Thank You, James: The Year of Edible Communities

While our fingers remain crossed for all our chef and food biz friends whose awards are announced tonight the doling out of the The James Beard Foundation’s journalism awards a couple of nights ago was a joyous, memorable occasion. Not just because the Awards Committee bestowed its first ever Publication of the Year honors on Edible Communities, the national network of magazine that started in Ojai not even a decade ago and has grown to include 70 magazines around the country, including Edible Manhattan, Edible Brooklyn and Edible East End.

But because over four courses of food, many glasses of wine, beer and spirits, and some high-energy hosting of the Food Network’s Ted Allen and Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, we got to see friends from around the country whose work was being recognized, from the Atlantic’s Corby Kummer to Grist’s Tom Philpott, from Edible East End contributor Carl Safina (who won the Environment, Food Politics, and Policy category for his piece,  “Sea Change,” in EatingWell) to Humor: the anonymous creator of the Twitter handle @RuthBourdain which won the Humor category (in an insider joke that keeps turning on itself), to writers Amanda Hesser and Paul Greenberg, whose acceptance speech for his book Four Fish offered a call to action to stop an imminent mining venture in one of the continent’s last great salmon runs.

The Foundation is evolving, as was made clear by a video montage about the recent sustainability roundtables it has convened in Portland, Washington, DC and New York, as well as a revamping of the journalism award categories. As Awards Committee head Dorothy Kalins noted, the categories now better reflect how people are writing about food and what sort of food we are writing about. One can even imagine a time when the food and drink served at the dinner mirrors this philosophical shift. NYC tap water was oddly absent from the meal, as were details about the origins of the food ingredients; standout dishes included the mushroom and sardine amuse bouche, and the sweet and savory desserts by Pichet Ong.

Throughout the night, friends and colleagues visited the two Edible tables to pay their respects. We were glad to commune with Marion Nestle, who is archiving Edible magazines from around the nation at NYU, as well as fellow nominees like Barry Estabrook, who won the Individual Food Blog category for Politicsoftheplate.com, and to our East End neighbor James Villas (who won for Pig, his book on pork). And it was a treat to see a steady stream of folks genuflecting in the direction of one of our table mates, food movement matriarch Joan Gussow, the subject of the Edible Manhattan article that was nominated in the Profile category.

Alas, the article did not win. But, if I had won, here’s what I would have said:

“First, let me thank Joan Gussow, a friend and mentor to so many of us in this room.

Thank you to my wife Sarah, who is a great writing critic and who also has one of the most discerning palates I know. If you haven’t noticed, the belt on her dress tonight is a ribbon from a box of Vosges chocolates.

Thanks to all my Edible colleagues, near and far:

My co-publisher and partner, Stephen Munshin,

Our wildly talented Manhattan and Brooklyn editors, Gabrielle Langholtz and Rachel Wharton,

Our photo editor in the city, Michael Harlan Turkell,

Edible East End’s photo editor, Lindsay Morris,

Our events director, Samantha Seier, because everyone knows that a magazine needs an event division nowadays,

Our dear friends and allies, Leigh and Charlie Merinoff.

Thank you to the other Edible publishers who are here tonight from Cape Cod and Boston and beyond,

And, finally, thank you to Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, who launched this incredible national network of magazines that I’m so honored to be part of. I am so grateful for that fortuitous lunch date we shared at a seafood joint overlooking Mussel Shoals on the California coast, and forever thankful for your vision of community-owned, community-supported magazines devoted to celebrating the central role that food plays in our lives, supporting our neighbors through what we eat and drink and chronicling those most important heroes in each of our communities, the people who feed us. “

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Brian is the editor in chief of Edible East End, Edible Long Island, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. He writes from his home in Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his family tend a home garden and oysters. He is also obsessed with ducks, donuts and dumplings.