Writing About Beans for Bon Appétit's Healthyish

Acting editor Aliza Abarbanel is cool as hell

Update: Amanda Shapiro is now the person to pitch at Healthyish. Her email is amanda_shapiro@condenast.com.

Being able to publish more than one story about a topic is a great way to level up your freelance game. And by “level up your freelance game” I obviously mean, “make mo’ damn money.”

When writing personal essays, I have a tendency to over-research and get a little too “in my head” ruminating over relevant past experiences (#neurodivergent). Selling more than one story about a single topic is a great way to monetize that extra emotional and mental labor.

I feel especially proud of myself for recently selling two stories about beans, which are not widely considered one of the more interesting vegetables — well, they weren’t before the pandemic.

IMHO, pitches that juxtapose personal lived experience with a global trend — in this case cooking from pantry staples — are super easy to land. Assignments only happen when you convince the editor that you are the right person to write this story right now, and this lived-experience-plus-trend pitch sort of does that organically.

The Pitch

Subject: This bean dish travels 

There are myriad iterations of the Afro-Caribbean staple, habichuelas rojas y arroz,even within my own family. (Mami puts olives in her sofrito base! Tio sometimes makes a Cuban variation with black beans and pumpkin!)

The dish exists wherever the African diaspora was present, from gallo pinto in Costa Rica to Bruine Bonen met Rijst in the Netherlands. Like so many black ancestors, my own recipe is dynamic and based entirely on my situation and location.

Here in Istanbul where pork is hard to find, I've pivoted to a completely vegan version, its flavor deepened with local tomato paste. I've started subbing quinoa for white rice because I am pre-diabetic. We always used canned Goya beans in my house growing up, but in lockdown I've been experimenting with soaking beans. 

Still, rice and beans is a constant. Even when I attempt other bean dishes, like Afghan lubya, they always end up mimicking my childhood favorite. The exact flavor may vary, but this dish always tastes like home.

I'm a black/Latinx freelancer based in Istanbul who writes about the intersections of food & drink, culture, travel and wellness. I have bylines in BBC TravelThrillist, and October, and I wrote about African-American food history for Yes. I also have a forthcoming essay in WaPo's Voraciously. Hope this piece is a fit!

Why Aliza Abarbanel Bought It

Full disclosure: I originally pitched the essay to a different editor, who I had chatted with on Twitter. Not sure that really helped that much — I’m just not real cute on Twitter, you know? — but it happened so now you know. OK, moving on to the part you actually care about…

What Aliza had to say about my pitch

“Healthyish has a solid personal essay beat, and your pitch had a strong sense of narrative and structure which is integral to the success of these kinds of stories. I also liked the idea of discussing how iconic cultural dishes like habichuelas rojas y arroz change across countries and generations, i.e. how you adapted to a vegan version because pork is hard to find in Istanbul. These are great examples and details to include in a pitch.”

Her favorite part of the finished piece

“Your strong point of view and voice, which provides cultural/historical details and a personal perspective in equal measure.”

How Aliza wants you to pitch her

1. Read our pitch guidelines to learn about what kinds of stories we’re looking for. (I’m honestly not sure I knew these existed until I got Aliza’s responses… 😬😬😬!)

2. Tell us the entire arc of the story. Pitches shouldn’t be teases; they should include the beginning, middle, and end of the piece as you envision it. It’s not enough to say you’d like to “explore an issue.” What do you want to say about that issue, ultimately?

3. Include a potential headline (to demonstrate the overall angle of the pitch) and word count. If you plan to include interviews, mention a few potential sources.

You can pitch Aliza at aliza_abarbanel@condenast.com.