Article contributed by Dylan Heuer
When news of a novel coronavirus began to reverberate throughout the world, Heritage Radio Network (HRN) was immediately concerned with how it would impact our food system. While questions about the food supply chain, unemployment for hospitality workers, and the challenges of cooking with limited ingredients quickly became part of national news coverage about COVID-19, HRN was uniquely poised to lead the conversation. As the world’s pioneering food podcast network, HRN is constantly thinking about the food angle of current events.
HRN’s hosts are a visionary group of entrepreneurs, chefs, journalists, and historians. They immediately began covering how hospitality workers, restaurant owners, independent farms, and others in the food supply chain were being impacted by COVID-19.
Many didn’t see any alternative for their shows. Lisa Held, the host of The Farm Report, shared her perspective. “Honestly, there isn’t a farm or food business that hasn’t been affected by COVID-19 in some way,” she said. “So continuing to talk about agriculture or the food system without addressing the pandemic didn’t feel possible or relevant.”
Held is covering how this pandemic is affecting our nation’s farms; from the expansion of CSAs to the adjustments made by New York City’s Greenmarkets. All the while, Held has not only shifted her coverage, but the structure of her show. In addition to conducting interviews remotely, she is planning her shows on a week-to-week basis as the crisis evolves. In fact, she sees similarities between her situation and that of her guests. She says, “COVID-19 has made planning ahead irrelevant on so many fronts. Farmers are reinventing business plans they finalized months ago. They’re hustling to plant different seeds to shift, for example, from selling to restaurants to doing bigger CSAs. Everything is on the fly, and so is my coverage.”
Eli Sussman is a Brooklyn-based restaurant owner and the host of HRN’s The Line. He has also shifted his typical show format by following stories that resonate most. His first instinct was to invite fellow chefs and restaurant owners across the country to share the difficult decisions they made as self-isolation became the norm. What resulted was an oral history series of firsthand accounts documenting the hardest month restaurants have ever seen.
Sussman says, “I hope it can be cathartic for those to tell their stories. And for those listening who may be going through the same thing to not feel alone.” By encouraging his guests to open up about the challenges they are facing, Sussman hopes everyone can learn something. Most importantly, he hopes that, “the episodes are providing hope that we as an industry are in this together and there are resources available to help you.”
The hosts of Opening Soon, Jenny Goodman and Alex McCrery, went so far as to optimistically dub their show, Re-Opening Soon. Goodman describes feeling a “sense of duty to get information to our community as quickly as possible.” In recent weeks, the show has featured an array of experts who have provided concrete advice on topics ranging from mental health to securing small business loans. Goodman hopes these resources will help hospitality professionals to feel less alone in navigating difficult decisions. Put simply, she sees food radio as an avenue to bring people together, “It’s community when we are in isolation.”
In covering COVID-19, Heritage Radio Network seeks to provide resources and answers that offer more than temporary relief. It is the hope of many hosts that their work will ignite ongoing conversations.
“Questions about how the pandemic is affecting food production provide insights into deeper realities about the food system that will be valuable long after all of this is over,” said Lisa Held. “Like: Are long supply chains more vulnerable to disruption than local food systems? Why are grocery stores out of eggs while farmers are dumping out excess milk?”
In her recent reporting, Lisa is working to strike a critical balance. She adds, “My goal is to give listeners first-person insights into how the pandemic is affecting farms and the overall food system. Beyond that, though, it’s to talk about the effects of COVID-19 in a way that helps get at how to build a more resilient, sustainable, equitable food system that can feed us through any crisis.”
While our nation’s interest is piqued for food news, HRN has an opportune moment to speak to a diverse population’s questions and concerns. Their priority is to support the hospitality industry by documenting stories from every part of the food supply chain. In the process, they hope to cultivate a growing community of thoughtful eaters, whose shifting perspective on food and where it comes from may long outlast COVID-19.
You can follow Heritage Radio Network’s latest coverage of COVID-19 at their website.