An Instagrammer's cookbook launch couldn't have gone any worse

Illustration for article titled An Instagrammer's cookbook launch couldn't have gone any worse
Photo: HausOnThePrairie (iStock)

Meet Johnna Holmgren, a person with more Instagram followers than you and I combined. She goes by the handle foxmeetsbear, and her carefully curated feed looks like any other food personality-meets-Wes Anderson fever dream, filled with caressing ducks, mushrooms artfully strewn, and eggs with herb crowns and faces drawn on it.

Illustration for article titled An Instagrammer's cookbook launch couldn't have gone any worse

And as with any food with a social following in 2018, Holmgren landed a book deal with Crown Publishing. Her cookbook, which presumably took several years to research, photograph, and write, is called Tales From A Forager’s Kitchen.

As we wrote about last week, the book has been receiving a lot of criticism. One-star reviews starting to pile up on its Amazon page, with reviewers said recipes contained “glaring and damning errors,” with ingredients that were not fit for human consumption (uncooked wild rice, raw mushrooms, raw elderberries). Compounding that was Holmgren claiming on Instagram that she’s not a forager, but consulted with several who claimed her recipes were safe. One reviewer wrote: “This book needs to be recalled.”

Which is what Crown Publishing did. In a statement on its site this week, the publisher said it was ceasing production and promotion of Holmgren’s book:

We are all committed to publishing books that offer reliable and comprehensive guidance about their subjects and we regret the inconvenience to our booksellers and readers.

As someone who deals with writing and publishing professionally, I can tell you writing a book is incredibly laborious, done in unending 500-word chunks in the wee hours, with no end in sight. To have this long-gestating project extinguished and erased really sucks. On the other hand (and in this situation it’s the bigger of the two hands), it sounds an unforgivable amount of sloppiness happened here. Foraging sounds sexy, especially through the lens of an Instagram filter, but like blacksmithing and neurosurgery, it is highly advisable that it is performed only by professionals.

Kevin Pang was the founding editor of The Takeout, and director of the documentary For Grace.


Spice Spice Gravy

Cookbooks are fucking hard. They just are. You spend years, if you’re worth a damn, putting your soul into them. The editing feels like a daily root canal. You test, you re-test, you re-test the re-tests. Then comes the photography, which usually ends up looking nothing like what the author had in mind (unless the author is a Swiss Army knife of multimedia). Nine times out of ten, unless you’re some twee IG sweetheart or celebrity, you either wipe through your book advance or have to pony up money to get it published. Then it comes out. Then you have to go sell that sonofabitch. Book signings. Readings in front of handfuls of people in broom closets posing as neighborhood bookstores. Cooking classes. Morning TV, if you’re lucky. Social media. Awkward video promo on Amazon. Then you read your reviews and they crucify you over the smallest morsel of a preference that conflicts with the reader. If you’re lucky - TRULY BLESSED BY THE GODS OR THE MEMORY OF JUDITH JONES - maybe it sells okay. And maybe - crazy thought - someone makes the recipe. One recipe. Consider yourself blessed beyond all reason. Because then it’s time to go write another one as your book finds the discount bins. Then someone wonders why yours didn’t sell like Chrissy Tiegen’s or Gwyneth Paltrow’s.

Cookbooks are fucking hard.