The Irony of Being a Broke Food Writer

Photo via Unsplash / credit Mike Haupt

It’s lunchtime in April of 2021. I just spend the last three hours cranking out food pieces to be consumed by the masses. My brain, constantly churning out ideas, words, and snappy phrasing is dying for some sustenance.

I hit the brew button on my coffee machine for cup #2. One of the few things without which I could never possibly do this job.

Onward to the kitchen, I assess my options. They’re probably not what you imagine.

Being a food writer—always exploring new restaurants, sampling new cuisines, finding new take-out spots, and explaining the difference between carrots and parsnips—probably seems like a relatively lucrative gig. Maybe, if you’re in NYC and that trust fund cushion allows you to eat out for every meal of every day. Or if you’ve been doing this for at least years, which I have not.

Even then, it’s not all glitz and glamour. Some of us depend on a comped meal more than other folks realize.

Back in the kitchen, I ponder the contents of my fridge and pantry. The result is disappointment, which is not actually unusual. But I’m not glum for long, because I’ve already made my decision.

And by “made my decision,” I mean I decided to go with what my sole option is.

In the 7-Eleven bag, I pull out my golden chalice, out of which I will scoop perfect, cheesy noodles in approximately three-and-a-half minutes. My Velveeta Instant Mac n Cheese is my primary life source these days.

I don’t even really mean that to be funny, though it is a little bit. But it’s definitely true. Given the pennies rolling around in my checking account (and that the second cup of coffee hasn’t really hit yet), I honestly can’t remember the last time I went grocery shopping.

But let me be very clear that this is not news. Nor is it a revelation. I simply am joining in the reality so many people live every single day. For them, it’s not usually so nonchalant. For them, it’s the difference between a searing pang of hunger or being able to function for the next eight, ten, or twelve hours.

Good food is a luxury. Healthy food is a luxury. My being able to stop work at a moment’s notice, get in my car, drive to the store, and buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are all luxuries. Sometimes, I can afford them. Times like these, I can’t.

Sometimes, the difference between a good day and a bad day is three minutes of fake cheese over processed noodles, knowing you could easily eat several more, if given the chance.

This is also why I try to be as humble and transparent as possible when it comes to the work I do. There have been weeks where, in desperately finagling a PR pitch into a publication, I’m able to secure a free meal in exchange for my writing. You’d better believe that meal will also be divided via takeout boxes into two-to-three meals for the next few days.

Hardly any facet of the food and beverage industry is easy. But food insecurity has been around for a LONG time, and it will never be okay. I’m one of the luckier ones, who can almost always depend on some upcoming paycheck. Not everyone is so lucky. I also don’t have additional mouths to feed.

This is just to say that a) food insecurity is a huge, pressing issue in our country (and across the world), and healthy foods should be way more accessible than they are; b) don’t judge a book, etc., etc.; c) I remain forever grateful that I love what I do and it benefits me in more ways than one; and d) there’s no shame in doing what you have to do to get by when the system isn’t right.

Signing off after scraping the Velveeta bowl clean.

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