Milk, Cookies, and Social Media at Whole Foods

One of the closing events of Social Media Week took included snack time at a grocery store, as Whole Foods presented Afternoon Snack: A New York New Food Media Panel.

On the menu were:

Liza Mosquito de Guia, Founder & Chief Storyteller, food. curated.

Cathy Erway, Not Eating Out In New York.

Nick Fauchald, editor-in-chief, Tasting Table

Emily Fleischaker, Associate Multimedia Editor, Bon Appetit

Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Food 52

Nicole Taylor, host, Hot Grease Heritage Radio Network

Moderated by Josh Friedland, Editor & Publisher, The Food Section &

The event started the way every event should: with milk and cookies. But then the panel got sizzling. Here’s a recap of highlights:

Question: How is social media changing things?

Amanda: Publishing used to be more top down and social media changed that dramatically.

Merrill: Our commenting system keeps conversation going.

Emily: For traditional media, it’s a challenge. Our systems are optimized to send out a magazine to a million+ people and not get much back. “Changing that is a challenge but it’s an extraordinary opportunity.” Our product improves with feedback. We use it to engage with our users, to promote our content, and for inspiration.

Liza: I can’t believe the power of social media. “I was a nobody six months ago.” Social media helped fulfill a dream.

Nick: We forget that email is the core of social media – “it’s the mother ship… Today, we take that for granted.” Replying to their newsletters goes to his inbox. Facebook and Twitter are important – “Twitter is a means of filling in the gaps between stories.”

Nicole: Social media is the sole reason Hot Grease has been so popular. “I try to remember that everyone is not on Twitter” as she’s not a big Facebook person.

Cathy: I thought there was something a little unfulfilled with having so many nameless friends. I don’t want to forget the real-life social aspect of food. “When you come to a table, it should be about meeting people” and sharing the experience with them. It’s great to have two ways of social connections.

Amanda: Last week we used Hot Potato to run a virtual Sunday supper and all cooked it at the exact same time, taking pictures, uploading them – it doesn’t replace cooking in a kitchen with someone but it was a valuable community experience.

Question: There’s some debate over whether this is all good or all bad. Amanda, you got in a dust-up with Christopher Kimball at Cook’s Illustrated.

Amanda: He challenged us to a duel about crowdsourcing recipes. We had about eight conference calls with him. We agreed to all of his rules but he wouldn’t agree to any of ours.

Emily: We need a new revenue model. Social media almost makes it too easy to share content. There’s value in professional test kitchens. But the pros of social media outweigh the cons.

Moderator: Any other cons?

Nicole: There are some people in small towns, say an expert in canning, who aren’t online and get left out of this. This is our life – we live and breathe social media. There’s a group of people who will never be a part of the social media movement.

Cathy: If we’re all plugged into all these blogging and tweeting and creating content, when are we going to come up with the content, and when will we enjoy ourselves in the moment?

Question: Is this enhancing our discussion of food? Is it dumbing it down?

Liza: I think it’s making it more exciting. Social media’s all about developing relationships. You start to learn who you really trust. There are certain people who I’ve seen their content and I know I can trust them. When you’re using social media to get good ideas and feedback, you need to rely on trust.

Emily: It’s becoming so much easier for small producers of quality food products to sell them, thanks to sites like Foodzie. That’s a pro. One of the cons that Liza brought up is that there are a lot of stories that can’t be told in 140 characters. When I’m reading a great piece in the New York Times elsewhere, I always think, “How does David Carr turn off his Twitter feed long enough to write good stories?” The challenge is putting out a quality product while communicating with our fans, but we won’t have a quality product if we don’t communicate with our fans.

Question: What does the future hold for food writing?

Nick: Food writing is becoming more like being a potter – it’s generally more of a hobby, but if it turns into a career, great. “It’s becoming harder and harder to make money writing and selling words about food.” Part of the blame comes from writers in general because we started giving away the milk for free and no one wants to buy the cow.

Amanda: It wasn’t that long ago that the old media model was very exclusive. It’s always been a very limiting field. The limits are in a different landscape now.

Liza: I think there’s a big future for video. Advertisers want video content like that that they can sponsor. Hyperlocal is also a big opportunity.

Cathy: It’s not just about writing. There’s radio, there’s video – there are more things we can do. It doesn’t have to be limited to writing for a magazine anymore.