05 February 2011

What I learned from being a food columnist

My first job out of college, I was a food columnist. Sort of. Let me explain.

I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota in 1974. Check your history. That was right during the Watergate scandal. I’m sure most of us in J-School in those days thought we were going to get jobs on major metropolitan newspapers and do political exposés. Just like Woodward and Bernstein.

Fortunately for me, there was a very wise placement officer at the J-School. As I started to get serious about finding a job after graduation, she offered this advice: “With your farm background, you should look for a job with an agricultural company.” (Thank you Miss Bowman.)

I had a bunch of résumés out in the mail. The week after I graduated, I got married. The day we got back from our honeymoon, I got a call from the editor of the Midland Cooperator, inviting me to come in for an interview. (Thank you Carol James and Terry Nagle.)

They hired me. Midland Cooperatives was a diversified farm supply cooperative. The Cooperator was the newspaper that Midland published for its members. My title was ‘production editor.’ I was responsible for copy editing, layout and design, and preparing standing features, including a recipe column.

(Bound volumes of the Midland Cooperator are in the Library of Congress. You can look it up.)2011-02-02 15.35.24_1024

I got the recipes from many different sources, including readers. One issue, we ran a reader recipe for Monster Cookies. The recipe made a very large batch of cookies with a lot of ingredients. When we published the recipe, we left out one ingredient. It happened to be an important ingredient.

We had a whole bunch of very angry readers. They had spent $10 on ingredients for a recipe, and instead of getting sweet, gooey Monster Cookies, they got a runny, goopy, inedible mess.

In the next issue, we published a correction and offered to reimburse readers for the ingredients that they had wasted. Along with the correction, we ran a picture of Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. (Really clever, huh?)

Midland merged with Land O’Lakes in 1982. By 1984, I was handling government relations for the cooperative and its members.  Fortunately for me, no one remembered the monster cookie debacle. The rest is history.

But to this very day, more than 30 years later, I keep that blue Cookie Monster doll on top of my desk right next to my computer screen. Any time I’m feeling kinda cocky about what a great guy I am, just a glimpse of Cookie Monster reminds me of that huge, stupid mistake.

Helps to keep me humble.

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