Write, Speak, Tell Stories: The Sprout Media Panel Recap

by Hannah Meier

It was August 6th, 2017—a month before the start of the semester and Kathleen was showing me the ropes of editorial duties over local beer at Area-4, a restaurant just down the road from Jaharis. We went over timelines, passwords and account names, and shared our hopes and dreams for the coming year. One thing we both agreed on: We wanted to make a bigger impact within the Friedman community. Our big idea? Bring The Sprout offline.

Almost 8 months later, last Wednesday, our dreams came to life.

The Sackler classroom we booked for the event was almost fully packed. A show of hands at the end of the presentation reflected a fairly even split of AFE, FPAN and NICBC students. At the front of the room sat five professionals with diverse media backgrounds and extensive resumes; I sat next to them and moderated the hour-long discussion. There was no lack of participation and I was just as enthralled by the rich conversation our panelists generated as I was by the questions our audience posed.

Steve Holt Boston Writer

Steve Holt

The panelists’ careers and experience ranged from all forms of media. Journalist Steve Holt has reported on everything from food to urbanism to crime for print and digital publications like Civil Eats, The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Edible Boston, and TakePart. He uses his work to ask hard questions and tell the stories of the people behind the country’s most inspiring meals and movements.

Caity Moseman-Wadler Heritage Radio Network

Caity Moseman-Wadler

In her role as Executive Director of Heritage Radio Network—a nonprofit food radio network based in Brooklyn—Caity Moseman Wadler oversees the production of 35 weekly shows, interactive events, and special programs covering topics from food policy and agriculture, to the restaurant, food and drink scenes, to the human stories that often go unnoticed in our vast food system.

Liz Weiss Headshot

Liz Weiss MS, RDN

Two of our panelists were dietitians. Liz Weiss has a specialty in family nutrition and is the voice behind the family food podcast and blog, Liz’s Healthy Table. She began her career at CNN as a producer and reporter and hosted over 50 Meal Makeover cooking videos. She’s also covered food and nutrition stories for PBS HealthWeek and has written several cookbooks, including a coloring cookbook for kids.

Stephanie Ferrari

Stephanie Ferarri, MS, RDN

Stephanie Ferrari, a dietitian and owner of Boston-based public relations firm, FRESH Communications, co-hosts a morning news segment called What’s FRESH Around Town on Boston 25 News. She is a contributing author to the Huffington Post, and has been featured in numerous publications like The Boston Globe, Cooking Light, INSIDER, Elite Daily, POPSUGAR, and Good Housekeeping, and has held marketing and communication roles for the New England Dairy Council, The Castle Group, and the Massachusetts Dietetic Association.

Louisa Kasdon The Food Voice

Louisa Kasdon

Finally, Louisa Kasdon brought over 20 years of journalism experience and has convened over 200 food events around New England, including cooking events, panels, teach-ins, conferences, workshops, and advocacy initiatives. She founded and organizes the Let’s Talk About Food Festival, and her most recent project has been to establish a new multi-media platform encompassing print, events, digital, and social media outreach called The Food Voice, New England’s new hub for all things food.

Looking at their extensive resumes, it’s no surprise that the event was a hit. Our panelists brought a true wealth of experience and shared many stories of growing into the field of food and nutrition.

Friedman Media Panel March Event

Conversation Flowing for a Captivated Audience (Photo: Kathleen Nay)

As I moderated, it was difficult to keep track of time as the hour of conversation flowed quickly. Questions posed thoughtful responses that were both applicable and provocative.

Our panelists spoke to concerns about reaching broader audiences than those of publications like Civil Eats, whose readers are more insular than the ones who may need to hear our messages most. In short, the panelists reiterated that in order to reach an audience outside of our bubble, we tell the stories of those on the outside. We need to think about who is reading or listening to what we are saying, and what their very real, often practical, needs are. Liz Weiss bluntly acknowledged that “people don’t like to read about food policy.” She and other panelists agreed that storytelling and emotion help pull readers in to your message and listen. Once an audience feels emotional about a topic, or feels threatened by the loss of something personal, they will pay attention. As communicators, those are the stories we need to practice telling.

When asked about personal biases and balancing professional background and personal opinion with the needs or desires of a client, Stephanie Ferrari was quick to point out that there is never a reason to short-change your message or betray the science in favor of business. Protect your credentials and trust your understanding of the science. Companies and clients will be grateful for your insight and expertise. Louisa Kasdon agreed, “you can’t write about something that isn’t true—it won’t get you far and will come back to bite you in the end.” Stay true to your values and remember that you always have the option to say no if working with a particular client truly does not feel right.

Friedman school of nutrition communications media panel

The Friedman Sprout team and our lovely panelists. From left: Hannah Meier, Louisa Kasdon, Caity Moseman-Wadler, Stephanie Ferrari, Steve Holt, Liz Weiss, Kathleen Nay, Erin Child (Photo: Kathleen Nay)

Finally, all of the panelists agreed that to get far in the world of communication, get started today. Steve Holt encouraged us that no time is too early, and the playing field for writers is more level than most expect in terms of pitching ideas to editors. On the other hand, Louisa pointed out that she would like to see a few work examples before trusting someone with an assignment or editorial content. Liz Weiss encouraged all of us to stay focused and follow our dreams. Caity Moseman Wadler advocated for standing up for your worth as an intern and budding professional, and for building a network of experiences with individuals and publications that align with your values and your goals.

Heed expert advice: Write for The Sprout. Investigate the stories you’re curious about now. You never know where it could take you.

Hannah Meier RD, LDN is in her final semester of the Nutrition Communication and Behavior Change program and serves as the current co-editor of The Sprout alongside Kathleen Nay. She was thoroughly jazzed to coordinate the first-ever panel of professionals event with immense support from the other editors, panelists, and the team at Friedman. In May, she is excited to take on a full-time role with the start-up food company 88 Acres as their Nutrition and Communications Lead and is grateful for the opportunity to gain immense writing and editorial experience with The Sprout during her time at Friedman.

For the Love of French Fries

by Erin Child

 As a nutrition student, my unabashed love of French fries may seem out of place. But for me, they are just one delicious part of an otherwise decently balanced diet. They’re my go-to when out at a bar with friends, and my favorite accompaniment to a bowl of steamed mussels. So, I decided to finally try my hand at making some real deep-fried French fries. However, I can’t in good conscience let this story be all be about deep-fried food. And so, I also made a batch of oven fries to compare to the deep-fried originals. I recruited a couple Friedman friends to taste test, and we had a delicious Fry-day night.

The first time I attempted deep frying I wound up with second-degree burns. My college roommate and I had decided to make fried chicken for our then-boyfriends in our closet-sized kitchen. The moment I bent down to check on the root vegetables roasting in the oven, my roommate chucked the last piece of chicken into the hot oil, splashing it all over the top of my head and hand. Boyfriends arrived an hour later to find me on the floor, forehead covered in aloe and my hand in a pot of cool water. Never again, I vowed, would I deep fry anything. Leave that to the professionals.

A decade later, I have mostly kept my promise. I can count on one hand the number of times I have fried something, and it has always been using a relatively safe, contained, counter-top fryer. I’ve made donuts, pakora (an Indian snack food), and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto®–crusted chicken. (You read that right.) But I still have never attempted one of my all-time favorite foods, French fries.

Before my deep-fried adventures began, I did some shopping. I ordered a thermometer and splatter screen from Amazon for $25.81 worth of safety precautions. I then did some research. I consulted Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and Serious Eats, and found that both recommend the double-fry method for crispy goodness. I had hoped to find a way to avoid deep-frying twice, but couldn’t find any source to persuade me that one fry was sufficient for the texture I desired. Smitten Kitchen had a recipe for single-fried fries, but I was not convinced; however, I did follow the recommendation of using Yukon Gold potatoes instead of regular Russets. They have similar starch content, and thus are both good for frying. And I liked the idea that because of their yellow color, Yukon Golds have more carotenoids, and thus were a smidge healthier. (But the potatoes were going to be fried, so who am I kidding.) For the oven fries I found a recipe on Eating Well that looked promising and instead used that as my reference for my “healthy” fries.

The day of my adventure, I purchased ten pounds (about five pounds too many) of Yukon Golds, as well as peanut oil and dried parsley—for a dash of green—at my local supermarket. The peanut oil was for frying, as everything I read kept pointing to peanut oil as the ideal oil due to its high smoke point. I already had salt, olive oil and ketchup at home. I was ready.

First, I rinsed and chopped five pounds of potatoes into relatively even batons. My knife skills are passable at best, so following the instructions found on Smitten Kitchen I was able to cut reasonably evenly sized fries. Recipes all recommended drying the potatoes first to ensure maximum contact with the oil—so I spread them out over paper towels. All told, almost an entire roll of paper towels was used in my frying adventure.

french fries evenly cut

My attempt at evenly cut fries (pretty good!) Photo: Erin Child

While the fries dried, I turned the oven on to 450˚F and then poured 4 1/3 cups of peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot before turning the burner to medium-high. I placed the thermometer into the pot and watched as the temperature slowly climbed to 325˚F. While I waited, I made the oven fries.

I dressed two and a half pounds of the potato batons with four tablespoons of olive oil, a heaping half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of ground thyme, and enough parsley flakes to fleck them all with green. The potatoes went on an unlined baking sheet and into the 450˚F oven. Per the Eating Well instructions, the fries would need to be flipped after ten minutes. When I went to flip the fries, they all stuck to the pan. Panicked, I left them in for another five minutes. When I checked them again, the starches in the potatoes must have shifted, because the fries were golden-brown on the bottom and easy to flip. I left them in for another eight minutes. At this point, most of the fries had two golden-brown sides, so I pulled them from the oven. Once they were cooled enough, my friends and I dug in.

They required more salt than was in the recipe, and they were not crisp, but the flavor was good. As one friend put it, “they taste like a bite-sized baked potato.” Savory and satisfying, but not really a French fry. Next time I try oven fries (and there will be a next time) I may try hand-rotating them to get a better, crispier sear on each side and make them taste closer to the real (fried) thing.

At this point, my peanut oil was ready to go. The double-fry recommendations were to fry once at 325˚F for about 8-10 minutes, let the fries rest, and then fry again at 375˚F for 3-4 minutes. So, I put the full 2.5 pounds of potatoes in the oil. That was my first mistake. The pot was too small for all those potatoes, and the temperature dropped to below 200˚F. For the next ten minutes I essentially gave all the potatoes a warm oil bath. After nothing was noticeably frying, I took all the potatoes out and tried again. This time, I fried them in two batches at 325˚F for 10 minutes. Then increased the temperature of the oil to 375˚F. To my surprise, I did not need the splatter screen. At all. If I was mindful of my movements there was minimal splash back, and the hot oil did not splatter out of the pan during frying.

french fries frying

Warming up for the second attempt. Photo: Erin Child

The second fry at 375˚F also occurred in two batches, and was three minutes per batch. After removing them from the pot, I immediately tossed the fries in a liberal dash of salt. Crispy, golden, salty and warm—they were the clear winner of the evening. Not too shabby for my first batch of French fries.

oven fries and french fries

Oven fries (left) vs French fries (right). Photo: Erin Child

During clean up, I decided to remeasure the peanut oil, and found that I had four cups left. This mean than a third-cup went into the French fries. This is only about one more tablespoon of oil than I used for the oven fries, which was a smaller difference than I expected.

Overall, nothing quite beats the taste and texture of a fried French fry, but for my health and wallet (all that peanut oil was expensive!), I’ll keep homemade French fries to a very occasional treat.

Erin Child is a second year NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program. She is also the social media editor for the Sprout. At this point in the semester she is frequently procrasti-cooking and cleaning—her belly is full, her room is spotless, and she always has a paper to write.