Bao Ong, Editor, Eater - Hungry for Changes in Food Media
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
What changes would you like to see in food media?
I'd love to see a wider range of chefs featured when food media covers a particular type of cuisine, instead of journalists always going back to the same sources or the trendiest chefs of the day (I've been guilty of this myself). Also, what's considered “diverse cuisine” would benefit from not being treated as "exotic" or in need of a special treatment—i.e., “We'll only do a big feature on Chinese food when Lunar New Year rolls around.” Food media outlets could do a better job of incorporating what's thought of as diverse cuisine into everyday coverage.
What has food media done right, and what improvements still need to be made?
I think food media has started trying — to varying degrees of success so far — to cover a wider range of stories by hiring more journalists of color, whether they're on staff or freelance. That said, food media as a whole still has to do the homework. An outlet doesn't simply unlearn or fix all its biases by hiring journalists of color. I always believe food media outlets need to work harder to find the journalists who are best qualified to write and report a story, to produce a video or podcast, or to write a cookbook. The loudest or most-followed person on social media doesn't necessarily equate to the best person to produce a work of journalism.
What tips can you give travelers interested in conscientious and responsible approaches to local food cultures?
Do some research, be polite, don't be afraid to ask questions, but also don't center your own experience as the only point of view.
What was your go-to recipe during quarantine?
I made this somen salad so many times last year. Yes, it's so easy and delicious, but it's also from a good friend's food blog (hi, @onolicioushawaii). She and I have traveled many times together, but we haven't seen each other in nearly a year now since she lives on the other coast. Cooking her recipes is almost as fun as hanging out with her.
Which writers of color do you think are helping drive the narrative in food writing today?
Ligaya Mishan, Tejal Rao, and Bryan Washington.
Excited about any particular chefs in 2021?
Restaurants are still very much struggling to make sure they can still be open once the pandemic passes. I want to see as many chefs succeed as possible.
What culinary destination are you eager to visit when travel reopens, and why?
That's a difficult question. I still haven't been to Portugal, but I'd be happy subsisting on conservas and a liquid diet (all the wine, please). I haven't been to Vietnam since 2005 and would love to travel with the intent of learning more about all the different regional foods, especially from my father's village on the Mekong River in southern Vietnam. I have a big birthday coming up this fall and hope to spend a month in France — partly to research an idea for a possible book down the road, and also just to eat all the pastries (and drink more wine).