Fare thee well Food Editors

December 7, 2011

The Sun-Times goes behind a paywall today. Kinda, sorta. It's the kind of paywall where you get 20 free page views per every 30 days, before you need to pay to read more. My pageviews will be eaten up by police blotters—39 suburban papers are included too—and the Food section.

But it just won't be the same.

Food Editor Janet Rausa Fuller is leaving the paper after 13 years. Her final section came out yesterday. The section will go on under Sue Ontiveros, who was Food Editor for decade, before Janet took over for the last four years.

Janet was my editor there. She's a rare straight shooter, a writer's editor, out in the field reporting, and was essentially the entire section herself. There's no staff of food writers, much less test kitchen chefs. There's not even a test kitchen. It was just Janet, with freelance writers, and occasionally writing chefs.

I spoke with Janet recently by phone, she at her desk, after initially replying to her email announcement by asking, "WHAT?!"

I asked her how she's doing.

"It's been interesting, but it's all good," she said. "I'm super excited. It's time to move on."

And of course, why.

"There was really nothing specific. I've been thinking about it for a couple of months. It sounds so clichéd, but I want to focus on my family."

Janet and her husband, have two daughters, Veronica, 6, and Ruby, 3.

"I do my best job here, but I'm burning the candle at both ends. Veronica is in the first grade in an accelerated program. It's a lot to keep on top of those."

What will she miss?

"I love working with you guys [the writers], and getting to know the writers' personalities. I have a wonderful staff of freelancers writers and chefs who wrote for free."

Janet had to talk me off a ledge a few times—because that's what editors do—so I could only imagine what it was like working with writers who don't normally write.

"It was challenging depending on who it was," she said, "But a lot of chefs are really smart, like Bruce Sherman, who I think has multiple graduate degrees."

"Recipes were often more of a challenge. I tried to keep their voice but sometimes I'd have to say, 'Let's figure out another recipe we could do at home.'

"I loved that part of the job."

But a food editor's job is never done these days. In addition to, um, editing, for print and online, like many editors, she also wrote the blog, and managed social media.

"I test recipes at night and weekends at home," she added, "I get groceries on my lunch break and keep them under my desk or in my car."

"When I'm here, it's boom, boom, boom—no idle chit chat."

Janet's husband works for Herman Miller's Geiger brand as regional manager.

"He actually works right across the street in the Mart," she said, "But we don't really see each other. We will run into each other in Artisan Cellar, my favorite place for sandwiches."

"I usually eat at my desk. So sad, I know."

But sometimes it's leftovers.

"I cook every night," she said, "Except Fridays—then we order out. And we make a big Sunday dinner."

"I try to cook so the girls have leftovers for the next two days. I love the leftovers. It's the smart way to cook."

What's next?

"I don't know yet. Maybe I can get involved with Common Threads and Pilot Light," Janet said, "And Sara Stegner is doing some interesting stuff."

"There are a lot of exciting things happening in the food world. I hope to still write. And I think there are other things I can do."

And the very good news is that Janet's voice will not be gone completely from the Sun-Times.

"I will be doing a little freelancing for the section," she said.

After we spoke, Janet sent me a short email:

"This is the most annoying interviewee thing to do, I know, but was thinking about your question about the nonexistent food staff and I would be remiss if I didn't mention page designer Jessica Sedgwick. Like everyone at the S-T, she wears many hats (she also writes a shopping column and designs other sections), but she's the one making the food section look so damn good every week."

Like I said, Janet, you are rare indeed.