What Is Peeled?
Every year, there are moments when I feel like giving up this beat. It would be so easy. I could take an editor job with a steady paycheck and actual benefits (woah!) at which I’d be asked to churn out listicles of “new gluten-free snacks” and “high-protein breakfast recipes.”
More people would click my stories. (Everyone wants to read about hot cocoa bombs; very few seek out coverage of how fast immigrant workers are forced to process chickens.) I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night gripped by terror over whether I forgot to ask an important interview question or left a crucial detail out of a story.
I don’t like to complain about the job, because I am deeply grateful that I have managed to make a career out of this. Part of what keeps me going, though (since the lucrative nature of this business is not it), is that I believe in these stories. I believe that they are necessary to make people’s lives better, to save a flailing planet, to build a more just and equitable society.
If food is a never-ending constant in every single human’s daily life, how could we not be concerned about every aspect of how it’s produced and what it all means?
But during the shitstorm that was 2020, I began to doubt, more than ever, that the stories mattered. At Civil Eats, we scrambled to cover things as they unfolded—from the failure of the government to protect meatpacking workers to the resilience of small farms in the midst of supply chain disruptions. We used the reporting to highlight the fact that these are the issues we have been covering all along. I interviewed Cory Booker about corporate consolidation and CAFOs in The Guardian and wrote about oysters—the most climate-friendly food ever—in The Washington Post. But the idea that people are now “paying attention” feels tenuous at best.
Restaurants that have supported local growers and advocated for community food systems are disappearing, while chains like Taco Bell are sitting pretty with their government aid. Amazon and Walmart are becoming even bigger grocery behemoths, and commodity farms are happily cashing taxpayer checks. Meat companies took exploiting their workers to a new level...and ended up with more money than ever, while the working poor are struggling to feed their families at unprecedented levels.
In November, I interviewed Tom Philpott (an amazing journalist on this beat) about his book, Perilous Bounty, on my Heritage Radio podcast The Farm Report. And I was reminded that the growth of the “local food movement” over more than a decade has done nothing to slow the machinery that runs the exploitative, industrial system. There are now alternatives available to those who can afford them, but the big guys don’t miss the farm-to-table foodies—and everyone else is screwed.
With some notable exceptions, food media, as a rule, ignores all of this and continues to celebrate the return of the McRib. So, there are two things to do. Give up. Say: Nothing’s working, I might as well join the woke choir waxing nostalgic about fast food while ignoring its exploitative nature. Or double down. Say: I need to do more.
I (obviously) chose the latter, because at the end of the day, I know that you care. I know that readers want to eat healthier and make choices that benefit workers and the planet. I know you’re hungry for information but there’s just so much noise to sort through and so much to care about right now. The bottom line is: I need to make it easier for you.
That’s what Peeled is all about.
Peeled is a newsletter that will allow me to share, explain, and analyze more of the reporting I do on food and how it relates to the important issues you care about—the climate crisis, poverty and hunger, racial justice, immigration and labor rights, and health.
It’s Peeled because:
*Most (not all!) food media hands you the apple without even considering what lies beneath that shiny outer layer. Not me. I’m all about stripping away layer after layer after layer.
*When I report stories, I end up with all kinds of research and interviews that never see the light of day. These are natural byproducts of the journalistic process. You fit what fits into a story, and the rest is thrown away, like potato peels when you decide to go mashed. But potato peels are filled with nutrients, and some of these byproducts also contain incredible value. Why not share some of that? How about a Q&A with a fascinating individual who only got to say one tiny thing in a big investigative story I did? Why not analyze a study I glossed right over because there wasn’t space to get into it? I am obsessive about avoiding waste in the kitchen and about how that waste, when utilized properly, becomes healthy, fruitful soil; time to apply the same mindset to my work.
*I am a news reporter, and I rarely put myself in stories. My work is not about me. Peeled won’t be either, but this is my newsletter, so I’m going to strip away the absent narrator and let you get to know me in a deeper way. I’m going to do more analysis and comment on how news events could affect the food system (and, in turn, your life). I’m going to share how the things I learn as I report affect what and how I eat. To be clear: I am committed to my role as a journalist and have no intention of becoming a talking head or advocate. So you won’t get political opinions or impassioned calls to action—but you can expect personality that is no longer restricted by whatever buttoned-up publication I’m usually writing for (fuck yeah) and a more transparent point of view.
Ready to subscribe to Peeled?
I’m not good at promoting myself, I don’t like to be the one in the story, and I hate selling. But here I am asking you to subscribe. (Do it! Please?) Paying for stories may feel strange, but the price is equivalent to the cost of one latte per month. Think of it that way. (Again, please?)
I can’t promise you’ll get what you want out of this or that I won’t fail at making every issue interesting. But I can promise you that it will be factual, reported, valuable information in your inbox every single week. I can promise you I will wake up in the middle of the night to agonize over whether or not I’m delivering what I promised. I will keep trying to make it better.
Most importantly, I can promise you that I will help you make sense of the crazy confusing food system you rely on to survive (and to find pleasure!). We’ll have fun, and along the way, you’ll get better and better at making delicious, healthy choices that truly align with your values—maybe for the first time.
Oh, I’ll probably also ruin some foods for you. (I’m good at that—sorry) But research shows that when you have fewer foods to choose from, you enjoy the ones you do pick even more. (So, you’re welcome.)
We’ll talk about policy a lot, too. We have to. But while I recognize that many people lack choices when it comes to food, for those of us who do have them, I will go to my grave arguing that they matter. We can’t wait around for policies that make things better; we have to use whatever agency we have, day after day, meal after meal.
Peeled will arrive in your inbox:
*Once a week on Thursdays
Every issue will include:
*What I’m reading
*What I’m eating
*Links to my work elsewhere
To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com.