Updated: Jan 6
Name: Christina Nifong Location: Roanoke, Virginia Years of Experience: 30+ Available for writing projects: Yes
Niche/Beat/Genre: Food writing (especially local food, farm-to-table); personal essays; in-depth profiles of names in the news Portfolio website(s): christinanifong.com, Linkedin page Other websites/blogs: Book City Roanoke Book: I am working on a middle grade novel about a 12-year-old growing up on a family farm. Favorite food: Salad! Writing tip for fellow writers: Keep writing! There’s nothing that will improve your craft more.
Christina Nifong has written feature stories for newspapers in Boston, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia. She’s worked in far-flung places such as Albania and Vienna, New York and Atlanta. She’s covered topics ranging from presidential races to poverty to breast cancer survival.
Christina says that what she’s learned along the way is that every person has a story to tell, and the way that humans connect is by discovering each other’s stories. Today, Christina writes freelance magazine articles and personal essays from her home office surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Southwest Virginia. In February 2020, Christina launched a monthly newsletter, Nourishing Stories, featuring personal essays, links to noteworthy writing, and seasonal recipes. She is currently working on her first piece of fiction—a Middle Grade book about two kids growing up on a sustainable family farm. How often do you write about food?
While I write about any topic that interests me and my editors, much of my work revolves around food. I recently finished a piece about how my city’s restaurants fared during the pandemic. I am polishing a personal essay about how healing it is to receive meals during a medical emergency. Some of my favorite stories over the years have taken me to nearby chicken and turkey farms, apple orchards, and pumpkin patches. To research the Middle Grade novel I’m writing, I spent a year visiting a family farm each month to learn the rhythms and realities of raising food for others to eat.
Do you grow your own food?
Fourteen years ago, I landed in Roanoke, Virginia, with a husband and a gaggle of kids and a yearning to learn more about this local food movement that was just beginning to germinate. In the last decade, I’ve become a committed locavore with a garden that covers much of my postage-stamp yard and chickens who roam through it all.
Strawberries are my ground cover, blueberries and raspberries are my shrubs; when I plant perennials, I plant nasturtium or pineapple sage—both plants with gorgeous edible flowers. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than sharing my outdoor space with living things that are beautiful and sustaining.
Do you support local food efforts?
Yes! I have written often about farmers markets and restaurants in my community that highlight local food. During my year as the food writer for The Roanoke Times, I made it a priority to guide readers in making more local food choices.
For a few years, local food was the subject of my blog and I taught classes in how to cook seasonally and with local food. Today, I am still sharing recipes with an eye toward eating local in my newsletter, Nourishing Stories. And I am in frequent contact with LEAP, an organization that works to make sure all people have access to local food.
In what other ways do writing and food intersect for you?
Many people talk about how food is a powerful connector to memories and loved ones and culture, and it absolutely is. But for me, food is all about place.
When I am eating honey made by bees in my neighborhood, I am literally tasting the flowers and air and dust that share space with me. When I eat a carrot from my garden, I am digesting the dirt and water beneath my feet.
I cannot think of a more intimate way to be a part of a place than to eat the food that was grown there. So, to write about local food is to write about people, place, creativity, and culture in a deeply layered way.
What are your favorite food books/cookbooks?
Shannon Hayes is a farmer and writer, cafe owner and podcaster who lives in Upstate New York. Her recipes and essays are both inspirations to me.
Meredith Leigh is a writer and incredibly skilled butcher based in Asheville, N.C. Her cookbooks are filled with ideas that really stretch a home cook.
Barbara Kingsolver lives and writes on a farm a few hours west of me. Her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle shaped much of my thinking about eating local; I love all of her novels too.
And I can’t forget Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. I have been making her soups and salad dressings and vegetarian dishes for decades! Where do you turn for food inspiration?
Every Saturday, I wake up early and I sit with my laptop and my cup of coffee and I make a loose meal plan for the week. Then I head to the farmers market a few blocks away and I remake my meal plan based on the amazing foods I find there (foraged mushrooms, heirloom pears, micro greens, a root vegetable I’ve never heard of before, a cut of meat I wasn’t expecting).
The food area farmers are growing always keeps me reaching for new ways to cook and eat it. As the seasons change, so do my dinners.
What’s your go-to snack when you’re on deadline?
Nuts. I love nuts and seeds and dried fruits and veggies of all kinds. Mixes of dried edamame and roasted sesame seeds and pistachios and cranberries are the best of the best.
What else would you like to add about being a writer who loves food or being a writer in general?
These days, I’m feeling incredibly grateful to be a writer—it’s a job easily done from home and important no matter what's happening in the world. There are always stories to tell. We’re also living at a time when there’s a new appreciation for the histories and cultures of all people. Which makes today such an interesting time to be a writer.