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The Eight Best Food Stories of the Year

Check out some of the year's most important stories written about food, all in the running for this week's Beard Awards.

The James Beard Foundation hosts its prestigious award ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York City on May 3. Much like James Beard, the man himself—a quintessential American cook who loved to eat—the Oscars of the food world tends to favor upscale dining in big city places. While the foundation could make a bold statement by highlighting more cooks who are making a difference by making dinner, in at least one category, it’s shown it is willing to award a combination of food and social change—a viable and visible countercuisine.

Beard was a “patron saint of culinary values,” according to food writer David Kamp, and as more reviewers move away from being mere culinary mentors towards acting as consumer advocates, one of the James Beard Award’s categories—for food journalism—shows just how contemporaries are serving up social values through food.

Here are eight of nominees worth reading:

In Through the Back Door” in The Oxford American
John T. Edge consistently writes about Southern food with a scholarly flourish. He doesn’t celebrate virtuous eaters and hipster farmers; instead, he writes about how food can bridge fractured race and class relations, in this case, with greasy, hickoried pork-shoulder sandwiches known as barbecue.

A Hunger to Help” in Westword
Jared Jacang Maher looks at a restaurant in Colorado using the same method of paying the bills that Radiohead used for In Rainbow. Patrons can pay $5 or $15, and the soup-kitchen crowd mingles with vegan punks, and where culinary idealism meets social justice.

Throwing Out the Wheat” in Slate
Dan Engber questions the latest diet fad: gluten-free. Going G-free is expensive, maybe not altogether worth it, and gluten intolerance is often misdiagnosed. Engber delicately suggests that gluten anxiety—and the media hype surrounding it—might just be another manifestation of another condition: general food anxiety.

Nachos for Lunch? Yes, Every Day” in the Chicago Tribune
Monica Eng finds that the gooey, cheesy fried tortilla snack have gone from ballpark standby to school-lunch staple. If you want an abbreviated version of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution—without the made-for-reality-TV gimmicks—this piece succinctly tackles the complex subject of school lunch reform from the lunch line up.

The Charcuterie Underground” in the Chicago Reader
The federal rules for curing meat, it turns out, were designed for industrial food processors. As part of year-long series, Mike Sula visits two guys running a small-scale bacon and sausage company—who represent part of the politicized front line of the nation’s growing charcuterie revival.

Not So Clear Cut” in the Houston Press
What’s really in a fajita? Robb Walsh tracks down the origins of a beefy, Tex-Mex mystery meat, and comes up with some intriguing discoveries—not only what’s in a tortilla, but also what’s in a name.

The Price of Tomatoes” in Gourmet
Barry Eastabrook visits the tomato capital of the United States and finds dozens of underpaid workers living in squalid conditions. In his simple, evocative piece, the ever-intrepid reporter sheds some much-needed light on the social costs of growing many supermarket tomatoes.

Who knows? Maybe these stories represent the vanguard of things to come, the day when the Beard Foundation makes a high-profile shift toward awarding the best and the brightest, chefs and writers who cook up something delicious—and socially provocative.

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