Media can make or break a food business, but to some, it feels like a pay-to-play system



My very first piece for Washington Post Voraciously is about the hidden costs of acquiring earned media, and how that disproportionately affects those without the deep pockets, generational wealth/access, or social capital to easily acquire top-of-mind awareness from a largely homogenous group of editorial decision-makers. This is an issue that most of us are well aware of, but choose not to talk about because it would then:

1) force us to acknowledge how deeply entrenched privilege (and thus systemic racism, sexism, classism, etc.) is in the process of acquiring coverage

2) potentially “ruin” our own access by “upsetting” editors at publications that can hugely impact our future

3) destroy the false pretense of food being a last bastion of meritocracy where “anyone” can make it in this industry & hard work "proves" itself

I am truly appreciative to my editor Joe Yonan for allowing me to (hopefully) prompt conversation about how we want to change this system so recognition is no longer pay-to-play. A huge thank you to everyone who agreed to be interviewed; here are some gems (some in the piece & some that were cut):

- Chef Dominique Crenn: she had to pay $10K to host a dinner at the James Beard House, as it is a necessary ‘rite of passage’ to receive JBF recognition. In return, she received a $30/pp stipend

- Founder Jing Gao: after spending thousands on giving free product to media for “consideration” of future press, outlets will direct consumers to purchase her product through affiliate links instead of directly

- Chef Melissa King: filming for Bravo Top Chef took 6 weeks & was unpaid, limiting the potential contestant pool to those financially stable enough to risk 6 weeks off & potentially not have a job to come back to

- Chef Behzad Jamshidi: attempting to secure a greencard put him in a vulnerable position to acquire press as proof of ability; this was exploited by white event producers had him cook a multi-course meal for 120 (incl. celebrity guests) in exchange for $500 & potential coverage


So much more insight from Soleil Ho, Khushbu Shah, Omar Tate, Whitney Stringer, Jameeale Arzeno in the piece itself (linked above). Please let me know your thoughts!

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