The Idiotic Saga of the New York Times Cooking Community

Yves here. Established institutions like the New York Times trying to bring in new audiences/consumers often make pratfalls. The results too often look like a middle aged man or woman getting a trainer and some plastic surgery and pursuing younger…as in awfully young….lovers.

The Grey Lady’s efforts have often been mercenary, like driving out serious business reporters as they kept elevating Wall Street’s favorite promoter, Andrew Ross Sorkin. And some are head-scratchers, like “Who even thought it was worth the effort to rebrand ‘op ed’ because it wasn’t inclusive enough?” As in you had to be an old fart to recognize that it derived from “opposite the editorial page?” So in the interest of not making young people feel left out, we must also get rid of expressions like “spanner in the works” (from industrial sabotage and therefore exclusionary because presumes knowledge of history), “rein in” (because from horse riding and therefore aristocratic) and “lashed to the mast” (from Greek classics and therefore old privileged white men derived)?

But this example is in a category all its own.

By Michael Olenick, Executive Fellow, INSEAD Business School

The New York Times continues working to rid itself of their increasingly infamous cooking community. For those not in the know, the New York Times Cooking Community is a Facebook group that’s been like a bunion on the Grey Lady’s foot. As Vice eloquently put it, Not Even the NYT Wants to Be a Part of Its Cooking Facebook Group Anymore.

Nevertheless, the saga has the appeal of a freeway pileup. Not one of those little fender benders but a Bentley (that’d be the New York Times) tangled up with a bunch of old Honda’s (that’d be the rest of us). We know it’s best to keep driving by but we just can’t help but look.

My daughter’s been studying for the SAT so I’ll try to explain it in the terms that test uses, which happens to be the first and last place to ever see these types of comparisons. The New York Times Cooking Community is to the NYT brand as Hunter Biden is to Joe. As Trump is to real estate developers. As my French bulldog is to dogs. You get the picture…

Speaking of my teenage daughter, when I told her the New York Times created a Facebook group where they expected highbrow discussions, she spit her water across the table and started laughing so hard I worried she’d choke. Thinking firstly, can I do the Heimlich and, second, would it work on water, she recovered. Then started laughing again so much her face turned beet red.

Look, I work in academia focused on innovation but some ideas are just dumb. Like lawn darts. The Segway. And the aspirational highbrow New York Times Cooking Community Facebook group, founded February 19, 2019, blew up last year thanks to cooped-up COVID cooks.

Anyhoo, as the US election neared last November, the restless Facebook cooks decided a get-out-the-vote campaign was a good idea. Their editors at the Times apparently disagreed, deleting any post with any political connotation including “Go Vote.” Posts that all too often displayed revolting recipes instead started a traditional revolt with things like bagels shaped into letters spelling out “GO VOTE.” Take that, anonymous moderators at the New York Times!

A brief digression. If I’d gotten a job at the New York Times in any type of editorial position, I’d be stoked. I mean, seriously, it’s the newspaper of record. The most prestigious news publication in the world. The New York Times is like … well … the New York Times. But if I’d found out soon after my job was to moderate their Facebook Cooking Group I’d probably be more deflated than a flopped cake.

The apparently disenchanted editors of the Times were openly thrilled to simultaneously be given the editorial equivalent of septic tank cleanup coupled with voter suppression. They did their job with the enthusiasm of a French bureaucrat I knew tasked with manual map making after electronic systems were invented. He showed up, clocked in, and spent the day at the bar with other obsolete mapmakers. The pension wasn’t bad though he couldn’t enjoy it long due to cirrhosis accumulated by decades of missed work coupled with heavy day drinking, a fate the moderators of the New York Times Cooking Community saw for themselves in due course.

Hoping to do something more meaningful, which includes pretty much anything – and after another user revolt for another election – they decided to make like a titan of private equity and divest the asset but to who? After apparently finding interest in the 75,000-person cooking community was comparable to buyers of the Sears brand, they settled on that tried-and-true method, a management buyout. The New York Times would choose some new moderators from within, change the name, and do the walk of shame back to headquarters never again to mention their misguided foray into social media.

The new moderators would be experienced, level-headed, patient, and hip. All the things you’d expect after a meltdown where the New York Times arguably got jammed up for engaging in voter suppression, right? Only time will tell but we now know one thing they wouldn’t be is diverse: after being named not a single one is black and the oldest tops out at 42. They look more like the children of that community than those who bother posting their best tips and tricks for veggie lasagna.

Apparently, 63% of New York Times readers are under the age of 50. That doesn’t sync with the anecdote of every single person I know who subscribes though the same study says readers of the Wall Street Journal are also young, making me think ad departments are taking poetic liberties.

In any event, that demographic segment describes 100% of their new mods. When I brought a lack of age diversity dire enough it looked like age discrimination in a 25-word comment, one of the new mods said they will not be “bullied and bashed and slandered” and told me I’ll be muted and removed. She’d been on the job about an hour.

Comment moderating, at the New York Times or elsewhere, is a crappy job. People are awful. And Facebook isn’t known for bringing out the best. Still, if you’re representing a well-respected brand, it’s probably best to approach it with some level of professionalism. Handing things off to an all-millennial (except one) group of mods, which didn’t include a single black person, was probably as bad an idea as hummus with liver. Expecting them to act any different than the guards at the infamous Stanford prison experiment was naïve.

I don’t remember when I first joined the New York Times Cooking Community but I eventually bailed. I rejoined in January and tuned out soon after except for noticing the admittedly excellent breakaway Mean People Cooking Community, a place of fun people and good recipes.

Normally, the best thing to do with a bunion is have it removed. If I were the New York Times, I’d declare their project a brand-taint failure and shutter their misbegotten cooking community before an already problematic place gets any worse. Like a recipe where you inadvertently added 10x the amount of salt, some things are beyond hope.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Taunger

    Writer really does give away their stuffy ivory tower background while harping on the “bad idea” of giving 30 and 40 year olds real responsibility. My gosh, if they can moderate comments, before you know it they might be trying cases, or even building houses people sleep in!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Match for that straw? And ad hom too. Two site Policies violations puts you on a fast track to loss of comment privileges.

      The point was the moderators didn’t represent the audience they were moderating. FB is for old farts to begin with, and cooking enthusiasts skew older too. It takes investing in equipment, spices (a relative who is a serious home cook lost $1000 of spices in a fire), and shopping for good raw materials. Younger people are more likely to be too time stressed to do much along those lines.

      Confirmed by Forbes about how even basic cooking is on a big decline among millennials and younger groups:

      I do not take well to ill-founded attacks on site authors. Olenick is a scrappy guy who got a law degree from a not great school and wound up doing very big data at Insead because he is good at it, not because he’s got flashy academic credentials. So the ad hom is compounded by your fabrication.

      1. Darius

        Interesting that the first comments on this and Lambert’s article on what a horrible president Obama was are specious liberal Twitter-type defenses of the subject. It’s amusing when these people show up. I’m sure it’s cognitive dissonance for them.

      2. Wild Sheep

        Based on that Forbes article, it sounds like the evidence for a decline in millennial cooking skills is somewhat mixed. Perhaps the lines of evidence — more meal delivery plus more reliance on meal kits — also reflect a decline in a desire/free time/disposable income for the sit-down restaurant experience. That could certainly complement a decline in cooking skills amongst young people, but I’m not convinced it’s as enormous as Forbes would like us to think. Granted, I make that suggestion without doing any other research. (That article was also from 2018, and I do wonder to what extent the pandemic has shifted things.)

        Also, I know this is an old complaint in 2021, but I do wish that media folks (and headline writers in particular) could talk about generational trends without lapsing into the “Millennials are killing X” trope. Alas.

        This is not meant as a defense (or even a reaction to) the rule-flaunting first poster. I agree that the Times sounds like it’s making poor moderating decisions that fail to comprehend the make-up of its FB group. I just suspect that the particular demographics of the Times Cooking Community are more a function of “people who use FB” than of “people who cook.”

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          There is a difference between cooking at home and being a cooking enthusiast. Yours truly when she was young. for the hell of it, learned to make all the classic French sauces and souffles. But I can’t be bothered to cook. When I could get a decent piece of fish, I might do something with that, since if you add more than five ingredients to fish, you’ve worked too hard. Technically I cook at home a lot, but that consists of making a salad, steaming vegetables, and having a protein (canned tuna which because mercury I have to meter how often I have it, canned salmon, prepared black bean soup, tofu, simple baked grass fed bison or lamb burgers, sometimes for my mother grilled scallops, chicken scallopini, and lamb chops). That is technically cooking at home because not ordering in, but no real cook would consider that to be cooking. Most bachelors do more complicated stuff than I do.

          And you are missing that doing anything of any seriousness really does require investment: good knives, whisks of various sizes, spices and oils and often more specialized tools (garlic presses, graters, meat pounders, a slab of marble if you bake…)

          1. flora

            Um, fresh foods – fish, seafood, beefs, lamb, greens, veg, etc. – and ingredients, not too many and not too fancy, is the “secret” of Alice Waters success, imo. I’m likely missing something, or maybe not. / ;)

            1. flora

              adding: I guess a well cooked hamburger from good beef with an in season veg (as in ‘from the garden’) plus a desert of (egads!) jello fruit salad, all which fed the body well even if not the vanity’s ambitions, is, I suppose, passé. (sorry)

          2. Count Zero

            “And you are missing that doing anything of any seriousness really does require investment…”

            Yes and that is not just a matter of money but precisely of “investment”. Buying in takeaway food and eating out is not cheap. But buying tools and materials requires not just money but also a sense of permanence, investing in the future. Once young people are in their 30s with their own kitchen then perspectives start to change.

          3. none

            My “cooking” amounts to chucking whatever I can find in the kitchen into an Instant Pot and pressing a button. It is a great invention. Put in a cup of dry black beans, add water, press the “beans” button (I cranked it to 35 minutes at pressure) and 45 minutes later they are ready to serve, or dump in more ingredients and cook a little longer. No overnight soaks or anything like that, and it needs close to zero attention since it shuts itself off etc.

    2. Michael Olenick

      Writer says it’s best not to use *only* millennial mods in any large forum, especially one full of old foggies. A general observation: it’s a bad idea to put “bad idea” in quotes when it’s easy enough to do a find and find it’s not in the original piece. Makes you look like you’re making stuff up.

    1. John A

      The best cat thing was the video of a cat dumping a mouse in a glass of red wine next to a keyboard as the ‘owner’ was typing. Pretty sure I saw it here a year or so ago.

      1. polecat

        Speaking of cats, it never fails to have the neigh-boors felines sh!tting in my recently planted/seeded garden beds, no matter how humanely I try to dissuade them.

        I do not consider that very cute at all, especially now where obtaining wholesome .. and less expensive food is of major importance in my & mine’s wellbeing!

        1. Alfred

          Yeah, that’s gross. Now I have had to resort to fencing in my garden–woodchucks and deer, since my dog and goats crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Now all I have to contend with are snails, slugs, aphids and the fact that tomatoes refuse to get past the green state without a cold house.

  2. doug

    I somehow signed up for an cooking email several times a week from the NYT with some recipes being available for all and some requiring a subscription. I often enjoy the free ones. I am not sure how or if this is connected to the FB thing.

  3. lyman alpha blob

    So it was a disaster but because they had 75K participants they couldn’t just shut the website down and walk away because you never know if it might become the next Kim Kardashian and be worth some real MONEY. Am I understanding that correctly? If so, maybe we’re onto a new phenomenon. Like money so often changing those who get too much of it for the worse, what is the critical mass of social media followers that t causes one lose their mind?

  4. The Rev Kev

    ‘Apparently, 63% of New York Times readers are under the age of 50.’ Really? I wonder how that survey was worded. When I was in Europe in the 80s there was a popular US international newspaper on sale. I forget the name and it may not even exist anymore but I saw in one issue where they were taking a pol of their readers to see who they were. One section I saw snagged my interest as it was asking about reader’s smoking habits (the 80s, remember). It asked if they smoked cigarettes, cigars, etc but there was no place to tick ‘I do not smoke’ so how honest was that survey?

    But getting back to the main point – a New York Times Cooking Community Facebook group? This is the woke New York Times here. So will it work out that you cannot cook and talk about a Chicken Tandoori unless you are of Indian extraction? Will you be accused of not checking your privileges by cooking Enchiladas because you are expropriating another country’s cuisine? And who exactly gets to cook Grits? You know that some of the reporters at the New York Times will not be able to help themselves but will spend their spare time policing the comments on that group. Fights will break out, people will be banned for cooking racist food. It will be glorious.

    1. Michael Olenick

      The same survey (click through, there’s a link) says 64% of WSJ readers are <50 which is even more ridiculous, especially because the WSJ just implied their main cause of reader attrition is death from old age.

      Maybe they figure if they only hire people under 50 then that will attract readers of that age? It's about as believable as online dating profile ages.

        1. Jason

          Chafefsy and Lumet produced lot of “Reel Bad Arabs” dialogue in that movie. The dialogue surrounding what “the Arabs” were allegedly doing easily applies to other “peoples” as well.

  5. JohnnySacks

    Our son has informed us that if we’re to want online access to the NYT cooking section, our subscription will cost $5 a month more. Business being business, can a Facebook group be monetized? Moderation, just let the damn thing burn, why they care more than they do about bad breath is a mystery to me.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

      Yes indeed – there’s more variety, they’re tastier, and they’re more reliable. I check the Guardian food pages often – probably once a day – whereas I rarely bother anymore with the NYT food section, even though I’m a long-time subscriber.

      1. lordkoos

        Thanks for the tip, I will check out the Guardian food page. I never really read the NY Times section. Have to give props to the NYT for one thing though — back in the early 80s the book that taught me how to cook was a NYT spinoff, “60 Minute Gourmet” by Pierre Franey & Craig Clairborne. Of course that book came out quite a long time ago.

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

          Yes, I should also give credit where it’s due. You remind me that the book that taught me how to cook was Craig Claiborne’s New New York Times cookbook, also written ‘with Pierre Franey’ and which I stumbled upon in the early 1980s. I still use some of its recipes, sometimes modified with the benefit of the experience I’ve gained since that time.

          1. none

            Claiborne’s autobiography “A Feast Made For Laughter” is a fun read and talks about the history of the NYT cookbook. Apparently Claiborne pitched it to the NYT after his readers asked for it. The NYT had no idea that it was valuable, so they let Claiborne do whatever he wanted with it. I’m sure if the NYT realized what it had, they would have found a way to mess it up.

    2. Judith

      The only NYT recipe I use (and it pre-dates FB by many years) is Marion Burros’ plum torte recipe. It is quite simple to make and It always generates requests for the recipe. Do an Internet search for variations on the recipe to discover nice variations such as substituting a bit of polenta for some of the flour and all the different fruits that people have tried.

  6. Harold

    I subscribed to the NYT cooking section and have been disappointed. I have liked Melissa Clark, Martha Rose Schulman, and Mark Bitman in the past, but I am not a fan of dubious fusion cooking on the whole.
    I don’t really understand what the NYT FB food group scandal is about from this discussion, to tell the truth.

    1. PHLDenizen

      I, foolishly, subscribed to NYT cooking for a bit and came away disappointed. After glowering at the tedious, convoluted recipes found in Bon Appétit, I assumed the NYT would be a little more…accessible. It was. By about a hair’s width. Not the orders of magnitude I’d imagined. Into the bin with that.

      I live alone, so cooking for oneself is a dreary necessity at best. Even if I had company to regularly cook for, I have to wonder who in the hell cooks at home using Bon Appétit recipes? They’re like gilded lilies. The older I get, the greater appreciation I have for simple foods prepared well with excellent ingredients. Produce in the US, unfortunately, is engineered for transport and storage — taste is a secondary concern.

      I bought Bitman’s How to Cook Everything and it has been awesome. Probably the best cookbook I’ve ever encountered.

      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

        Agreed, an excellent book, with reliable, straightforward recipes, although for basic cookery books, I prefer UK authors – Nigel Slater, Tamasin Day-Lewis, Nigella Lawson (in addition to the classics, Elizabeth David, Simon Hopkinsin, and an old battered M & S book). I also recommend The Silver Spoon and the adjunct pasta volume for Italian standards.

        1. Basil Pesto

          oh man, The Silver Spoon arrived at my place a couple of weeks ago (I pre-ordered the newest edition last year but it never came due to a printing error, when I pointed this out Phaidon refunded the order and told me they’d send it for free when it was finally reprinted – which I was a bit sceptical of. Lo and behold, out of nowhere it arrived). It is a tome. Very much in ‘if you can only have one cookbook’ territory because of how comprehensive it is, although I got Phaidon’s India cookbook this year and it’s also superb.

          I’ve had the pasta one for years and it’s great.

        2. lordkoos

          People no longer use the Joy of Cooking? It was my bible for years. I will check out the Bitman book.

          1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

            The first cookbook I ever used – my mother’s copy. I have my own now but I don’t use it often, even though it’s comprehensive. Can’t say exactly why.

            1. John A

              The Observer food critic Jay Rayner, has been running a series of articles about the cook books he owns, well worth checking out.

            2. Dave in Austin

              The original article and this whole thread has made my day. I should have guessed that NC was filled with food experts looking for good results with a minimum effort

              A friend working at Bell Labs in the 1970s hit a stray NJ deer on the way home from work one day. When he asked the state cop at the accident site “Can I keep the deer?” the policeman said yes and gave him a standard NJ form saying it was ok. He then went home, opened his copy of The Joy of Cooking and there were the instructions on how to butcher the deer. He hung in to age in his garage and opened the door every afternoon for three days to dispell the smell. Some of the neighbors were horrified but it being Bell Labs in the 1970s, nobody at work say his behavior as unusual

  7. QuicksilverMessenger

    Ha! I’m not an oldie, but no longer young either, and all these years I just thought that ‘op ed’ was short for ‘opinion and editorial’. It’s the little things at NC too!

  8. tempestteacup

    With all due apologies to Yves, I don’t currently have anything more constructive to contribute than feeling perplexed that the author has now made me want to try liver with hummus. It can’t be that bad…can it?

  9. Huh

    “spanner in the works” had to be removed for inclusivity reasons? Who did? Where? This comes off as culture war-baiting reactionary nonsense.

  10. megrim

    Apparently, 63% of New York Times readers are under the age of 50. That doesn’t sync with the anecdote of every single person I know who subscribes though the same study says readers of the Wall Street Journal are also young, making me think ad departments are taking poetic liberties.

    I’m under 50 and subscribe to the WSJ because I have parrots and need a constant stream of newspaper coming into the house. I wouldn’t be that surprised if bird people were lowering the average readership age of the NYT/WSJ, since all species taken together, birds are the third most popular pet in the US.

  11. Harold

    I have noticed that as the years go by recipes get more and more elaborate. My mother learned to cook, I believe with the Fireside Cookbook (1949), which was basically by James Beard (uncredited), at least I recognized, when I read it carefully, many of the things she used to do that I could find nowhere else. His early recipes, say, Baby Peas à la française (peas cooked with lettuce), would give you the recipe in a few lines, and then there would be an addendum of options at the end, such as you can sautée some scallions before you add the peas, and so on. (Louis Diat’s French Cooking for Americans, 1946, is another classic, whose recipes always turn out.)
    When I asked my paternal aunt, who was an accomplished and very creative cook, what cookbook she used, she replied, the Larousse gastronomique. I thought she was being a bit facetious, but when I looked at a copy, the recipes in there were also very simple, and Escoffier even stressed the desirability of simplicity and warned explicitly against superfluous additions that would detract from the flavor of the main dish. This seems to be a cardinal rule at least of the French and Italian traditions in which I was raised. And today, when I want to check on how to make something I have a look at the Italian grandmas on Youtube. I don’t think they would approve of pasta with maple syrup, which I just saw today when looking at the NYT website, It certainly strikes me as an affectation.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

      I also occasionally refer to Larousse gastronomique, especially when I’m trying out a new ingredient I’ve never used before. My husband is doing much of our food shopping at the moment; the pandemic has confined us to a supermarket rather than shopping at NYC greenmarkets, as I much prefer to do. My list always includes a request for a mystery vegetable and a mystery fruit – something which catches his eye, and which isn’t on my list. This week he brought home batata – which I’d never noticed before, let alone cooked – and mangoes – which I don’t think will compare to the best Indian mangoes in season, but they may work for making gelato.

Comments are closed.