Some of the best food writers are going direct-to-inbox.

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Food Newsletters used to revolve around weeknight recipes and updates from your neighborhood bistro. But lately, they've evolved into a medium where emerging food writers shape their critical voices and where veterans refine their brands by self-publishing.

Soleil Ho, the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, changed the game when she added her weekly newsletter, Bite Curious, to her dining coverage in 2019. "It isn't always about food," she says. "The newsletter has been a really wonderful way to fit in stories that don't typically work in the format of a review." Ho often uses her newsletter as a platform for essays on topics that range from anti-Asian violence to why bars should have hooks for handbags. "Sometimes I use it to write bigger, more critical pieces. Other times, I just want to write about toast or to give flowers to writers outside of the Chronicle."

Woman checking email on a laptop illustrated
Credit: Illustration by Miguel Ángel Camprubí

Some of the best food writing in the world is aggregated by Eater London Associate Editor James Hansen for the newsletter In Digestion. The format favors urgency and sifts through dozens of international publications to present stories about a Manchester United player's free school meal program or a conversation about the politics of smell with Indian food writer Apoorva Sripathi.

Andrew Genung, a Hong Kong–based freelance writer, takes a similar approach with his newsletter, Family Meal. Twice a week, he captures the frenetic pace of the restaurant industry and provides sharp critiques of food and beverage politics and policy in a skimmable format. Both Family Meal and In Digestion are hosted by the newsletter behemoth Substack and are among the publications garnering a steady following of subscribers who are willing to pay $20 to $50 a year. Free versions are available for both, but by paywalling exclusive content like interviews, Genung and Hansen can get readers to invest in the work they do.

A dedicated subscriber base also helps Vittles, a U.K.-based newsletter, function like a magazine, paying its writers roughly $500 (and illustrators $175) for Q&As, profiles, investigations, dining reviews and recommendations, and, of course, recipes. A team of editors produces the analysis and well-reported essays on topics such as the "mythos of food in New York rap" or the comfort of chopsticks. Like a TV show, Vittles is organized in seasons. For season four, the writers and editors are focusing on hyper-regional culinary scenes. "I'm interested in regional traditions, oddities that seem to be confined to one area, the unique hybridity that can be found in cities, or better yet, only specific parts of cities," writes Editor Jonathan Nunn.

Expect to read more about their forthcoming work in their next newsletter.

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August 2021