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Farley Elliott    

Farley Elliott

We caught up with our friend Farley who has built his career around his passion for writing and food. Enjoy a great convo about how he’s worked to deal with mental health challenges throughout his life. Follow him as he continues his journey in the food world.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD! WHERE DID YOU DEVELOP A PASSION FOR FOOD? AND WRITING?

I've always been a writerly kind of kid, even in my earliest days. Food, however, didn't come to me as a focus until much later. Having grown up in a town of a few hundred people near the Canadian border in far northern New York, meals were limited to fast food, the occasional diner, and hearty at-home dishes meant to fortify against six months of winter. I went to college on the Central Coast of California, and started exploring more restaurants there, before really turning it on when I moved to Los Angeles. The street food scene was my first introduction into the real breadth and depth of dining in LA, and — more importantly, I think — to the stories of those who do the cooking and the eating.


HOW DID THE JOURNEY LEAD YOU TO EATER?

I freelanced for years around town, trying over years to get bylines in whatever publication would have me. Eventually I was able to cobble together a full-time living, but it wasn't until 2015 that I decided to jump onboard with Eater only. That move coincided with me selling a book about the history of street food in Los Angeles, so going in-house felt like an important move to save me time and energy, instead of trying to pitch, sell, report, write, and invoice for stories at a million other places every month.

SWITCHING GEARS A BIT - WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH MENTAL HEALTH? EITHER PERSONAL OR WITH FAMILY / FRIENDS?

Not to get too personal, but members of my family have struggled with their own mental health battles pretty dramatically over the years. Instability and volatility is something I grew up around, but I didn't start taking my own mental health seriously until this year. I've now committed to going to personal therapy, to scale back some of my own tendencies to over-work, and started to treat physical health as a gateway to mental health. It's been really refreshing.

“I’ve now committed to going to personal therapy, to scale back some of my own tendencies to over-work, and started to treat physical health as a gateway to mental health. It’s been really refreshing.”

WHAT HABITS HAVE YOU DEVELOPED TO BEST DEAL WITH MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES THAT COME UP THROUGHOUT YOUR LIFE?

Most of the time, it's about reframing the anxiety for me. I focus on only what I can control, and I try to keep in mind that, most of the time, despite what I may be feeling, the anxiety-inducing situation I'm in is not life or death. What's more, the things that are creating anxiety in me are all too often self-imposed, so the more I can do to know that going in, the easier I'll make things on myself down the line.

“I focus on only what I can control, and I try to keep in mind that, most of the time, despite what I may be feeling, the anxiety-inducing situation I’m in is not life or death.”

WHAT ROLE DOES FOOD & THE COMMUNITY AROUND IT PLAY IN OVERALL WELL-BEING?

I think food plays a massive role in everyone's lives, even those super-healthy folks who view it simply as fuel for their lifestyle. Food, both its abundance and, often, its lack of availability, defines the lives of nearly everyone on the planet. To me, I'm less interested in always eating the "best" or "newest" thing, and more interested in working to share the stories that surround food, both positively and negatively. The restaurant scene has for so long fostered bad financial, cultural, and personal habits, and talking about them openly on a platform like Eater is helpful; so is giving some shine to the local man making breakfast burritos in a parking lot in Downtown LA because he needs the extra money to feed his daughters. It all matters.

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF MAKING THE BIGGEST IMPACT OVER THE NEXT 20 YEARS?

I would love to continue to merge the roles of history, context, and culture with the gigantic topic that is food. Histories of places and people and restaurants do no need to be big, lame dissertations that don't appeal to today's readers. If anything, those stories should be dynamic and engaging because they often have a lot to tell us about today's dining scene, and/or the world at large. Pushing conversations about gentrification, about race, about scarcity, about global warming, but doing it through food, is some of the most important stuff that any food writer can be doing.

SPEED ROUND

FAVORITE MADHAPPY ITEM?

It's hard to beat the Optimist Tote for showing off how happy you can (and probably should) be while living in Los Angeles.

TOP THREE STREET FOOD VENDORS IN LA?!

With 50,000 street food vendors in LA County, that's an impossible question. A few I love: Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights, all the colorful vendors at the weekend Mercado Olympic in Downtown, and All Flavor No Grease in South LA.

MOST UNDERRATED RESTAURANT IN LA?

Probably Alimento in Silver Lake. Wonderful, perfect for the neighborhood, friendly, and delicious.

BEST INTERNATIONAL FOOD CITY?

I was really struck by how awesome Taipei was when I went last year. Hong Kong is hard to beat for its wide spectrum, from Michelin-level French classics to street food, but don't sleep on the much less expensive and endlessly delightful Taiwan.

IF YOU HAD A BILLBOARD THAT EVERYONE IN THE WORLD COULD READ, WHAT WOULD IT SAY?

Being bad is the point.

WHAT MAKES YOU MADHAPPY?

On my best days, I love to help independent people with a dream to reach a wider audience. There's a good chance if I love something, a lot of other folks will too, so opening that door of influence means that the city gets a little more intimate, a little smaller, a little cooler, day by day.