photograph by Justin Fox Burks
Edible Memphis, a magazine that celebrates “the abundance of local food in the Mid-South, season by season,” is written, designed, and produced right here in Memphis.
But you may be surprised to know how many other Edible magazines from all over the United States also travel through Memphis, via Edible Memphis editor Melissa Petersen, on their way to publication.
Petersen, a longtime foodie, handles production, design, and occasional editing for Edible magazines in Indianapolis, Rhode Island, Colorado, Hawaii, Toronto, North Carolina, Seattle, Michigan, Reno-Tahoe, and Monterey Bay — all from the comfort of her South Main loft.
Petersen started Edible Memphis in 2007. Edible Communities Inc. (ECI) works like a franchise, and Edible Memphis was the 22nd magazine to join the community.
“I was bored with the magazine subscriptions I was getting, so I went online and found Edible Ojai, the first Edible magazine, and saw that they were going to do an Edible Portland,” says Petersen. “My husband and I were living in Portland at the time, so I picked up the phone and called the Edible founders and got to know them.”
What finally brought her all the way to Memphis?
“Around that time, we came here for barbecue fest and really liked it. People were friendly and there was a lot of food stuff going on. It was almost a year to the day later that we moved here. The moving truck arrived on barbecue weekend.”
Currently, 64 Edible magazines are published across the United States. Around the time that Petersen started Edible Memphis, interest in the publications surged, new Edible magazines suddenly began popping up, and ECI asked Petersen to help with production.
“I kept taking [new Edible magazines] on, thinking, ‘Oh, three, that’s the max. Oh four,’” says Petersen. “At one time I had 12. Now it’s down to 10 plus Memphis.”
The Edible community is highly collaborative. While other magazines like the Memphis version handle all of their own production (Edible Austin does all their own design, ad sales, public relations, and production), Edible editors will often call on the wealth of expertise within their network.
“I have a lot of friends in this community,” says Petersen. “We might do ad development together or share articles. I had an article on Passover once, and I know nothing about Passover, so I called a lady in Toronto whom I do layout for and I asked her to edit this one article. Or if someone needs a photo of something they don’t have.” After all, whether it’s shot in Memphis or Seattle, a tomato looks like a tomato.
Starting an Edible magazine usually involves one or more skills: experience in publishing or design, a passion for food, or a social or environmental mission. Petersen has a little of all of these things. In addition to her publishing background, she was the food stylist for Memphis barbecue experts Gina and Patrick Neely’s cooking show on the Food Network, and prepped food for their cookbook Down Home with the Neelys.
An organized schedule is part and parcel of juggling production deadlines and freelancers, but even so, sometimes Petersen has as many as five magazines on her plate at once. But working on so many publications keeps things fresh.
“I like shaking it up,” she says. “There are days that I don’t want to go out. I want to stay home and sit in front of the computer and crank up my ’80s music. Other days I want to be out with the farmers or at a Food Advisory Council meeting, so it balances out really nicely.”
As she works through magazines from coast to coast, Petersen is also uniquely privy to food scenes across the country.
“We see a lot of things spin through,” she says. “A couple of years ago we did something on sunchokes [Jerusalem artichokes] and then all of a sudden — independently — everyone else will have something on sunchokes. And then one year it will be rhubarb. It’s really random how trends ripple through when we’re doing things independently.”
One thing that doesn’t change amid all the deadlines and cross-continental emailing is the understanding that when the Memphis Tigers are playing basketball, Petersen is off-duty.
“I do send the Tigers’ schedule to everyone and tell them, ‘Don’t call me during these times,’” says Petersen, who wore her Tiger blue cowboy boots to our interview. “Some people will write, ‘I see there’s a Tigers’ game tonight, so don’t worry about these edits until tomorrow.’ I have one woman who isn’t a basketball fan at all but she would write ‘Go Tigers’ at the bottom of every email all year long. I’m not above a little sucking up.”
Through the work of one woman, a transplant from Oregon no less, Edible Memphis has been a force for good in the Mid-South’s growing food scene.
“It’s a positive thing in Memphis,” says Petersen, adding with a sly smile, “we have one; Nashville doesn’t.”