From the Editor: The Recipe for Success | From the Editor | Seven days

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  • Daria Bishop
  • Seven days food editor Melissa Pasanen

Researching Melissa Pasanen’s Early Culinary Story in Seven days, on Vermont church suppers, began on St. 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 statewide community meals for decades.

“A week later, I was in the back seat of Larry and Guyla LaFrance’s truck, driving through a snowstorm in late March for a ‘really nice’ covered church supper in a small town about 30 miles north -east of St. Albans,” she wrote in the article we published about the Richford Methodist Church supper in 2002.

Melissa agreed that the ride would provide all the ingredients for a compelling story. In making it, she sprinkled in just the right amount of Vermont history, other characters, and, of course, an in-depth examination of the meal. She noted that a Jell-O salad was surprisingly tasty.

Twenty years later, I can say the story was classic Melissa: deeply narrated, informative, well-written, and respectful. By contrast, the irreverent cover teaser I wrote for it wasn’t: “Divine Dining: Two Pie Heads Follow the Food.” So a freelancer, Melissa hated it so much she didn’t pitch Seven days another story idea for 16 years.

“I’m not that alt-y,” she reminded me in a recent email.

In a way, that makes the national recognition she received last week all the sweeter. Pasanen won first prize for food writing in the annual competition held by the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, joining the past Seven days winners Suzanne Podhaizer (2008), Alice Levitt (2011) and Corin Hirsch (2012). The judges praised Melissa “for her writing that reflects the local food scene beyond her dining rooms, bringing readers a multiplicity of essential food industry perspectives through news reporting.”

The award was based on a sample of Melissa’s stories over a 12-month period, including one about a migrant farmworker culinary collective in Addison County whose members nurture their own community and, increasingly, many others. Another, “Pressure Cooker”, skillfully illustrated the impacts of COVID-19 on restaurant workers. The third feature was about a female-owned butcher shop in Royalton.

Pasanen and his colleague Jordan Barry fill the Seven days food section with great content every week – a mix of rich, in-depth features and short, timely shots of the latest food news. It’s a busy rhythm. No other Vermont news 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 team and took on the title of food editor. That means she guides what our food team pursues – and has veto power over cover teasers! – but avoids manual editing so she can write.

Drawing on an extensive network of sources, Melissa never runs out of story ideas. Pre-Seven daysshe was the food editor of Vermont life and contributed regularly to the Burlington Free Press as well as numerous national publications. She has authored and co-authored three cookbooks, including Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermontwho got winks from both Food & Wine and the New York Times.

Along the way, she managed to earn a master’s degree in food systems from the University of Vermont, a program in which she now teaches. UVM calls its 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 gateway.” A perfect example is this week’s article about chef-turned-fly-fishing guide Jamie Eisenberg.

Melissa was one of many Seven Dayzers who made us proud at this year’s AAN Awards. They are all talented journalists whose accomplishments reflect our vibrant and multifaceted community. None of this could happen without Vermonters like Larry and Guyla LaFrance. Thank you for trusting us with your stories.

We are also grateful to our advertisers and super readers, whose financial support keeps our employees paying and the presses running. Quite simply, Seven days wouldn’t be here without you.