Whither Food Media?

The news carried over onto Twitter the other day: Grub Street was expanding beyond New York, to cover food in such places as Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Across the Twitterverse, various food folk responded by asking why not a Grub Street for Las Vegas, or Miami, or Seattle?

Those of us who live in smaller cities tend to get a tad bit defensive when it comes to out respective hometowns. We often ask ourselves why hasn’t the media in New York (or Chicago, L.A., or San Fran) given us our due. We citizens of smaller cities are quite aware of how other cities are judged by the food world. From my mind, it goes something like this:

A-List
New York City

B-list
San Francisco
Chicago
New Orleans
Los Angeles

C-List
Las Vegas
Boston
Washington DC
Philadelphia

D-List
Everyone else

Now this list is completely arbitrary, and, other than New York City, every city’s position is debatable. What often determines the position is the quality of the restaurants as well as the size of the media market. The larger the media market, the more biased one’s media to their market. It’s likely rare that a foodie in New York or San Fran gives a rat’s patoot on what’s going on in the restaurant scene in Portland, OR. I would hazard a guess that the opposite is not true; that a foodie in Portland probably has some interest, even if only a mild one, on what’s going on food-wise in New York or San Fran. After all, the A-list and B-list cities are renown food destinations.

The problem with some in the food media in these A-List and B-List cities is that they have a tendency to become insular. Any food news that happens outside of their domain tends to be played down. The result of this is that truly interesting restaurants and news stories are often missed. Consider this: decisions that affect the everyday consumer occur in places such as Creve Coeur, Missouri (home of Monsanto), Omaha, Nebraska (home of ConAgra Foods), Houston, Texas (home of Sysco), Bentonville, Arkansas, (home of Wal-Mart),and Washington D.C.(home of the FDA and USDA). How regularly are these companies and institutions followed in the food section of the New York Times or covered by The Food Network?

The reality is that the food sections of various newspapers, and certainly The Food Network, do nothing more than cover food as entertainment. By extension, sites like Grub Street treat food much in the same way. I’m not arguing that they need to change that perspective.

Where the real change has to come is in the consumers of those media outlets. At some point we have to understand that while Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz do hold a strong place in our food culture, when compared against Wal-Mart, they’re effect upon the food world seems a bit meager.

In getting back to the larger point, there’s no Grub Street Seattle, or Grub Street Las Vegas, because there is no national call for one of yet. When food culture is treated as entertainment, then those with the biggest stages get the best press.