On this episode of the “Extra Spicy” podcast, Korsha Wilson talks about her website and podcast, “A Hungry Society,” and how she’s protected her byline by only taking on writing assignments she believes in. Her focus on Caribbean cuisine and Black foodways at large has been an inspiration to hosts Soleil Ho and Justin Phillips.
Plus: Soleil and Justin compare their writing careers to the acting career of Nicolas Cage.
Listen to the episode by clicking on the player above, and scroll down to read a condensed transcript of Soleil Ho and Justin Phillip’s full conversation with Korsha Wilson.
Here is a transcript of Soleil Ho and Justin Phillip’s interview with Korsha Wilson, condensed and edited and for clarity. The interview was conducted on Aug. 4, 2020.
Soleil Ho: How do you make your writing and podcasting work reflect the reality that you want to see? And what is that reality?
I recently came up with this rubric for anything that I do. It has to be insightful, joyful, creative, multi-dimensional and nuanced. And any opportunity that comes into my inbox has to go up against that criteria. Does it meet those checkmarks? If it does. I’ll do it. If it doesn’t, then I’ll hand it off to somebody else.
But I think specifically for Black foodways in this country, treating them with respect and curiosity … I find other writers approach Black foodways with this idea that they already understand it and it’s simple and it’s not regional or specific. And so for me, it’s about rectifying that narrative and adding a bit more nuance to it. And showing that as many Black people as there are in this country, that there are that many stories. And so there’s this never-ending supply of things to talk about and things to understand, and different foods to talk about, too. Soleil Ho: So how do you resist that monolithic tendency that I think people tend to apply to Black foodways, like you said, but also to you as a Black food writer.
I don’t want to be fighting the whole Caribbean. So it requires me being very clear on which stories I’m telling and why I’m telling them — being really clear on the intention — and that helps guide where I end up. Soleil Ho: To be clear, though, you’re turning down financial opportunities, right?
Justin Phillips: I had a conversation recently with a group of people talking about how to diversify media. And part of the conversation was about diversifying the sources that they use in stories. And my thought was that you diversify your staff, you won’t have to worry about this back end of diversified sources, because they’ll come in and already talk to different people than most of your traditional writers would do.
My hope is that there’ll be more writers that look like you that’ll be hired on staffs and given positions of power. When will that change start to take place? Is the onus on readers? How is this supposed to happen?
I think there are more writers of color who are in food right now who are telling these stories, who have a larger platform to share their stories. And I think it does so much good for younger writers of color to see us doing this. To know that this is an option.
Like when I was in middle school, I knew I wanted to be a food writer. And so I actually shadowed a food critic at Washingtonian magazine. And we went to this little Indian restaurant and she talked me through how she would taste different spices. And then afterwards, we were driving to the office and she was talking me through how she remembers the menu and whatever. It was so I could see it. I could see that job, you know what I mean?
And it’s hard to emulate something that you can’t see. That you never see. You don’t know that it’s even possible for you. So I think it’s a lot of pressure on us. But I think our work is way more subversive than people realize. Because we’re not just documenting what’s happening right now, but we’re also laying the groundwork for future generations to come in and do it, too. And there’s plenty of people who laid groundwork for us right now. So it just continues on. Soleil Ho: Yeah. I mean, I am so excited to be obsolete. To have like the next generation just be like: “I don’t know what she’s talking about anymore. So out of date and like, completely out of touch.” I am so eager for that day.
I don’t think anybody I’ll call you out of touch.
Soleil Ho: I hope so! That we’ve progressed so far that I am just like the “OK Boomer” type of person. And I’m like: “What are these kids talking about anymore, you know?” It would be amazing.
Soleil Ho: Yeah, so I’m curious then. … What is the writing that you want to do? I think there’s a lot of writing that we feel like we must do. But what is your moon shot like? If you had all the resources, all the esteem, all the privileges that we’re all kind of yearning for to enable us to do what we want to do, what would you be doing?
And stories like that. Just giving Black culinarians the opportunity to shine and be recognized and talk about why they do what they do. I just want “A Hungry Society” to be a database for that. So when you Google these chefs, when you Google these people, you don’t have to search too hard. You come across them like in their full glory, telling their story, talking about why food matters to them. Soleil Ho: So it’s almost like you want to expand “A Hungry Society” into this multimedia keystone in the community. Oh, that’s cool.
It’s really scary, though. It’s just me right now. But yeah, that’s the dream. And “A Hungry Society” actually started as a T-shirt company. They were not good.
So I pivoted. And started the website and then pitched the podcast to Heritage Radio. And they took it. So it’s been a couple years of the podcast. Soleil Ho: So you’re like halfway to Sheree Williams’ level. Soleil Ho: Very cool. And who would the audience be for that project? Like, how do you envision this being reflected into the community? Soleil Ho: When you write — if you ever use “we” or “you,” or those sorts of direct pronouns. Who’s included in that? Who should be?
When you said “we” my initial reaction was “ugh.”
Soleil Ho: Is “we” canceled?
I think it should be. Like, who is “we.” I do know a little bit of reporting, but mostly essay writing. And so a lot of the time it’s coming from my perspective as a Black woman, as a Black diner, as someone who used to work in restaurants. So that’s the perspective I’m always writing from. And when I think about the audience, I think about like … “If I were talking to my mom, or if I were talking to my cousin, what would I say about this place? Like, what does it feel like? Is there something non-food-related that I can use as a comparison that would work?” Stuff like that helps.
Soleil Ho: Why doesn’t food bring us together?
Because it’s like if it could, then it would have done so by now. We’ve been using food for a very long time. There is something to be said about the joy that comes from getting with other people. But if we’re expecting food to change someone’s political views, we know that’s not true. There’s plenty of people who are anti-immigration and say: “Taco Tuesday, it’s great!”
That’s not how it works. Food is always deeply political and deeply personal. And it doesn’t soothe any of those things for everyone. Soleil Ho: Right. Yeah, does the objectivity — the journalistic principle of the view from nowhere — does it fit with food ever? You know, your writing isn’t especially objective because it is very mired in your specific subjectivity. Your particular point of view. And to write about food from an “objective stance” — it seems like that sentiment that you expressed, that food brings us together is an expression of that, too, right? Of an expression that isn’t offensive, appeals to everyone, seemingly, but also no one. And it really takes food and food writing like out of its power. Out of any sort of meaning that it could possibly achieve.
I think it’s definitely the case when you’re talking about broader issues within food. If you’re trying to talk about a particular dish or if you’re talking about a particular dining experience, then I think you do need to very much root yourself and your personal experience of what you’re bringing to the table when you approach that thing.
Soleil Ho: So if people want to find you and your work, where do they do that?
So you can go to ahungrysociety.com. You can go to KorshaWilson.com. Or you could go to @AHungrySociety or @KorshaWilson on Twitter and Instagram. Soleil Ho: Cool. Thank you.