What We Talked About When We Talked About Food in 1991
November 4, 2017
Going through old files, I came upon this speech I wrote in 1991 when I was the food editor of the Los Angeles Times. I’m not even sure where I gave the speech – it was obviously at some sort of conference – but from the vantage point of twenty-five years, it’s an interesting artifact.
Seems like such a long time ago. Looking at the paper it’s printed on – we didn’t use Xerox in those days, but a machine that printed on sprocketed sheets – reminds me that we were still going down to the composing room every day just before the paper went to press. If you had to cut a few lines you took a knife and cut it to fit, then repasted with rubber cement.
In those days the food section of the Los Angeles Times was huge – 2 full sections, often running to sixty or more pages. It was all about advertising, of course; supermarkets were still printing coupons. But looking at these numbers – the section brought in $34 million! – is a stark reminder of how much things have changed.
So, as you will see, has the audience.
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Thankyou for sharing that article I surprised myself and remembered reading it the first time it appeared in the LATimes! We were living in Southern California at the time and my weekly ritual was reading the food section for the articles, then the recipees and not the coupons. I read your articles and loved them, and am just now making the connection between you then and that article.
I grew up in California’s Central Valley where every spring the scent of orange blossums filled the air and food was central to our lives. Not only because of agriculture but because as a family we cooked, we ate, and we all loved good food. In our then tiny community of 2500 in the 70’s, we had 3 american restaurants: 2 drive ins and one “nice” restaurant called Club 65, it was on Highway 65, at least 3 or 4 mexican restaurants and 1 chinese restaurant and probably 40 churches.
From as far back as I can remember I read the LA Times, starting first with the comics as a grammar school age kid but when I reached double digits…1966 or 1967 I started reading the paper and about 1968 ish began reading the food section religiously and thus began my love affair with food, food science and the sociology of food.
Thank you for being such an awesome contributer. I especially love your articles you post on your website. I’ve been a long time fan of your work.
ps and I and my foodie friends were devastated at the close of gourmet magazine ):
Thanks so much Mendy. Your memories of the Central Valley – those orange blossoms! – are lovely.
I’m sure there are parts of this that appeared in the paper, but it was a speech, not an article. I would never have said anything negative about our readers in the paper itself- or printed statistics about our profits. (Although I have to admit, I’m still stunned at how lucrative the food section once was. )
I was a die-hard fan of the LA Times food section under your watch. When you left, your staff continued the excellent work, until finally the food section was gutted. There is no other word for the what happened to both the food section and the paper at large. I loved that the food section was tied to the seasons, and enjoyed the long-form articles that are rarely published these days. I won’t even look at a print copy of any paper these days; I just subscribe digitally, since all the writing seems geared to that audience anyway.
Thank you for all your excellent work and for the hours of enjoyment and learning you provided!
I did write a lot about goat soup and eels…