5C Food Week Hosts Leading Food Journalists

What compels people to spend $100 on a plate of macaroni and cheese? How can the candies we ate by the handful as children serve as inspiration for a chef at a premier NYC restaurant? 

These types of questions are discussed in the color-splashed pages of Lucky Peach Magazine, a quarterly journal edited by Peter Meehan. Meehan, a former New York Times columnist and Momofuko author, spoke at Scripps College April 21.

Meehan was joined by Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times restaurant critic known for his expertise on the international cuisine of L.A. According to his bio on the Los Angeles Times website, Gold “is delighted that he has managed to forge a career out of the professional eating of tacos.”

These two nationally-recognized writers were invited to campus to take part in 5C Food Week, a food sustainability, access, politics and culture festival. This is the inaugural year of what is intended to be an annual tradition of honoring nourishment, nutrition and noshing at the 5Cs.

Other events brought to campus as part of 5C Food Week included an organic dinner at Pomona College's Frank Dining Hall, film screenings, pickling, kombucha-making, mushroom-growing workshops, a number of lectures given by faculty and guest speakers, and many other hands-on events to get students thinking about what they put on their plates.

The collaboration of a myriad of clubs and organizations made this wide-ranging celebration of food a possibility. Students from all five campuses participated in the week of events, including at Meehan and Gold's panel: "The Bitten Word: A Conversation on Contemporary Food Journalism."

The journalists covered a range of topics, from sustainable food production to food photographs on Instagram.

“It’s interesting to hear from people who have done this for years how they stay passionate and never get tired of food,” Nidhi Gandhi PO ’15 said.

Meehan, who claims he “doesn’t do a lot of optimism” (see the apocalypse-themed issue of Lucky Peach), said that there is simply “no future for meat.” Meehan and Gold write about their own omnivorous eating for a living, so this may come as a surprise, but both of these foodies agree that the current scale of meat production in America cannot be upheld for much longer.

“Giant slabs of animal protein on your plate—that’s clearly unsustainable,” Gold said. He sees the adoption of a mindset more similar to that of Eastern cuisines, where meat is not the central focus of the meal but a supplementary portion, as a potential alternative.

Despite their qualms about meat, both writers emphasized that they try to avoid any self-righteous moral claims in their writing.

“The second you start to be preachy, people turn off and go to ‘Fourteen Interesting Things to do with Bacon,'" Gold said. 

Instead, the two emphasize storytelling; giving the reader a sensory experience is their most important objective.

“It’s not enough to say that you like something; that’s the least interesting part about it," Gold said. "You need to make the reader care about it. You need to make the taste of celery the most important thing in your reader’s life at the moment."

Meehan cites Gold as one of his role models and explained that the mastery with which he can paint a picture of a dining experience is what makes Gold such a great food critic. 

“It’s about more than what’s on the plate,” Meehan said.

Students, too, recognize Gold's passion for writing. 

“I think Jonathan Gold is one of the most honest writers out there," said Sana Kadri PO '16, one of the organizers of 5C Food Week. "He really believes in food." 

Kadri continued to express her admiration of the two journalists, specifically, the skill with which they have paved their paths in a rapidly evolving field. Like most other forms of media, food journalism is continuously growing and developing, which is beneficial to aspiring writers.

“The barriers to entry are basically non-existent; I’ve hired people at the L.A. Times based on their Yelp review," Gold said. “There are more roads now than there ever have been to become a food writer."