Hannah Howarda Brooklyn-based food writer, publishes her latest book, a memoir titled PLENTY: A memoir of food and family.
In this memoir, Hannah Howard shares the stories of women in the food industry based in New York, as well as her own experiences in the food industry, the bonds it led her to develop with friends and family and his difficulties with a previous diet. disorder.
In an interview with Hannah Howard, Total Food Service talked about the details of her new book and her career path from restaurant and food salesman to food writer.
What inspired you to weave your own personal story with that of other women in the food industry?
I have always been drawn to memoirs, telling my own story and using my own experiences in my writing. When I started this project, the focus was on profiling women in the food industry and not so much on myself, but in early drafts that I shared with my writing group and a few friends , they all said they liked the personal pieces and wanted more of it. As a woman who has worked in the food industry my entire career, I kind of felt like I was part of history. It was fun to be able to share my own experience and get to know the women I was writing about, hang out with them, and have their incredible confidence in me to share their stories and experiences.
How did you decide which women to profile in your book?
When I started the project, I thought I would profile important and highly successful women, but as I started to research and interview, I felt more inspired to speak to people who are in the trenches doing their own thing. That’s not to say the women in my book aren’t successful, because they certainly all are, but they’re not celebrities. These are people who are making their way in this world of food and hospitality. These women were people I somehow knew or tried to get to know through the process of writing and building my own community of women in the food industry.
When in the past two years have you conducted these interviews with the women? Were they interviewed at some point or were you able to track them throughout the pandemic?
I started this project before the pandemic. I started writing in 2018, developing the idea and first drafts, then really digging into it in 2019. My book draft was due to my publisher on April 1, 2020, so right at the start of the pandemic, so I was only able to catch them at the start of the pandemic. The final chapters are this rush of how everything changes. There may be a chapter on recording in a few months, then that’s all about the pandemic. The time leading up to the pandemic seems like an eternity ago now.
As someone who has worked in food service and retail, how does your experience in the field influence your writing and the questions you ask women?
I share the same passion and curiosity for food as they do, and I think it helps to be in the trenches of the food industry as well, so I understand how difficult it is. I’ve worked in front and back of house restaurants, so I know how brutal the schedules are. I lived this life, I experienced it and I chose it for myself. I feel like it gives me a lot in common with the people I’ve written about.
What made you go from working in restaurants and food retail to being a food journalist?
I’ve always loved restaurants, going out to eat, cooking and eating, so I thought I wanted to have my own restaurant. I worked in restaurants in New York in college, and after college I took a restaurant management program. I worked in restaurant management for several years and the more I did that the more I realized that while I still loved restaurants and food, this was not where I was going to shine. I found the hours difficult. I am a morning person and worked in restaurants that were open very late, I was always exhausted and had little time to spend with my family and friends outside of the industry.
I have also always loved writing. It seemed like a pipe dream to make a career as a food writer, but I started writing on the side as a freelancer. I wrote a series of profiles on food entrepreneurs and interviewed Steven Jenkins, one of the owners of Fairway Market in New York. I sympathized with him and on this crazy whim I asked him if he was hiring. I started out behind the cheese counter, but as someone with a background and a love for writing, I ended up being the editor as the company grew, marketing everything from signs next to the cheeses to the emails they sent to customers about promotions for the week. , everything they needed. That’s when I realized I could make money writing about food. I had writing jobs for many different food companies and that was kind of the start. It’s always a bit surreal that I can do this as my
As a male-dominated industry, do you sometimes feel like there are certain expectations or limitations as to your role in this and how do you deal with them?
Absoutely. When I look back on my career, I had incredible mentors, but they were all men. Even though this is a male-dominated field, there is still plenty of room for women’s voices and perspectives. I started my career at the age of 18 as a hostess in an old school fine dining restaurant in New York. I was battling an eating disorder at the time, but felt like I was hired only because I was thin and presented the image they were looking for. I think there’s a pressure for women to convey a certain image that doesn’t exist as much for men.
Did you find that your relationship with food changed while you were writing these memoirs?
My eating disorder will always be part of my reality, but it has no role in my life now like it did in the past. I don’t see myself as someone with an active eating disorder, but as someone who is recovering. It also taught me a lot. Even at the height of my difficulties, I still loved food and wanted to celebrate it. I was surprised at how much I’m still learning as I got to know women for my book and the new
insights that I gained.
As someone who has lived with an eating disorder, now as a food writer, do you pay more attention to the language used to describe foods to avoid triggering similar experiences in your readers?
I always try to think about the language I use as a writer, as someone who cares about words and the power they hold. I think in terms of eating disorders and body image, I try to be very careful. My first book describes in detail my experience with an eating disorder and people, who struggle or find it close to home, have told me they find it too difficult to read because it triggers them . As I write, I think about what would have helped me ten years ago when I was struggling and what would have made it worse, but it’s such a personal situation. Everyone is different in what might be helpful and what might be a challenge in their individual situation and process, so I know I can’t be perfect in that regard. However, it’s something I think about and try to be sensitive to.
For our readers in the restaurant and food retail industry, are you interested in employment opportunities writing for such companies?
Yes, I really enjoy my work as a writer for different food companies and still do today. I’m always open to new collaborations and new customers.
Hannah Howard is also a member of Dames d’Escoffier New York (LDNY), the nonprofit education, scholarship, mentorship and advocacy organization for women in the culinary and hospitality industry.