my cart then exiting out (I swear I’ll eventually buy it), and watching The Present on Netflix. One of my recent newsletters is about pay equity and compensation within the field of social media so I’ve been thinking a lot about how to create a database using the information I gather—sort of like the pay survey for the food industry that Natasha Pickowicz posted about here.
Aja Wiley (multidisciplinary creative, curator, and founder of Fifty Fifty): My organization just released the first issue of our magazine, an extension of our missions and values, comprised of stories, interviews, visual essays, recipes, and all the feels. I think “food-related media” is often siloed when really food can be used as a vehicle for so much more. The magazine shows how interconnected food, community, and art can be. There’s also an interview with one of my favorite people in food Raina Robinson. You can buy one here) My friend Yarrow's “Ramen Forever” cookbook is also out! Probably one of the coolest cookbooks I’ve ever seen. It’s giant and intertwines art and food in a very fun way with amazing illustrations, interviews, and recipes from all over the world.
Jonathan Nunn (food and city writer, editor of Vittles, tea man): I'm currently in between seasons at Vittles so I'm technically on holiday even if I'm still at my desk. It means I have time to sit down and taste teas from Postcard Teas; all the fresh, cooling green teas from China and Japan are coming in exactly when the weather is turning, so things feel a little bit more hopeful. Aside from that, I'm trying to read outside of Anglophone food media to be inspired ─ I'm reading a magazine called Ingrédient made by a community organisation in Marseilles, which has made me rethink a lot of what Vittles can do. I always have things on the go and never finish them, but I'm also reading Lamorna Ash (on Cornwall) and Emma Dabiri (on race), and generally just dreaming of getting out of London for a bit.
Mayukh Sen (he/they, author of Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America, out from W.W. Norton & Company in November and now available for preorder): My friend Michael Koresky’s lovely new book, Films of Endearment, rerouted me to one of the great underappreciated American films about food: Country (1984), starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard; the movie was recently screened over at Metrograph. It details the struggles of a family of Midwestern farmers during the 1980s as they face every calamity imaginable, some natural (tornadoes), others manmade (byzantine federal laws). Though it’s a work of fiction, the movie is a fine and furious document of the American farm debt crisis of the 1980s, which may seem distant in public memory now. Upon the film's release, then-president Ronald Reagan disparaged it as a "blatant propaganda message against our Agri. programs.” I’ll let you decide whether or not that’s an endorsement.
Thanks for stopping by, friends! Follow us on Instagram for more food media morsels and musings. We hope you enjoyed this pupu platter of profiles, and we’d love to know what you’ve been reading, watching, and listening to these days! If there’s a project out there you think we should know about, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org (and as always, feel free to reach out with questions, comments, or just to say hey).