Food writing was almost unavoidable for Carla Spartos, the New York Post's food writer and editor. Her father was a restaurateur in New York--serving classic continental dishes to the masses like steaks, chops and everyday Italian fare. Spartos spent her hours after school sipping Shirley Temples and eyeing the kitchen's cook line. And as a precocious middle-schooler, she even wrote an expose on cafeteria meat. Spartos left her mark at the Village Voice, Zagat and New York Magazine. Now, at the New York Post, Spartos covers every aspect of the food and restaurant industry. In 2009 she made some major waves in the food world with an editorial calling out snobbery in the modern food movement. SAJAForum's Shefali Kulkarni checked in with Spartos ahead of this year's SAJA convention, where she will speak about how she turned her love of food into a career.
SK: How did you land at the New York Post writing about what you love?
CS: It was sort of a long path. I grew up in restaurants, my dad was a restaurateur so basically every day after school I would hang out in the restaurant kitchen watching the line. After that, I studied at Cornell and originally I thought I might go into science writing, but my first job out of college was at the Village Voice. When I started at the Voice I was covering music and night life and I used to review bars -- that was a pretty great job for someone in their 20s. And then I segweyed into the food aspect. I worked as a web producer for New York Magazine, and I was doing some food articles there and then later at Zagat I was an editor.
It’s funny I wrote these articles for the seventh grade -- an expose on the cafeteria food. There was a quote that ran with it, something like: ‘Today’s hamburger could be tomorrow’s taco’ and it was about how the cafeteria would recycle food. I think there was always something [about food writing] in the back of my mind -- it was a passion, and it was just a matter of working my way into that role eventually.
SK: Talk a little about the 2009 editorial in the New York Post and some of the reactions that came from that.
CS: I think if we elicit some strong reactions with what we do, then we’ve done our job. If everyone says "Oh that’s what I’ve been thinking," then what are you adding to the dialogue? I do think someone who is cookin at home using a bag of salad or maybe frozen carrots -- I think that also should be encouraged. What’s the alternative? Maybe they would be eating at McDonald’s. It was also poking a bit of fun at the snobbery that’s maybe a little inherent sometimes.
SK: Where is food writing’s place in today’s media? With lots of food blogs out there, do you see that helping or hurting quality food writing? Is everyone a food critic now?
CS: I think it’s great. I’m an avid food blog reader, I love combing and reading through people’s opinions whether it’s Yelp or City Search or Menu Pages. I just find it interesting and you have to take everything with a grain of salt of course. But ultimately it's a good thing, the more voices you have out there.
SK: What advice would you recommend to young food writers?
CS: The industry itself has gotten a lot tougher to break into over the last say decade. I’m on the [SAJA Convention] panel called "Dream Jobs" and it’s just highly competitive now. Food is now being treated the way music or rock and roll is in a way.
My advice would be to do an internship. I think the other helpful thing is that since blogs are so ubiquitous, it’s great to start your own, so you can already have a body of work all ready to show someone your passion. And try to eat as much and as often as possible or what your budget allows -- try to have your own point of view.