Writing About Unemployment + Q&A 3: Irina Groushevaia on the intersection of food, wellness and queerness

Food writing isn't just about "fancy" ingredients and bougie restaurants

Happy Saturday all. It’s been one heck of a week and things might be looking up (somewhat).

What I’ve Been Up To:

I wrote an essay for CNBC’s Make It about my post layoff experience. I outline my health emergency, freelancing, and moving back home. When life hustles me, I hustle it back by having an editor pay me money to complain about it on the internets. In all seriousness, post layoff life has been tough, but unlike so many people in the US I have health insurance and family members to pool some resources with during this difficult time. Other people aren’t as lucky and their ability to survive shouldn’t rely on luck. Those cutesy “we’re all in this together” or “take a break” messages online gloss over people who have no choice but to be productive through a health crisis or a pandemic (or both).

I’m also back as the podcast editor at XOXO Riverdale, a podcast about the teen drama… Riverdale. Shout out to Reaper, the free editing software that has kept me in random podcast freelancing gigs since 2017.

And I will be joining a publication for a few months as a fellow. I won’t say which one yet, but I’m very excited to be working with a team again and I want to look at the intersection of climate and race.

Freelancer Q&A #3: Irina Groushevaia

For the next few months, I’ll try to conduct Q&As with fellow freelancers. I’ll highlight their journey, what it’s like to navigate a seemingly volatile career during so much uncertainty, and how other jobs have fueled their writing careers. Most of my interviews will be with women, people of color, and others who are underrepresented in media.

Irina Groushevaia is a food freelancer with bylines in Bon Appetit, Greatist, Bushwick Daily and more. They freelanced a few pieces for me back in 2018 when I was an editor (in the before times).

When did you first start freelancing and why did you take that route in media?

I think my first freelancing experiences were my internships in college and writing for the college paper and website, since it was mostly remote work and writing for outlets I wasn’t attached to as an employee. But I fully took on freelancing after I was laid off my first full-time journalism job (classic). I had to balance it with odd jobs, at first, to make sure I was making enough to cover rent and bills, it was exhausting. Recently leaving a full-time news editing and writing position, I now freelance because that allows me to write the stories I want to pitch and at the price I want, while I have a full-time engagement in another related career track.  

You happen to do a lot of food writing, what made you choose that as a focus for your writing? 

I think people don’t realize how much food forms our cultures and identity and society, so truly I am writing about people’s experiences and their heritage, rather than food.

The simple answer is because that beat encompasses who I am as a person and how the intersection of these three topics formed me as a person. I am endlessly curious how we create relationships with our wellness, both mental and physical, and even spiritual, and how food and our culture forms our identities.

You've written some personal essays in the last year, do you have a favorite byline? 

Definitely, I believe my Bon Appetit story was my best work. I wrote in late winter and it was published this February.  It covers my relationship with my body, queerness, and physical healing, all in relation to my Russian heritage. Writing it was cathartic and a beautiful process. It spoke to many people and connecting through hardship is a wonderful thing. Representation is even more important and being able to write about a specific identity, as a queer Russian, was significant to me as it’s against the law to be LGBTQ+ in Russia but we exist and I want others to see that they are valid.

If you could give your past self advice about freelancing (pitching, money, access), what would it be? 

Ask for more money. Always.

What's one pro and one con when it comes to being a freelance writer? 

My favorite pro is creative freedom and the con is how broken the media empire is.

So many freelancers, myself included have held different side gigs to support their freelance work, what kind of jobs have you done alongside your freelance writing? 

I used to work at an artisanal honey production factory, at a vegan deli & juicery, babysitting, and I’ve held news editing and writing positions as I continued to freelance too.

Is there a goal publication that you'd like to break into sometime in the future?

 “Prestige” is a toxic systematic gatekeeper for writers. I am not less of a writer because of not being published in NYT or anywhere else.

What are other media/writing gigs that you think new freelancers should consider while they gain experience and forge connections with others in the industry? 

Social media is lucrative and a very good skill to have, as well as any digital marketing knowledge. But in general, I would say start small. Write for local outlets to build good clips. As some may get a fancy byline early in their career, it’s rare, so don’t shy away from building a sturdy foundation with smaller outlets.

Irina is currently the Social Media Manager of the Museum of Food and Drink and is freelancing stories on the intersection of LGBTQ+, culture, wellness, and food. You can follow them and their kitten Beluga on Instagram and Twitter. You can read their work about juggling a poly+mono relationshipcoming out as trans and discovering self-care and community through baking, and much more here.

Check out the pervious Q&A with food writer Andrea Aliseda on her Mexican heritage and working in the service industry.