The online pantry taking it slow to go back to the source
Want to know the history of rum? Or the virtues of fermenting and art of pickling? And what on earth is onion pakora weather?! Meet the radical women sourcing ingredients to shift assumptions
Everybody eats, so everybody needs to be engaged in this conversation in some way.Anna Sulan Masing
Slow food journalism leaders Chloe-Rose Crabtree and Dr Anna Sulan Masing sit side by side in Chloe’s London home kitchen, dogs at their feet, tucking into bowls of rice and swiss chard with a crispy fried egg. What busy freelancers would invite you over to theirs for a first meeting and interview, and then offer to make you lunch first?
A menu fit for S02: The Egg
Chat conducted over Chloe’s steamed rice, braised greens and crispy egg.
Sourced Journeys is the fusion of the culinary pairing: Anna, a Malaysian-New Zealander with a passion for investigating how ingredients travel, and Chloe, an Angeleno chef-historian inspired by her multiple heritages, professional kitchen career and “the odd jell-o salad”. Together, they have created a relentlessly curious and compassionate project that investigates the way ingredients are sourced. The clue is in its name: Sourced Journeys. And the aim of the public research project and events? To decolonise culinary experiences.
Armed with a shoestring budget and a devotion to food and collaborative creativity, their mission is to push the food and drinks industry towards change by making storytelling juicy, so we can all understand the stories behind our dishes. Ingredients are an entry point for having bigger conversations about our individual relationships to food and drink.
Forget buzzwords like ‘regenerative farming’ and ‘zero waste’. Instead, read about the smell of egg and scallions sizzling in umami-sweet soy sauce alongside the art of waste. Hear about the “seedy, teeming gay bar off the main drag of town where the outcasts flirt, bump, and spill into each other” when learning about the queerness of compost. Ever wondered why rain is so heavily associated with deep-fried food all over India? One of their site’s most captivating pieces is a titillating overlap of ASMR, rhythmic poetry and cinematography called ’Onion Pakora Weather’. Yes, really.
TOPIA sat down to a perfect lunch with the pair to discuss roots and the art of slow
Thanks so much for lunch today. First things first, the theme of Season 02 of TOPIA is The Egg. Can you tell me about your relationship with the egg?
Anna: I love eggs. This is my perfect lunch today. I’m doing a new podcast project at the moment called Taste of Place, investigating our relationship with nostalgia and our place in the world through taste. For the first season, I asked people what they think of when they think of pepper. So many people think of scrambled eggs, which has so much potential. If I haven’t had an egg for a day or two, I get a need for one on a pizza, or on a burger, which is a very Kiwi thing.
Chloe: I use eggs a lot at work. I can tell when the new hens are laying because I’ll get a lot more double yolks. It’s interesting to see how the eggs change throughout the year. I try hard not to waste them and spend a lot of my time figuring out what to do with the whites because we need to be conscious of what we’re getting rid of. I make crème brulee cookies that use a lot of egg yolks. If you think about a chicken only laying one a day, that’s a lot of chickens!
There’s four of us in my house. When you get to less than half a dozen eggs, do you also panic?
Chloe: That’s my association with eggs… panic! It is an emergency when you run out. Actually, I was shocked the first time I cracked an egg outside of the US because of how yellow the yolk is, even the normal grocery store eggs. There’s a lot of weird food safety laws that came about in the US that really affect the food, lots of fear mongering around what people were eating created in reaction to the Upton Sinclair novel, The Jungle. But he was writing it to say we need to give labourers more support so that we don’t have poor conditions where food is being produced. But instead, they made more regulations. It’s just frustrating to see that’s where we’re at.
Anna: I’ve found in the last few years that being intentional about buying good eggs is just so worth it. Even if it’s to cut down on my egg consumption.
Chloe, you have a lot of old cookbooks…
Chloe: Most of these books were found by my mum at an estate sale. I looked at cookbooks and domestic literature like women’s magazines, essentially as a form of white feminist literature telling women how to live their lives. It’s interesting to see how what is supposed to be at the table changes as people move and experience more things.
Anna, you come from a performing arts background, correct?
Anna: Yes, dance and theatre. My PhD was about storytelling and the performative elements of culture. So, looking at how identity changed when space and location changed, and tracing stories through those changes. Food became one of the key elements of storytelling and how it relates to feminism, migration and nation building.
Chloe: That’s kind of how we clicked.
Sourced Journeys is such a unique amalgamation of your backgrounds. How did it start – and then come to life during London’s first pandemic lockdown in 2020?
Anna: We were annoyed! I was trying to write a book and I was getting so frustrated with publishers not getting my idea. We just decided we should do something, perhaps an event around cooking that I could use later as research. Then the pandemic happened. Chloe went back to working in kitchens – and it made us think about the people handling food. What do they want to know? How can they get that information? In one of the earlier newsletters, I wrote: “I’m not that smart, but I’m very good at reading indexes”. We wanted to be a resource for people who are working in and around hospitality who don’t have time or energy to sit in a library and read through a bunch of indexes or books.
Chloe: I was trying to figure out how to meld together writing and cheffing. The people I worked with in the restaurant didn’t know where to start finding information. In the pre-pandemic hospitality industry, you were always overstretched and working wild hours. During lockdown, it was even worse. I worked as a chef in Los Angeles for six years before I went to grad school. I thought I was never going to go back into kitchens, but I came to realise it was the space I really liked to create in.
So sourcing really IS the real meaning behind Sourced?
Chloe: Initially, Sourced was a place for us to do the research we wanted to do. Everyone wants to be part of sourcing, but where do you start?
Anna: We wanted to make sure it’s super accessible to people who are simply interested in food, not just academics, and not just front of house. Everybody eats, so everybody needs to be engaged in this conversation in some way. In doing this, we realised we were not an important voice. Our talent is better used working with other people to cultivate their own voices.
Everybody eats, so everybody needs to be engaged in this conversation in some way.Anna Sulan Masing
Chloe: The other thing we were getting really frustrated with is that there’s a lot of stuff in mainstream media saying ‘this is the way to do it’ with buzzwords like ‘regenerative farming’ and ‘zero waste’, but less questions around ‘why is that important’? Or ‘how does that work’? So we’re researching to find the questions because the answer is always going to change as the world changes.
You have been called “wildy smart, wildly empathetic” by independent food writer Alicia Kennedy. How do you go about seeking specific experts?
Chloe: It’s really important that we’re changing the idea of what the expert actually looks like: somebody who not just has the answers but has the questions and is able to think critically. We want to give space for people to start building their own platform.
Anna: Having ‘seasons’ on Sourced Journeys makes it easier for people to pitch. That’s how our piece on pakoras and rain came about. There’s also a few people we’ve found, who aren’t necessarily writers, but are knowledgeable about things. Like a piece from a farmer in New Zealand. When I tried to pay her and she was like, “Oh, no, I’m just talking about my farm”. And I’m like, “No. It’s a commission”! When it comes to food, there are so many people that have really interesting ideas and personal experiences. Information doesn’t exist in a vacuum or fall from trees, but a lot of people treat it that way.
Chloe: When I was working as a travel journalist, we weren’t given much support or time to seek out people. The idea was to churn out content quickly. That’s something that we see in a lot of media spaces where it’s more about quantity than quality of content. As an editor, you’re not given a lot of time to dig into something.
Wheat. Rot. Water. Soil. How do you come up with the themes for your Seasons?
Anna: We try to alternate between specific, like Cinnamon, and theoretical, like Soil.
Chloe: We think about what excites, and what we want to know more about. We recently held a fermentation class. One person experimenting with ferments said their partner is complaining about how the house smells. We thought, “Okay, now you’re coexisting with a living thing!” You don’t really think of your food as something living, and then when you do it really changes your relationships.
Anna: I’ve just thrown out my starter because it started going mouldy and wrinkly. As I started to throw it away, I was like, ”fuck, it’s alive and I’m putting something live down the drain”. We should be very conscious about putting life out into the world.
Chloe: The other thing is about having compassion.
Anna: Yes. Compassion for our writers and understanding the writing process, the political aspects of what people are talking about, or how something will be read. It takes a lot of care. It’s the slowest part. It’s like the slow food movement, but of journalism.
Is going slow almost an act of resistance?
Chloe: Yeah there’s a pressure to do everything quickly. Going slow is quite radical!
There’s a pressure to do everything quickly. Going slow is quite radical!Chloe-Rose Crabtree
How can we handle storytelling with compassion and curiosity?
Anna: Everyone needs to know their prejudices. And I don’t mean that in a negative way, just in terms of what baggage you bring to the table. Even as simple as, “I like sweet things. So, I’m going to try this, and if it’s sweet, I’m probably going to like it. And if not, it might be more difficult for me”. Really tangible basic things, then you can kind of go from there.
Chloe: It also has to do with the language we use around food. For instance, it’s not “weird”, it’s “a flavour I’m not familiar with”. It’s all about how you change your angle. It’s being comfortable with being unfamiliar, being comfortable not liking something. And then just talking about why that is.
Anna: I went to talk about fermentation, which is seen as ‘cool’ now. It was a panel discussion, and they were talking about the smells. Fermentation comes with a ‘wellness’ attitude but people are so weird about durian. For me, it can only be read through race. All these white people write weird articles about durian, describing durian as ‘gross’, but not fermentation. There is a disconnect. It’s so weird.
Chloe: I try hard not to put in anything about health or wellness, because it’s quite disruptive to the way we think about our relationship with food, if you’re only thinking about the biological aspect of it. We say food and drink are biological and cultural. Biologically you need to eat, and culturally you also need to feel fulfilled and nourished. We shouldn’t feel this pressure to just eat things because they’re going to make us live forever. Eating is good for you. And the practice of caring for yourself is good for you.
What has been the most unexpected part of your journey?
Anna: I had a conversation with Steven Satterfield of Whetstone Magazine before we started. One of the things he said to me was that the magazine has not changed, even though they’ve grown. He put together a blurb when it first launched. It stated three things about who they were as a company and what they would do that would never change. We also have very clear intentions of ingredients and the journeys that we can look at.
You know what is also unexpected? The phenomenal amount of work we’ve produced between the two of us is just bananas!
Sourced is young and independent. What are your thoughts on advertisers versus freedom?
Anna: We’d love to align with the right advertisers, but they’d have to align with our values. We’re not going to move on that. Because of the way we’re structured, and because of the work we do in talking about sustainability, maybe we could do some research for someone in the corporate world, using our expertise to make change.
Chloe: It all comes back to just asking questions. We need to get people who have platforms to stop making such hard lines about things. We’re showing that you can be a part of the investigative process. We’re learning stuff in the editing.
Anna: Exactly, it’s about being transparent and understanding the line we’re on. It’s radical to be gentle and kind. I think the mainstream of anything pushes for a hardline because they don’t have the time or space to be imaginative or creative in their approach.
Any thoughts on American publications vs British?
Anna: British publications are smaller of course. Smaller population, less publications. But there are also publications that, once you’re in, there’s no flex. They’ve got their structures and they have to stick to them as a means of practicality. American publications are more like, “Oh, so you have an expert about something that we don’t really know about? Cool. Tell us more.”’ The British are caught up with recipes. Everything is a recipe! Vittles showed that there’s such a lack of space within publishing. Because Sourced is so slow, there’s part of me that’s just like, ‘fuck, we should have just done something sooner.’ But that’s also not who we are or how we work.
Chloe: In the US, everything is politicised, which has its own problems as well. Whetstone is still an anomaly, which is kind of crazy, but it’s also nice to see that they’re gaining traction. I see little signs of hope that the British food media landscape is going to change. I would give it five years and then we’re going to see a lot of different things happening.
You’re making the change. Do you think we are moving past the pale, male, stale and into Beyond the Stale (the name of this TOPIA series)?
Chloe: Yeah, eventually we are moving past it. But it’s on us to keep that momentum going. It’s easy to burn out and feel like you’re shouting into the void.
Anna: In lots of ways I can answer yes – but then when you break it down to what are the realities of this world, absolutely not. The powers have not changed. If we were ‘beyond the stale’, there’s no way that Roe v. Wade would have been overturned. It’s not representative of the majority. But the problem is that the minority is in power. Until that power changes and the marginalised are allowed to have power and agency, then we have not moved. We’re still fighting to exist, but there’s power in us as well. It’s about power dynamics and relationships. We’re creating the space so that experts are seen differently. That is what we’re doing to shift these dynamics through compassion, slowness and care.
How do you find community?
Anna: For those looking to find their own community, I think a bit of fangirling or fanboying on social media is a really great way to start. I don’t mean it in a weird way, but I like quietly sharing what somebody’s written, passing that article on to someone else, referencing them when you’re talking about something else. They might follow you back, or they might not, but when you reference a group of thinkers, it shows you’re genuinely just interested in what other people are doing.
How did you both go about finding your voice?
Anna: When I was doing my PhD, a friend of mine said to me, “Some people have had really hard lives, which means that they’ve had to work out their identity really quickly. The rest of us have to work at it”. Finding your voice takes a while. I’m 41 and I’m finally feeling like it’s settling and that I’m kind of doing what I want. I now feel comfortable with my voice, but it takes a lot of work.
Chloe: It’s a lot of FOMO as well, because you can’t do everything. It’s impossible. Just knowing that not everything’s going to come at once, especially with the way things are now. If you’re feeling distracted and scattered, a lot of us are. It’s okay to just sit in that and figure out why you’re feeling that way before you solidify anything.
Show that your knowledge is coming from somewhere else… it shows you’re genuinely just interested in what other people are doing.Anna Sulan Masing
Changing tack, what is a simple daily ritual that brings you joy?
Anna and Chloe (practically in unison): Coffee! and the dog walk.
And your not so guilty pleasures you enjoy to shut off the brain chatter?
Anna: Murder mysteries.
Chloe: Reality TV.
Lastly, what is it to be ‘good’ nowadays?
Chloe: For me, is to take time with people that I’m close with. Sometimes it takes so little to do. It’s a message, or it’s a thank you. That’s what I feel good about if I can do it.
Anna: It’s less about big actions and more about small things that have a big impact. Another way of doing good is relaxing. When you have that rest, then you’re able to do better stuff. Not just more, but better.
Thank you for speaking to TOPIA and being part of our World of Good.
Sourced Journey’s reading recommendations
- Anna: The way Mandy Yin writes about food is amazing and her cookbook is incredibly great, too. She is such an industry leader, and she just doesn’t get that. Everything she says is really considered.
- Chloe: I just get so much from Alicia Kennedy‘s writing. She was the first person I read who was really writing about food and health and politics in a way that I connected with. She’s not prescriptive, but she does say it like it is. She writes in a way that asks you to put yourself in that position, and come up with ideas on your own, as opposed to just being told “this is how things are”.
- Anna: Rebecca May Johnson’s new book, Small Fires, is very good!
- Chloe: I really enjoy Ruby Tandoh’s food writing. It’s not prescriptive, she’s telling you options, giving you flexibility. A lot of people in food will tell you what’s a good decision or what’s a bad decision. But that’s not the case.
- Anna: I’m really looking forward to reading Rambutan by Cynthia Shanmugalingam.
Want more from Season 02 of TOPIA?
What’s so good about this?
BEYOND THE STALE is an ongoing interview series that celebrates the indie storytellers and tastemakers changing media for the better. Academia is often operating in an insular, self-selecting and exclusionary world, from the language used in academic writing to work that sits behind paywalls, expensive tuitions, subscriptions and fees. Anna and Chloe are working with the theme of accessibility through the breadth of their interviews and writers from around the world, and by making their work accessible to all, not just the academic elite. They run with the ethos: “If this work is so important, it’s got to be shared”.
Sourced Journey has recently been nominated for a Guild of Food Writers Award alongside two legacy media publications – a sign of its impact.
Meet the writer
Adrienne Katz Kennedy is a London-based food and culture writer. The former Clevelander and former New Mexican dance anthropologist is a contributing writer for the travel cookbook Hong Kong Diner and has also been featured in Whetstone Journal, Pit Magazine, Heated by Bitman, Courier Media and Sierra Magazine. Her work focuses on storytelling, identity and communication – whether through dance, food, cultural practices or Instagram Stories. She often wonders how she ended up living on a chilly island, and how late is too late to make the day’s last cuppa without risking the sacrifice of sleep. Follow @AKatzKennedy.