Sonia Chopra, Executive Editor, Bon Appetit - Hungry for Changes in Food Media
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
What changes would you like to see in food media?
There are two tropes in food writing that have always bothered me: I think we’re moving away from this, bu
t I don’t love it when people say “food IS culture”—culture is so much more than food, though I do believe food is a good entry point into learning more about culture. And it is still so common for people to say things like, "It felt like I was in Mumbai"—or [choose any location people think of as "exotic"]—after visiting a specific neighborhood, like a Chinatown or Little India. Again, no culture or cuisine is a monolith, and it does a disservice to the communities here and abroad to speak about American neighborhoods and cities in different countries as though they are the same.
What has food media done right, and what improvements still need to be made?
I’m just shy of a decade working in this industry and it is honestly incredible to reflect on how much has changed since I took my first job in food media: Across the board, publications are so much more thoughtful, more careful, more intentional. But there is still a lot of work we can all do, and I think it is also important to recognize that the work never stops: Our world—and the language we use—is changing, and we will always need to keep growing to keep up. It’s never going to be a matter of checking boxes, but instead committing to making sure our storytelling always reflects, interests, and challenges, our diverse audiences and the food world at large.
What tips can you give travelers interested in conscientious and responsible approaches to local food cultures?
Research! I like to find local blogs and food writers and read their work and follow them on Instagram as soon as I start planning a trip. I think the most important thing to remember is that you are a guest in a different place and need to treat the people, the land, the food, the customs and traditions—everything—with respect.
What was your go-to recipe during quarantine?
I made kale sauce pasta SO many times (spice the sauce to taste while it’s in the blender—I always add some kind of heat, like red pepper flakes), as well as this sesame noodle salad. But I took a new job at Bon Appétit during the pandemic, so I also spent a ton of time cooking through the archives to get up to speed.
Which writers of color do you think are helping drive the narrative in food writing and culinary-centered travel writing today?
They’re both editors, but I think everyone should check out the work Stephen Satterfield and the team are doing with Whetstone. And Alice Wong’s work with the Disability Visibility Project (and elsewhere), while not specifically about food, is essential.
Excited about any particular chefs in 2021?
Honestly, I’m just excited to hopefully get to eat out more everywhere. We stayed really close to home in 2020, and although we committed to supporting restaurants as much as possible, we were limited by geography. I want the whole industry to succeed and I can’t wait to try things that I’ve missed in the last year.
What culinary destination are you eager to visit when travel reopens, and why?
I’m the worst person to answer this question because I want to go everywhere. My now-husband and I had been deep into all the airplane mileage strategies before the pandemic hit because we wanted to go somewhere neither of us had been before for our honeymoon—but we couldn’t (and still can’t) decide where. When things shut down, I had just been to Singapore with my mom and aunt and we were looking into trips to Madagascar and Sri Lanka. But really, my first trip will be back to India, where much of my family lives, and I’ll be thrilled to eat everything Delhi has to offer.