Did a Couple of San Francisco Lesbians Invent Modern Food Writing?
In 1928, home ec writers and secret lesbian lovers Genevieve Callahan and Lou Richardson (yep, Lou was a she) left Iowa, where they'd been working as editors for Better Homes & Gardens magazine. In San Francisco, their ex-boss Larry Lane had just bought a failing regional magazine called Sunset.
For the next decade, Gen and Lou were co-architects of Sunset's revolutionary changes in publishing, not least of which was inventing today's style of journalism-based food reporting. No longer would food writers necessarily be pearl-strung home ec ladies, cloistered in test kitchens and sheathed in lacy aprons (though it was a breed that would survive well into the 1960s). In a series of fact-finding trips they called Pacific Coasting, Gen and Lou showed that food writers could be field reporters, discovering avocados and abalone, and mining very un-mainstream cuisines like Chinese and Mexican.
Long-time Sunset food editor Jerry Anne Di Vecchio knew Gen and Lou mostly by reputation. "They stopped everywhere," Di Vecchio said, "any taco stand or Oriental market, barbecue or food festival. They were discovering everything for the first time and telling their readers about it -- they were the first ones in America to write about posole."
In 1946, Callahan saw publication of The California Cook Book, a work Celia Sack of Omnivore Books in Noe Valley called significant for having the first recipe for Green Goddess dressing. In her introduction Callahan wrote, "California is more than a state -- it's a way of life." Sure, it's trite. But for Gen and Lou, it may have been a line hinting, in part, at personal transformation.