Bill Esparza’s James Beard Award Win Shows Why We Need More Latino Food Writers

A belated congrats to OC Weekly contributor Bill Esparza on being one half of the winning team for Los Angeles behind this year’s James Beard Award for Food Coverage in a General Interest Publication (Los Angeles food editor Lesley Bargar Suter took the other half—her second win for the mag). Bill, of course, writes the Tijuana Sí! column for us when he’s not running LA Weekly‘s fantastically successful Tacolandia (for which I’m a judge) and rightfully trashing Rick Bayless at every opportunity imaginable

Esparza’s win is especially significant, though, because it highlights the desperate lack of Latino food writers in the United States. Outside of Esparza, the only other Latinos I could find in the Beard’s writing competition are three for cookbooks (including Los Angeles Times arts editor Laurie Ochoa tome on Nancy Silverton that won in 1997), and just two in the journalism category: Ochoa again, and author Junot Diaz (for a 2007 essay on Dominican restaurants in New York City that remains one of the most scintillating food pieces I’ve ever read). If I’m right, Esparaza’s only the fifth Latino in 20 years to win a Beard in writing—and the first Mexican-American ever.

The James Beard Foundation doesn’t have a good way of tracking all of its champs, so excuse me if I’m a bit scattershot in my analysis. But even if I’m wrong, I’m confident I won’t be off by a lot. Besides, the fact remains: there are pathetically few Latino food writers that have penetrated the famously insular foodie world, the ones that get invited to all the festivals and openings, that get called by food publications for comment or get published regularly in national publications and websites. Hell, I think I can name them all on one hand: Ochoa, Esparza, myself, Javier Cabral of Munchies (another former Weekling—BOOM), Eat Mexico maven Lesley Tellez, and former Orange County Register reporter Serena Maria Daniels, who’s holding down the fort up at Detroit’s Metro Times (and let’s not forget the Texas homies Mando Rayo and Jose Ralat)!

Diversity is a serious issue in journalism right now, especially in an era where affirmative-action programs are essentially done. But it’s especially magnified in the food world. What’s so important about having more Latino diversity in food writing? You mean besides the fact that Latinos—specifically Mexican immigrants—are the backbone of the American food system, from picking the crops to preparing the food to increasingly setting trends in cuisine? And that we’re better equipped than anyone else to tell those and other stories? And that the food world has relied far too long on gabachos to tell those stories on our behalf? If I gotta explain it to you, then you must think Rick Bayless is wonderful—in which case, vete a la chingada.

Anyhoo, congrats Bill, on a well-deserved victory. And may your win convince other young Mexis that they, too, can write, gabacho editors be damned.

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