Peter Sieve Q&A

March 15, 2021
Peter Sieve is the co-founder of Meal Magazine.
“My main goal was to create a platform that could carry deep, thoughtful, personal stories that explore central human questions through the lens of food, and to do it artfully — and to widen the lens to include a lot of voices that aren’t usually heard as often. At this point, we don’t really turn to any particular publications for inspiration — we really just let the stories take us where we think we need to go.”

So many of us are still reeling from the loss of Heavy Table in 2018.  It’s great that you and Josh decided to carry on your passion with Meal. When did you decide it should be a magazine?

The Heavy Table was truly special… but the good news is that it’s back! James Norton has revived it in a newsletter format, and it’s really excellent. Meal owes a lot to Heavy Table and to Jim (we usually refer to him as The Godfather). It’s where Josh and I both got our start doing food writing — without it and Jim’s mentorship, Meal wouldn’t exist. When me and Josh started Meal, it was just as an Instagram account. No website. We were mourning the sunsetting of Heavy Table, and both of us felt like the authoritative voices around food were dwindling locally — that space was being ceded to food “influencers” who would promote anything as long as they got paid. So Meal was really a reaction. We wanted to shake shit up, rattle our sabers, and make some waves, and talk about social justice issues through the lens of food. And something like an Instagram account felt lightweight enough for us to have an outlet, but not be too consumed by it. Which makes it so ridiculous that we’re now a full-fledged magazine. But let’s stay in our early days a bit longer. Right off the bat, Josh and I recognized the worthlessness of two 40-year-old white guys mansplaining their opinions about food on Instagram — so we invited some other people to be part of the team that we really admired and respected: Mecca Bos, Soleil Ho, and Paige Didora. Our name actually was coined by Soleil as an acronym, standing for Minnesota Eaters At Large. We all had a good time for about a year, throwing a few grenades, doing reviews, and getting noticed a bit. We were a little confrontational, not afraid to piss people off. It really was a direct reaction to all the vapid influencers we all really hated. But after a time, it felt a little like it had run out of steam. Soleil was hired at the San Francisco Chronicle as their new restaurant critic, and moved out there. We all had a ton of stuff going on. That’s when I started thinking about publishing an actual magazine — something old-school, print only, totally different than what is currently out there, and ambitious. The idea of making a tangible object just wouldn’t leave me alone, so I decided to jump into that full steam ahead, and Josh was totally on board.

How is Patreon working as a funding platform?

Patreon, for us, has been a fantastic and essential way to develop a consistent amount of incoming revenue, and to gather our core fans. We sort of treat our patrons like VIPs — they get a “backstage” look at magazine production, special content just for them, and other perks. In the Before Times, when we could gather, we would hold monthly happy hour hangs just for patrons. We’d gather up at a local bar, hang out, talk about what we’re working on, and have some drinks. I miss that. We also produced a few really beautiful and unique ticketed events, which we will continue doing when it’s safe, and patrons would always get first crack at tickets. Our patrons are truly the only reason we can produce the magazine, since we don’t rely on any corporate funding or lots of advertising.

I love the eclectic nature of the publication. Are there magazines you have in mind as inspirations when you determine your line-up? You’ve said that Lucky Peach is an inspiration. Others?

I’ve always been a big magazine guy — since I was a kid, I’ve just been drawn to the format. I really loved Lucky Peach, and that was definitely an influence, in that it was not afraid to go long-form, and their art direction was super unique. But I didn’t want to do recipes as a matter of course, or really focus on food from a chaffy, technical standpoint in any way. So there’s a pinch of the New Yorker, Harper’s, and plenty of other more literary mags in Meal’s DNA as well. My main goal was to create a platform that could carry deep, thoughtful, personal stories that explore central human questions through the lens of food, and to do it artfully — and to widen the lens to include a lot of voices that aren’t usually heard as often. At this point, we don’t really turn to any particular publications for inspiration — we really just let the stories take us where we think we need to go.

What do you enjoy cooking yourself?

I’ve always loved to cook. Grilling is a favorite of mine. Making fresh pasta. But I usually keep things pretty simple — I love roasting a chicken, especially over some new potatoes in a cast-iron pan to get those insanely delicious schmaltzy taters going on. Give me a roast chicken, a bitter green salad, and some good bread, and I’m happy.

There’s a scene in the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life where he discovers in the afterlife that he can eat whatever he wants without fear of weight gain. If such an afterlife exists, what are some dishes you would order up?

Oh man. I’ve never seen that, and I love Albert Brooks. If that were a thing, I’d eat fast food way more often. Like a Big Mac every day, for sure.

You’re also a heralded musician, having recorded with such stalwarts as Rogue Valley and Jeremy Messersmith. How are the joys of food and music alike?

I don’t know about heralded, but yeah, I’ve been super lucky to perform and record with some of my best friends. I’m grateful for all the musical opportunities I’ve had and continue to have. I’ve always connected food and music. I see them as equally essential to making us human — they both serve as sustenance, one literal and one spiritual, but equally important. And they’re both vehicles by which we create community, express our identities, and share common experiences. Food and music attend all the moments of our lives, from the mundane to the majestic.

Do you think the restaurant industry will be able to regain momentum post-Covid?

I think that things will definitely keep growing, but we won’t be simply returning to the way things were before — the pandemic, the new civil rights uprising, and the other major events of the past year or so have only highlighted the gross inequities in all of our systems, especially our food systems. The industry at large wasn’t on a very sustainable path, and I hope the extraordinary events of 2020 help us all have the courage to change, and to better understand the real costs of our daily dining habits and expectations. I think there’s limitless room for improvement, and exciting, equitable growth.

What’s next for Meal?

There’s a lot coming up for us this year. Getting our second issue out was a big deal for us, and now I’m focused on thinking big and getting really creative with how we grow the brand, move back into events, and start thinking about doing more motion film and other things. We’re exploring all sorts of partnerships, collaborations, and other things at the moment — I’m excited about what’s to come. At the core, though, is making the best magazine we can, and Issue 3 is already being discussed and dreamed up. The process of creating these stories, and working with so many creative and passionate people I admire, is really the best part of this whole adventure.