The Best and Worst of the First Six Months
A peek behind the curtain of this newsletter.
On September 28, I emailed out my first newsletter to a short list of less than 100 subscribers, all people I personally knew. To be honest, I only had a clear vision of about a month's worth of posts, and was slightly stressed about how I could keep up the pace — yet here we are, six months later, and I've continued to do it, week after week.
It hasn't been easy. There have been real low points, in fact. I resonated with this, fromof :
When I first started writing this newsletter, I said to myself, “It’ll be my full-time job once it pays enough,” but it quickly became my full-time job simply because researching, writing, ad-minning, interviewing, and publishing three times a week is a full-time job, regardless of whether or not the pay is commensurate with the work.
I didn't mean to start off with a downer. Substack tells me I should celebrate milestones like six months of publishing!! And I am incredibly grateful for this space, the people and opportunities it has brought into my life, and how it has transformed my career trajectory. But I also wanted to take this opportunity to tell the real BTS story of starting a Substack from scratch, with zero audience, just a passion for a niche topic and the privilege of time I was able to put toward its launch.
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But first…I always like learning from other Substacks about which posts people read/shared/liked the most, and was oddly annoyed that the newsletter was too young to do it at the end of 2022. So here you are!
Post That Brought in the Most Free Subscribers
The Unbearable Whiteness of the Local Food Movement. This was also the first essay to go big, thanks toincluding it in a link round-up on . In it, I talk about the white-centered values of the local food movement, and why some BIPOC people may not buy into the "white farm imaginary."
I think it struck a chord with readers because it offers a critique of the oversimplified "if only people knew how much better local food is, then they'd change their behavior" line of thinking, while also acknowledging that I personally love supporting my local food system. I'm realizing that balance of living by your personal values without shaming others for not sharing them is something of a theme in this space.
Most Liked and Most Shared Post
The Mediterranean Diet Is a Whitewashed Fantasy. This critical look at the "gold standard" diet, based on a paper by Kate Burt, made a lot of people happy. I heard from nutrition professionals frustrated by the blanket advice to "eat the Mediterranean Diet" without regard to cultural dietary preferences, people from cultures where they basically eat the same foods as the MedDiet but aren't given the same scientific stamp of approval, and lots of readers just tired of this false hierarchy in food.
I received so much interesting feedback, I am planning on doing a follow-up post at some point.
Post That Brought in the Most Paid Subscribers
Yes, Culinary Appropriation Is Real. This was my first time experimenting with adding a paywall to the end of a post and, well, it worked! So I'm planning on doing this more in the future, but also remember that I offer free subscriptions to nutrition students, interns, and anyone who can't swing a paid subscription right now. (Just email email@example.com.) This is a topic that has been on my mind for quite awhile, so I was glad to see it resonated. It got a lot of traction on Instagram, and I heard from some BIPOC food producers and content creators that it hit home. Apparently there are a lot of birria restaurants opening up out there with nary a Spanish-speaking person in sight….
In the future, I'd love to dig down more in this topic, and explore specific cuisines. There's so much more to say.
Most Popular Friday Joy Post
Friday Joy: The New Antiracist Dietitian Logo. It was really fun to share the process of designing my new logo, and give a peek at the designs and themes that inspired it. To be honest, I am feeling unsure about the future of Friday Joy, my bonus newsletter for paid subscribers, as writing it has stopped bringing me the same joy that it used to. My most popular FJs seem to be the pieces that talk explicitly about race (but the point was I wanted a break from talking about race all the time!), or that are very different from the usual structure, like the logo one. I'm still mulling over how I want to mix it up, but if you have any thoughts on it — are there aspects you love? Wish were different? Want to see more of? — feel free to leave a comment or email me.
You know what I'm not feeling unsure about? The new logo. I love it! And I just placed an order for logo stickers from a local print shop, so that's exciting.
Post I Think You Should Read If You Haven't Yet
We Need to Talk About Food & Gentrification. This post came out pretty early in the life of the newsletter, so it didn't get as many eyeballs on it as later posts. But a lot of what I learned in researching the topic, I still think about, and it has been useful in conversations about how to improve local food systems without hastening gentrification. Simply dropping in grocery stores or community gardens is not the answer, and can actually make the situation worse.
OK, So What's It Been Like?
When I was going through my career/existential crisis (or whatever it was) last year, my life felt so small and disconnected from the world. In New Orleans, I had felt embedded in a community where my presence made a difference. Moving to a new city just before the summer 2021 wave of the pandemic and working remotely for over a year meant I had little opportunity to meet new people or find my place.
This newsletter is a huge part of why that has changed.
There have been the connections I've made online — in the comments, the emails, the Instagram DMs — and offline, meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends. I feel embedded in a web of community again, and that is always where I am at my best.
I am very grateful for my Substack buddy,of . After she interviewed me for her podcast, I gathered up the courage to ask if she wanted to continue meeting regularly to talk about our newsletters, commiserate, share notes, etc. I knew having an accountability buddy would help, and as a lot of the Substack writer guidance features more established newsletters with tons of subscribers, I thought being able to talk openly about our new-ish publications would be useful. Thankfully, she said yes, and our roughly-twice-monthly Zoom chats have been a source of calm reassurance at the moments when I'm feeling down. She also gives the best feedback and ideas for making this space better.
Also great: bringing writing and creativity back into my everyday life; the opportunities to speak in webinars and on panels that have come my way thanks to the newsletter; my IRL friends whose work has nothing to do with food and nutrition, but who immediately signed up for paid subscriptions (thank you, this made me feel so loved and supported!); and the connections I have made with other half-Asian people — our experiences, hardships, and joys are unique. I see you.
When I used to write for The Kitchn, the worst part was the comments. One mean, cutting comment could sour the rest of my day, even if I knew that person always left rude comments, and also who cares what an online rando thinks. Substack, I thought, would remove the drive-by trolls and therefore make writing on the internet much more pleasant for me. And that part was true.
What I didn't think about was how attaching a specific monetary value to my work and allowing individuals to decide if my writing was actually worth that amount was thrilling, when they decided it was worth it, but also could be hurtful, when they didn't. Ugh, capitalism. I have gotten much better about detaching myself from these numbers than I was in the early days after switching on paid subscriptions, and also of reminding myself that my favorite spaces in this world are not the ones where everyone gathers, but the spaces that people seek out because they feel special and right to them. If this isn't the right space for someone, then their departure actually brings it closer to the place it was meant to be.
(I also fully admit to being secretly gleeful when I write something controversial about dietitians, and see I lose some subscribers as a result. Bye, Felicia.)
Also bad: no days off without front-loading the work ahead of time; that moment midway through writing an essay when it's a hot mess and I hate everything; and my guilt around not having time to respond to every email/comment/DM in a timely manner.
This is the real peek behind the curtain. How many subscribers did I start with, and how many do I have now? What percentage of those is paid? What channels have been the most useful for driving subscriptions? And should you start your own food- or nutrition-related Substack, if that’s something you are thinking about?
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