The Ten: Charlotte Druckman
Name and job title
Charlotte Druckman author/food writer
Where were you born, and where do you live now?
New York, New York. Both answers. Only difference is that I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and now I live in Greenwich Village. Same island—I just migrated downtown.
How you describe what you do job?
I try not to. People’s concept of “food writer” is either confused or belittling; then there are those who think if you write about food then surely you must be a restaurant critic because there is nothing else to see here, or something. In the simple sense, I think of it as being a journalist with food and everything it’s connected to as your beat or writing about culture through the lens of food.
I came into it through from writing/editorial end—not food in terms of academic/professional interest and experience. I chose food later on, once I went freelance (mid-aughts) because when I started writing about food, I felt I’d found my voice. More important, I believed it was the best editorial conduit for getting my ideas out.
Food is a shared, universal interest. For some privileged people it’s a leisure pursuit and available in abundance, for others, simply a means of survival, and a scarce one. But we all rely on it for our existence and we all care about it and tend to have an opinion if not concerns about it. That makes it a great gateway to discuss other issues that might be off-putting or seem less “fun.”
That said, I will always identify more as an ideas person than as a writer. Writing, and writing about food, always seemed the most productive, cost-efficient way to get my ideas out (lately, to be maybe more honest than anyone asked for, I’m questioning this—not just the cost-efficiency part, but the writing part altogether).
How much did you spend on your last cup of coffee?
I quit coffee (except a sneaky iced coffee sometimes in summer, or the wake-up espresso or café au lait required to offset jetlag). But every day, I make what I guess you could call a matcha au lait—except I don’t warm up the (almond) milk. Recently, I’ve been getting Kettl’s Hukuju matcha ($55 for 100g). They recommend it for blending—so if you’re having your matcha with some milk in it, this is your pick. I really like it—such a nice roasty-toasty flavor. I use one tea scoop (e.g. like this) and make it in a big mug (yes, it’s best to do it in a bowl for optimal whisking, but I like a big mug for my daily ritual). Then I add a splash of Califa almond milk, which I always have in my fridge and costs around $4.00 per 1.4 liters.
What is one ingredient that is crucial to your work and/or life?
What does a food and/or drinks system mean to you?
It means looking at how each of us, as individuals, is part of any number of intersecting systems that are part of a larger food/drinks system. None of it is isolated. So, we are each a walking foodways in a sense. But then we’re part of our own cultural and geographical foodways at the same time—those are interrelated, they constantly intersect and affect one another. And all of that is just a small part of a global food system comprised of all these micro- and macro-systems. I’m an American person of Ashkenazi descent, so I’m a product and a part of the Jewish diaspora. I’m also a New Yorker. And I’m a food writer—part of food media. Each of these things could be studied within the context of a foodways and contributes to that larger whole. Because each impacts each other. Now that I read this back, it seems a little like gibberish. But I know what I meant. I think/hope it makes some sense or you get the idea…
How does your immediate locale affect your work?
See above. But, also, it’s so expensive to live here, which means when you live here, your sense of the cost of things not just to you but what that would like elsewhere, can easily get skewed. Similarly, we’re not wanting for things in New York City. Our climate may not naturally offer them to us, or even be conducive to all these things, but they come here! And so long as people are willing and able to buy them, they will continue to come here. It messes with your sense of “normal” for sure. Working in food media in NYC just makes things even more myopic and less relatable or, relating.
In that sense, I’m always having to step back before I get really excited about something so I can think about its value outside of my world, and whether or not it has any real value. That said, NYC is also a place where ideas thrive. So many people with so many ideas. For someone driven by curiosity, that means you never run out of fodder for inspiration or question-asking/answer-seeking.
Where do you draw inspiration from, in your work?
Pop culture. All of it. I’m interested in what’s considered high culture, and in all that’s considered “lowbrow,” and everything in between. So, I can get inspiration at a Robert Rauschenberg show, or watching the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. I get inspiration from music, from cookbooks, from novels, from art criticism, from fashion, from film, from a well-designed chair, on walks with friends, or alone.
I always consider it a kind of crisis when I’m not able to find inspiration. Because, truly, it doesn’t take much!
What impact do you want to have?
I want everyone to come visit my mausoleum when they feel sad or stressed or at a crossroads and enjoy the free snacks always on offer, and the ever-changing playlist, and feel better. JUST KIDDING. I want to support the communities I care about, or the ones where I can make any kind of difference. That means my community of freelance writers, my community of women who work in or adjacent to food, my community of New Yorkers (or the ones who don’t suck). Doing that, based on my skill set, looks a lot like writing pieces that will make people rethink the status quo and ask questions and push back against things that aren’t fair, that don’t look quite right because they’re not. Doing that means constantly trying to think about other ways to do our jobs and help talented colleagues and visionaries do the same in their worlds. Doing that means understanding that there is never just one correct way to do something and that often, the one presented as such, is being done so because it benefits a few people who have been exploiting it (and those involved in it) for a long time; and then doing that means exposing those truths and celebrating the people who are doing it differently, better, or asking others to think about what that might look like. Sometimes, it’s just about getting people into their kitchens and psyched to bake or helping them become more confident or imaginative cooks.
What change do you want to see in the food and/or drinks system?
Oof this question. It’s beyond a reboot issue. It’s like a reinvention situation at this point, and as previously noted, I don’t believe there’s one solution. Plus, there are so many micro-systems to consider; we need to re-think those and set up different infrastructures that don’t put commerce above everything else for each of those systems.
To go back to the idea of value, our values, and our sense of value, as part of a capitalist system need to be reprogrammed. Do you know how hard that is? The people really benefiting from capitalism are small in number, but thanks to this very system, they are mighty in power and wealth and they’ve built a whole number of systems to maintain the Big One—these include systems of THOUGHT. So, yeah, it’s like reprogramming. We’re all fucked, basically.
Sorry. That is not really an answer or what anyone wants to read, so I’ll go back to inspiration. We need to champion and support (in every way possible) the people in our communities who are actively changing this by going against the currents of their own systems and establishing new ways. Even if you aren’t someone who believes they’re capable of building something new, or tearing down the old, you can support the people who are. That is what I want to see in the world, and in the smaller world of food/drink. I want to see us question our values, question the meaning of value, and value the people who can make and are making a difference, and are approaching things in new ways with a clear understanding of what value could or should mean. I don’t care if it’s one cookbook or an independent media company, if it’s a single restaurant or an organization fighting for equity in the restaurant industry, all of these things matter.
One more thing—don’t be afraid to call out bullshit when you see it, and again, support the people who are doing that if you’re not bold enough or empowered to do it on your own or do it first. Don’t sit there, silent. And definitely don’t let them get beat up for it, proverbially or literally. Show up in whatever way you can.
We ask all our interviewees to please send us two photos: one that represents themselves and one that represents their work.
"The author photo is from my last cookbook and the anthology, which my dad took, as a candid!"