At the beginning of 2020, Alicia Kennedy saw her freelance income evaporate almost overnight: An anchoring contributing editor job was discontinued, and her wages at a contributing writer position were reduced. She had been toying with the idea of starting a newsletter—one that might offer readers something more substantial than an abandoned TinyLetter newsletter she enjoyed years back. So she began writing From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy, her weekly dispatch on food, politics, media, and other musings, and less than one year later, the newsletter is second-most popular in the food category on the publishing platform Substack. With around 17,000 paid subscribers (and another 13,000 who opt for the free version), it has become Kennedy’s main source of income.
As more food writers and recipe developers become fed up with traditional outlets, both food media “celebrities” (those with highly bankable followings in the hundreds of thousands) and freelancers like Kennedy, who felt there were too few opportunities for her work, are finding success in publishing content in newsletters and through other independent channels. Kennedy, whose newsletter often covers climate change and labor practices, was finding many outlets felt this work “complicated” or politicized the conversation around food: “I felt like I couldn’t say anything of any significance in them,” she said in a phone interview recently.