And the Award Goes to…
Last night’s James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards dinner was enjoyable for many reasons—not the least of which was the opportunity to reconnect with folks I hadn’t seen in a while. But what made the event truly satisfying were some of the people and ideas honored by the foundation.
It was terrific to see so many folks nominated for writing about “food politics” (beyond the specific award category for that subject), and I am thrilled that the foundation recognized people like Paul Greenberg (for his tremendous Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, a sobering account of the state of our fisheries) and Barry Estabrook (for his always thought-provoking blog, Politics of the Plate).
Although there have been notable exceptions, I think that the food press has neglected to cover these issues with the frequency and urgency they deserve, for fear of losing readers who just want to feel good as they read stories about how to bake an apple pie. I understand that food is joyous, something to be relished and celebrated, but it’s hard for me to take pleasure in the idea of a meal if the ingredients used in its preparation are endangered or were produced by slave labor or at the expense of the Earth and our health. Given that we’ve been able to build cars that park themselves and phones that work without wires, surely we can ensure that our sybaritic dining experiences are also ecofriendly, nourishing, and just?
Something that definitely qualified as just was seeing Harold McGee recognized for his influential On Food and Cooking. You’d be hard-pressed to find a gentler, smarter, more insightful person than the Curious Cook himself, and there’s no debating the lasting impact of his work.
When it comes to the “Best International Cookbook” award category, Grace Young’s win for Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge honors not only a terrific book and a versatile style of cooking, but a woman, her family, and its culture. Grace’s lovely acceptance speech, in which she saluted her father and his passion for stir-frying, got me thinking back to why I entered this field in the first place. Fancy award dinners and lavish restaurant meals are all well and good, but Grace’s humility and emotion remind us all that it’s the human stories behind what we eat that resonate most.
I will admit, though, that Grace’s win was bittersweet because it meant a loss for Diana Kennedy, who was nominated in the same category for Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy, her loving tribute to one of Mexico’s most remarkable regional cuisines. But any mixed feelings about Ms. Kennedy’s defeat were quickly remedied when it was announced that she’d won the “Cookbook of the Year” award, allowing fans of great cookbooks to have our cake and eat it, too.
Congratulations to the night’s winners—including Saveur, Amanda Hesser, Jonathan Gold, and Carl Safina—and, indeed, to all of the nominees.