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From the Publisher: Recipe for Success

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Published July 27, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated July 27, 2022 at 10:10 a.m.


Seven Days food assignment editor Melissa Pasanen - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Seven Days food assignment editor Melissa Pasanen

The research for Melissa Pasanen's first food story in Seven Days, about Vermont church suppers, started on Saint Patrick's Day at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Richmond. There she found salty gray meat, boiled potatoes and a couple who had been attending such community meals statewide for decades.

"One week later, I was in the back seat of Larry and Guyla LaFrance's truck, riding through a late March snowstorm to a 'real nice' covered-dish church supper in a small town about 30 miles northeast of St. Albans," she wrote in the piece we published about the Richford Methodist Church supper in 2002.

Melissa recognized that the ride-along would provide all the ingredients for a compelling narrative. Crafting it, she sprinkled in the right measure of Vermont history, other characters and, of course, a thorough review of the meal. She noted that one Jell-O salad was surprisingly tasty.

Twenty years later, I can say the story was classic Melissa: deeply reported, informative, well written and respectful. In contrast, the irreverent cover teaser I wrote for it was not: "Divine Dining: A couple of pot pie heads follow the food." Then a freelancer, Melissa hated it so much, she didn't pitch Seven Days another story idea for 16 years.

"I'm not so alt-y," she reminded me in a recent email.

Somehow that makes the national recognition she received last week even sweeter. Pasanen took the top food-writing award in the annual contest organized by the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, joining past Seven Days winners Suzanne Podhaizer (2008), Alice Levitt (2011) and Corin Hirsch (2012). The judges praised Melissa "for writing that reflects the local food scene beyond its dining rooms, bringing readers a multiplicity of essential perspectives from the food industry through reporting."

The award was based on a sampling of Melissa's stories from a 12-month period, including one about a culinary collective of migrant farmworkers in Addison County whose members feed their own community and, increasingly, many others. Another, "Pressure Cooker," artfully illustrated the impacts of COVID-19 on restaurant workers. The third feature was on a woman-owned butchery in Royalton.

Pasanen and her colleague Jordan Barry fill the Seven Days food section with quality content every week — a mixture of rich, in-depth features and short, timely takes on the latest food news. It's a busy beat. No other Vermont media outlet attempts to cover the subject so comprehensively.

Our approach has evolved since 2017, when Melissa decided to give Seven Days a second chance and become a regular freelancer. Three years later, she joined the staff and gave herself the title of food assignment editor. That means she guides what our food team pursues — and has veto power over cover teasers! — but eschews hands-on editing so she can write.

Drawing on a vast network of sources, Melissa never wants for story ideas. Pre-Seven Days, she was the food editor at Vermont Life and contributed regularly to the Burlington Free Press along with numerous national publications. She's written and cowritten three cookbooks, including Cooking With Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories From Vermont, which got nods from both Food & Wine and the New York Times.

Along the way, she managed to get a master's degree in food systems from the University of Vermont, a program in which she now teaches. UVM calls her course Professional Development, but Melissa prefers "Networking Is Everything." She told me: "I always say that I don't really write about food. I write about people. Food is just the way in." A perfect example is this week's piece on chef-turned-fly-fishing-guide Jamie Eisenberg.

Melissa was one of several Seven Dayzers who did us proud in this year's AAN Awards. They're all talented journalists whose achievements are a reflection of our vibrant and multifaceted community. None of this could happen without Vermonters like Larry and Guyla LaFrance. Thanks for trusting us with your stories.

We're also grateful for our advertisers and Super Readers, whose financial support keeps our staffers paid and the presses running. Simply put, Seven Days would not be here without you.