Sunday, Mar 26, 2017
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Mary Bilyeu

Spoon U. dishes on future of food journalism

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Becca Berland is a Sylvania native who may just take my job some day. Or she may become the editor of Saveur, Food and Wine, or some other major food magazine.

She’s a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and the editor-in-chief of her school’s chapter of Spoon University (spoonuniversity.com), an online food site written by, and primarily for, college students. Becca is currently living in Tel Aviv and serving as a summer intern with Delicious Israel, an organization devoted to exploring the country’s tremendous food culture. For those who want to join me in living vicariously (and with a certain degree of envy), she is blogging about her adventures at ahandfulofbamba.wordpress.com.

Just as restaurant reviews are no longer merely for esteemed critics, but are now offered by anyone in possession of a phone, Wi-Fi access, and an opinion, writing about food in general is not just for those of us with business cards and bylines in newspapers.

I’m admittedly not a fan of Yelp and other such sites, where friends say great things about a place, folks with a grudge rant about it, and there’s little objectivity, training, or actual knowledge to use for guidance. And many blogs offer untested recipes or, almost as bad, rave reviews of products that were generously given to the bloggers precisely as a great marketing ploy. The Internet has opened up avenues for many people to talk about food, though not all of them have merit.

Spoon University, however, has a lot of potential.

It offers those who are young, who are passionate, and who are still learning — about food, about journalism, and about life — an opportunity to inform, to practice, to network, to entertain, and to build skill sets in a new venue.

Since it speaks to the students from their own perspective, it’s a very useful tool for learning about a college’s culture and community. You can find helpful lists, instructional videos, recommendations, and other culinary tidbits on the Spoon U sites, each with a local flavor based upon its school. The University of Michigan, for example, offers “The Ultimate Guide to Ann Arbor Milkshakes” while Michigan State’s chapter gives an overview of East Lansing’s food trucks.

How could you not love stories such as “10 Occasions When Ice Cream Is The Only Answer?” Because sometimes, that statement is really true.

But serious issues, such as eating disorders, have also been covered. If there’s a food-related subject of interest to college students, Spoon U has likely covered it at one of its chapters.

Trends such as pizza cones (savory waffle cones filled with pizza toppings) and kombucha (fermented tea drinks) are hot topics. Taste tests are done on gluten-free flours. And a wealth of information about vegan foods is offered, as eating a plant-based diet is increasingly popular with young adults.

Spoon University has sites at more than 80 schools, including Miami University and Ohio State University. Neither the University of Toledo nor Bowling Green State University has representation at Spoon U ... yet. But if any food fanatics at those schools would like to remedy this deficit, go to spoonuniversity.com/about/start-a-chapter. Fall term will be starting soon, you know.

While Spoon University’s target audience is college students, I — whose own child falls into that age group — still like to keep up with the kids’ recipes, suggestions, and ideas. It’s important to see what topics are interesting to those who are new to cooking, those who are living on meager budgets while paying tuition, those who are half my age with an entirely different perspective and voice.

Those who work on the Spoon U sites are building their resumes as future media representatives as surely as those who work for student newspapers or campus radio stations are.

So if Becca isn’t the one who ultimately fills the food editor job here some day, I wouldn’t be surprised if another Spoon U writer does.

Contact Mary Bilyeu at 
mbilyeu@theblade.com
 or 419-724-6155 or on Twitter @foodfloozie.

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