It’s no secret that the food industry is currently hanging by a thread.
While restaurants have seen a sharp decline in profitability in the wake of COVID-19, food media groups like Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street are trudging along, doing what they know best: bringing the hidden corners of the culinary world straight to your doorstep and changing the way you think about cooking. The growth in readership of food media parallels the decline in the rest of the food industry, giving ventures like Milk Street an opportunity and a responsibility to highlight those who are struggling.
Milk Street began in 2016 after Chris Kimball left the praised cooking show America’s Test Kitchen. Kimball spent almost 20 years building up the ATK empire before deciding to go in a different direction. “The point of Milk Street is to spend time with folks who view cooking very differently than I do,” said Kimball during our pre-pandemic conversation in February. “That is the joy of culinary travel—learning from home cooks who know more than I do”.
With a weekly podcast, multi-season television series, bimonthly magazine, radio show, online store, and in-person cooking classes (now available online for free), Milk Street quite literally does it all. Instead of finding their niche by dominating a certain medium, they have established themselves in the culinary world through their worldly approach to cooking techniques, ingredients, and influences.
The foundation of Milk Street’s movement towards a global approach to food is Kimball’s proposed ‘new rules’ for cooking. “Good cooking shouldn’t take hours,” states rule number 3, a contradiction to the basic idea that more time means more flavor. These rules are revolutionary propositions that have been inspired by home cooks from Mumbai to Oaxaca and everywhere in between. “We are moving towards a world, as we already are in music and fashion, where everything is going to be a mix, a hodgepodge of different cultures and experiences,” noted Kimball in discussing the future of the American food scene. The importance of food in every culture lends itself to laying a foundation for empathy and equality across cultures.
In an effort to take advantage of their platform and highlight these different cultures and experiences, Milk Street has started #MilkStreetFaces, a social media movement that “shares the stories of the people who feed us.”
#MilkStreetFaces projects the voices of those who were previously limited in the communities that they reached. “Food injustice is racial injustice,” stated Vel Scott of Purple Oasis Farms in Cleveland, Ohio. “You’re not going to be able to fight and march and make change unless you have a healthy outlook.” The ideas that begin with food soon permeate every facet of life.
Across the country, chefs are using food as a common denominator in the wake of intense racial discrimination and a relentless global pandemic. “If we get people to sit down, break bread, and talk, get to know each other, we can build the relationships to tackle the really tough things,” remarked James Beard award-winning author, Adrian Miller. Food is especially powerful in this way.
Milk Street has always worked through food to bridge the divide between cultures. Over the past few months, however, the urgency and necessity of this goal has only become more obvious.