Life & Thyme quietly turned eleven years old this past October. Eleven! Despite L&T’s longevity, it’s still very much a startup—one hell of a scrappy startup. No year has been the same at L&T and it is by design: to keep ideas evolving—whether they succeed or fail—and to never stay stagnant. And just like all of us, we evolve and change the same way ideas should take on new meanings through time.
Life & Thyme will always remain an “idea”, never a destination or a finished product. It is an idea that represents creative freedom. It is an idea that adapts to the world we find ourselves in. It is an idea that represents food, art, culture, and community—pillars in life that are never stagnant. The day that L&T feels stagnant is the day I close its doors. And that day is not today because we are headed into a new chapter and a reimagined Life & Thyme from the ground up.
But first, a bit of context of where we are right now.
The State of Food Media
Ah, the infamous food media moniker. It is a catchall category for publications, PR, influencers, and any digital content that promotes or highlights the food industry, most notably restaurants. It is basically food entertainment. I have been around this block for over a decade and I have seen this particular subset of media go from quirky TMZ-style blogs to giant corporate conglomerates with its own set of scandals. And now we have influencers. Individual influencers with massive followings on Tiktok that record themselves eating a meal at a restaurant while restaurateurs sit at the edge of their seat, watching and waiting to see what said influencers will have to say on their place of practice. Each knife and fork stroke an influencer makes may as well be the sharpening of a guillotine. The things I’ve seen!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the state of food media but I am critical of it. I also find it amusing to observe how society consumes content and how the behavior changes over time. Do something long enough and it will catch on, spreading like wildfire until our attention is distracted by something else. The cycle repeats.
In the world of food, food media is a unique beast when compared to other industry media. Watch someone talk about art at a gallery? Booooooring. Watch someone drink a matcha almond latte with lavender sprinkled on top? Now we’re talking. Watch someone paint a picture? Womp womp. Watch someone cook amatriciana? Feed that to my eyes!
We will collect cookbooks to simply look at. We will watch recipe videos until the internet wheels fall off without ever cooking ourselves. As a society, we love looking at food, we love watching people cook food, we love watching people eat food.
The question I keep asking is do we love learning about food? Not to be mere voyeurs of the food content like a gluttonous deviant but to really understand food, where it comes from, and more importantly, who is behind it. Life & Thyme was founded on this simple yet complex investigation. Every story we have ever published strived to analyze food culture on a more intellectual level, some stories better than others. But here’s the thing, the context of how we consume information has changed long ago and now it’s changing even at a more rapid clip. It is simply the nature of the game.
The State of the Written Word
I do believe we, collectively, love to learn about food. Not just watch food but to understand it. We are all curious creatures and we want to be informed and to learn why things are the way they are, why certain events occur, and how things are made. The dilemma (at least for publishers) is we, as a society, are also visually stimulated all the time, especially when it comes to food. Long-form written deep dives into regenerative practices or even fermentation will only go so far in today’s world. Believe me, we’ve published such pieces. Outside of our documentary show, The Migrant Kitchen, L&T has largely been a written endeavor. L&T has worked with over 200 correspondents around the world contributing thoughtful written pieces for over a decade. We published several printed volumes of a magazine and 13 printed newspapers. Actual newspapers where ink rubs off on your fingers! The written word has been the king for L&T… at least up until now.
Through the Lens
From Life & Thyme’s earliest years, one particular art form became one of our greatest strengths: filmmaking. From tiny short films on restaurants in coffee shops nearly a decade ago to Emmy-winning documentary shows, L&T became its own little film production company here in Los Angeles (now known as Barnyard). Our creative playground expanded beyond words and into the world of cinematic content, TV broadcast, and video production.
Life & Thyme also went all in on other documentary projects like Broken Bread with Roy Choi, Artbound, and an upcoming film about the importance of arts education for PBS. Between The Migrant Kitchen and these other various documentaries, L&T has produced over 20 individual documentary pieces for television and has gone home with six Emmy awards thus far.
The process of making documentaries never becomes easy but our process did get refined. Efficiencies were born through repetition. We began to own the gear. Our style became our own. Even I went from a founder of a little magazine to producer, director, and then the coveted executive producer role. And sometimes cinematographer and editor. Every new episode or show I worked on, I learned something new about the process of making films and the business around it. Everything about filmmaking is either not cheap or really expensive but we held on and the process became more affordable and sustainable (which will lead into future plans later in this ramble).
So, now we have a bit of context of where we are right now. Here is where we are going.
Life & Thyme Post, our printed newspaper, is coming to an end. We had a good run: a total of thirteen issues that told stories from so many parts of the world and shipped to the doorsteps of members domestically and internationally.
Life & Thyme Post created structure for our editorial and focused our attention on building collections of stories centered around important issues within the food industry. When we were all stuck at home during the height of the pandemic in 2020, we released an issue that focused on cooking at home and how the industry was battling Covid-19 as essential workers. Later that year we published an issue focused entirely on oppressive, systemic problems within the industry during 2020’s social unrest in America. Our last edition was dedicated entirely to the city of Florence in Italy—a practical guide to better understand how to navigate the City of Lilies. The Florence Issue was a turning point for L&T’s editorial: let a city be the theme and build intentional stories that provide meaningful context to how a city ticks (Seoul is next on the docket).
And now, Life & Thyme Post comes to an end, at least the newspaper part. While the physical product will come to an end, future content will simply evolve into a more immersive and digital experience.
In full transparency, there are several reasons why this product is being shuttered. To name a few:
- Print is expensive. Even printing on the cheapest form of paper, a newspaper, is expensive. The financials will never make sense in this day and age. For giant media brands, like The New York Times, their newspaper is not the money driver. For an independent publication like L&T, the burden is much greater. To fully cover the costs of this product, our membership dues would have to skyrocket. Even then, each year, the cost of printing would continue to rise.
- Shipping is unsustainable and wasteful. We commissioned the stories, we paid editors to make sure each story is in tip-top shape, the design is in place, and the paper is now printed. Ok, now we have to ship the darn thing. Ship a copy to each member individually and bulk ship heavy boxes to coffee shops or bookstores, every time there is a new release. International shipping would become another logistical nightmare, not to mention the risk in lost mail once it leaves the country, plus the time invested in customer support for reshipping lost copies. To top things off, there is a lot of accumulated waste when shipping a physical product, from labels and mailers to undelivered copies.
- It is slow. Life & Thyme will never be in the business of breaking news of the food industry. L&T is about methodical, intentional, and carefully researched stories. The production of stories can take time because it needs to be that way. But the delivery of information doesn’t need to be unnecessarily slow, especially when much of our audience are global travelers on the go.
Don’t get me wrong though, I knew all of this going in from the start. Life & Thyme Post was a project that needed to be brought to life to fulfill a creative desire that honored how journalism began: on paper. One last hoorah for the old newsie, the L&T way. Or to motivate readers to take a brief moment away from our digital overlords. It was all very punk rock (at least that is what I tell myself in my head).
Venturing into tech… to bring people together offline
Our greatest and most important asset to Life & Thyme has been our community. L&T’s community represents creatives, entrepreneurs, chefs, industry professionals, scholars, journalists, activists, and so many more thought leaders and doers around the world. But a community’s growth can be severely limited when the tools provided are inadequate—and that prevents meaningful connections from happening between its members.
Unintentionally, L&T is the gatekeeper to our members having the ability to connect with one another. Unless you lived in Los Angeles and could attend many of our in-person events and experiences, meeting other L&T members was near impossible. Social media platforms offered fragmented and noisey ecosystems that made it difficult to connect with an existing community. Our audience also represents different generations that use all sorts of platforms. Some use Instagram or X, while others are on Discord or TIkTok, further creating fragmentation.
If Life & Thyme is the gatekeeper (due to network fragmentation), then L&T should open the gates and be the network for its own community. We’ll be rolling out social connection tools on L&T’s website slowly, like the ability to connect with and discover other members. Members will be able to engage in conversations and even form their own groups with a touch of a button.
This new community platform will also live as a dedicated L&T app that can be easily accessible through your phone. Members will be encouraged to meet in-person through events we host or events the hospitality industry can host in their own city. Eventually, our app will become the central ecosystem and home for all things Life & Thyme, including features to discover places off the beaten path abroad or new discoveries on your home turf. Need to find the best maritozzo in Rome? We got you. We’ll even suggest a few members nearby that can join you. Or want to visit palenques for ancient mezcal in Puebla with a trusted guide? We got you. Or want to connect directly to farming activists in Puerto Rico that are looking to fight U.S. imperialism by creating their own sustainable food supply? We’ll help you join the fight.
Not only can you read Life & Thyme, now you can live it.
Video. A lot of it.
Moving forward, most of Life & Thyme’s content will be video-based, not word-based. Starting in 2024, expect a slate of web series to begin streaming right here at Life & Thyme and YouTube, weekly. This new pivot to video will allow us to expand beyond the written word and into a more immersive form of storytelling and educational content. Our focus will remain on investigating food culture around the world but also at home with cinematic courses on cooking techniques by real professionals (chefs). Our upcoming slate of video content will focus on the following categories:
- Short Docs: cinematic short documentaries highlighting travel, social issues, and global food culture. From the streets of Palermo to the kitchens of Seoul, each story is a slice of humanity that spans across borders.
- Recipes: we’re rethinking the typical recipe video in a more bite-sized format that not only demonstrates how to cook a dish but also honors the beauty behind cooking in less than 2 minutes taught by a professional chef and Life & Thyme’s Culinary Director (more on that in the coming weeks).
- The Science of Food (with chefs): go inside professional kitchens to learn techniques and food science from chefs themselves. From learning how to build a larder and ferment to no-technology cooking, this new series is an intellectual deep dive into the minds of chefs while highlighting their expertise in the kitchen and getting nerdy about the science of food.
- Explainers: deep dive investigations into history and global affairs through the lens of food. How did the tomato arrive to Italy? What does decades of U.S. imperialism have to do with food sovereignty in Puerto Rico? How is crime and militias linked to the production of vanilla? Why do we tip in America?
- Travel Dispatches: we’re pointing the camera onto us. Explore cities and global food culture with Life & Thyme as your guide and host, including myself!
For nearly the entire existence of Life & Thyme, a L&T podcast was always talked about but never realized because the time never felt right. 2024 finally changes that. Podcasting is a medium I’ve had to spend years in simply observing, researching and just listening before I would feel comfortable to venture into this particular medium. From interview shows like the Ezra Klein show and newsroom dispatches like the New Yorker Radio Hour to serialized true crime, like Serial, I listened and listened. With all things L&T, there is a certain quality and standard that must be adhered to, whether it is our design aesthetic, our journalism, or our cinematic films—audio is no exception.
The first L&T podcast (keyword: first) will be in the form of an ongoing interview series highlighting chefs, artists, filmmakers, journalists, and other interesting humans that are invested into a creative process as their practice. Throughout my own creative journey, what I have come to realize is that the creative process ultimately evolves into a scientific approach in executing ideas beyond a napkin or a thought. Creating art, whether it’s on a plate or on the big screen, there are structures that creativity needs to adhere to. Otherwise, ideas will fade away into the abyss. Even if typical rules are broken, the act of rule breaking in itself is a form of providing structure to art. Our environments, social status, and where we are born have influences into how creativity manifests itself. This podcast will investigate what it takes to execute a creative idea that can change the way we think, the way we taste, the way we consume, or the way we feel.
A New Website
The design of Life & Thyme’s website has largely remained the same for many years now. Much of the aesthetic, functionality, and features of the L&T website will be dramatically overhauled beginning next month. Content will be easier to discover, video will be more pronounced, and community features will be rolled out throughout the year. Rather than having a website that is static and informational, L&T’s website will act more like an evolving central hub for everything that is happening in the L&T ecosystem and its community, both offline and online.
And lastly, a change in tone.
The most important change that is coming to Life & Thyme is actually one that is more self-reflective. For the past decade, L&T has largely acted like a gallery space: white walls showcasing important stories about the people that feed us, globally. The work is what is important above all else, not the gallery itself (the gallery being L&T if you get my drift). At least that is what I thought. What I came to realize along the way was that so much of the L&T soul and its magic is what happens behind those walls and the community around it. Knowing who is behind anything and why is just as important as what is being put out, whether it is the food we eat or the information we consume. L&T’s mission is to provide educational research and human stories that inform how the world works using food as a trojan horse. But how any of this is made and who is behind it will also be part of the story moving forward. I want to humanize the process, open source the behind the scenes, and invite our community to be a part of the shaping of it all.
My hope for Life & Thyme is to be remembered by the impact our stories, documentaries, and events had on others. But I also want L&T to be remembered as a laboratory of ideas, experimentation, and as a resource for others to be inspired by, where our learnings and processes of what worked and didn’t work are shared with the public. There is a saying that is often used in tech startup circles: #BuildInPublic. That is what I intend to do. The more we share our resources, our knowledge, and our experiences with one another—including the people behind the scenes—the more we can all collectively learn from one another, rethink the status quo, and be inspired to rebel and do things differently. I hope I can learn from you as well.
Thank you for reading and for joining along, I hope you continue to do so in 2024.
Founder, Life & Thyme