Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Writer Name: Kate Bratskeir
Location: New York
Years of Experience: 10+
Available for writing projects: Yes
Niche/Beat/Genre: environmentalism, health, human interest, vegetarian
Portfolio website: www.katebratskeir.com
Other websites/blogs: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kate-bratskeir
Favorite foods: vegetable soup, pizza
Writing tip for fellow writers: Delete some adverbs
Kate Bratskeir is the author of "A Pocket Guide to Sustainable Food Shopping." A writer and editor based in New York, she tells stories about food, health and the environment for a number of publications, including Fast Company, HuffPost, Health and more.
Tell us a little about your writing background.
I started my professional writing career at HuffPost. It was my first “real” job post-college, and it’s where I learned a ton about writing for the internet.
I edited and reported stories about mental health, food, animals, sustainability and some quirky things when I had the time. I had some wonderful colleagues and managers who let me take risks, which led to some projects I really loved and am still very proud of.
Even though I started on the health team, I eventually began covering food, and really fell in love. I’d always loved food and writing, but I’d never really put the two together until I got this opportunity. I experienced a new kind of writing energy when I got to write about food, and the feeling always comes back to me when I start on a new story or project.
I’ve always kept a journal, and I have a stack of them that goes back as far as the third grade. There are definitely themes of food strewn throughout them all (and undoubtedly some snack smudges on the pages).
I wrote a lot of poems as a kid, and I remember there was one I loved about smelly, stinky, rotting food in a refrigerator. I’d like to think I’ve always found inspiration in food.
Tell us more about your upcoming book.
I just finished my first book, “A Pocket Guide to Sustainable Food Shopping,” which will be published in January 2021 by Simon & Schuster.
It feels like a culmination of a lot of the work I’ve been doing, both professionally and personally, like better understanding food labels, uncovering sneaky industry practices and trying to waste less/produce less garbage.
I think I’m very upfront in the book that while food is joy, it belongs to an industry that is deceptive or confusing or both. So in every chapter I try to demystify a topic: There’s a whole chapter on meat (even though I’m a pescetarian) that provides a list of labels consumers should look for when they want to confirm their animals were treated as humanely a possible, and another on milk, and which alternative non-dairy beverage is truly the most sustainable.
I’d like to think the book is a no B.S., approachable guide that can help any kind of consumer become a little wiser about buying food.
Do you believe that being a writer helps you enjoy or appreciate food more?
I think being a writer helps me appreciate everything in a different way.
When you’re a writer, it can be difficult to stop yourself from thinking about the story of your own experience while you’re in the act of experiencing; maybe sometimes this makes it difficult to be “present” or live in the moment.
But it’s new experiences — food, new-to-you historical facts, things that make you cry laughing — that give your words color and compel you to keep writing, so there’s the trade off.
On food specifically, I think being a writer has made me more critical. I feel a kind of high when I dig into the origin of a food trend or uncover whether a new product actually has viable health benefits (the answer to the latter is usually “no,” and it’s thrilling nonetheless).
I have a friend who has always insisted I drink orange juice when I’m not feeling great, and it irks me because I know there’s no science behind the remedy. Eventually, I couldn't help but explore how we convinced ourselves orange juice could stifle the common cold.
I’ve also become fascinated by how food can be so implicit. You can call someone a vegan to describe their personality!
Remember when Bill DeBlasio professed his affinity for whole wheat bagels? People were mad, grossed out and disappointed, all adjectives that describe the general public’s feelings about DeBlasio himself.
There was also the instance during the 2016 election when then-presidential hopeful Ted Cruz committed to bringing back French fries to school cafeterias and, later, said democrats would ultimately outlaw barbecue.
These, albeit inane, comments can seem easy to brush off if you’re not really paying attention, but when you are, you see how people can use something as innocuous as potatoes to convey a message or instill fear.
Do you have any favorite food books/cookbooks?
My husband recently gifted me “Vegetarian Viet Nam” by Cameron Stauch, which I’m psyched to tackle. We traveled to Vietnam for our honeymoon and are straight up taken by the cuisine.
It was way easier to find vegetarian options in Vietnam than it is in New York. I still get excited when I see a vegetarian pho on a menu in the states. I used to call our favorite Vietnamese spot once a week to ask if they had vegetarian pho, knowing they did not, in hopes that they might one day add it to the menu. Still hasn’t happened. Hopefully this book will give me some control over my Vietnamese food desires and dreams.
One of my favorite books is Aimee Bender’s “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,” which is about a girl who can taste emotions through food. I also love everything by Nora Ephron, who documented her own relationship with food so beautifully and self-consciously; I could, and do, read her books over and over.
Any favorite kitchen products you adore?
I just bought a bed for the kitchen sponge. It’s so stupid, and it delights me.
Favorite food writers, chefs, or food-related TV shows/movies?
I know he’s an expected pick, but he’s mine all the same. I became really invested in Anthony Bourdain in his final years, partly because I was covering “Parts Unknown” for work. I worship his knack for using food as a platform to showcase humanity. He was soft and open and, at the same time, irreverent and curmudgeonly — my kind of person.
He’s also one of the only few famous people I can think of who owned up to making mistakes and seemed to constantly be working toward being a better person. I have a framed photo of him in my kitchen, mostly to remind myself that being a good person is a lifetime of work.
What do you eat when on deadline?
I am currently snacking on a melange of Wheat Thins, raisins and frozen semi-sweet chocolate chips, but I will really eat anything when I’m on deadline, because there is no better way to procrastinate than to snack.
The other morning I made an entire vegetable soup (feat: kabocha squash) instead of tackling some freelance writing. But, especially in a pandemic, I think it’s important to find little moments of experiential joy, and for me that is putting together a good snack bowl or dreaming about what I’ll cook for dinner.