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How News Broke of Meatopia Founder Josh Ozersky’s Death at the James Beard Awards

Credit: Francesca Magnani/francescamagnani.com

Halfway through Monday night’s James Beard Foundation Awards, downstairs in the press room of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the editors of two competing food blogs got solemn and anxious, conferring in low voices lost in the rambunctious overflow of celebrating medalists and clanking Goose Island. First the subject was disbelief, that Joshua Ozersky, the JBFA-winning, founding editor of Grub Street, founding antagonist carnivore behind Meatopia, had died that morning at the Conrad Hotel. The next topic was which blog, which reporter, would break the story. But while they continued to debate the burden of breaking news they confirmed and withheld, and as Gramercy Tavern‘s Michael Anthony claimed the night’s final medal, The New York Times‘ restaurant critic Pete Wells broke the news:

Food blogs have come a long way in the years since one published Ozersky’s gout diagnosis several years ago. If writers as prolific and confrontational as Ozersky did not continue to push food writing forward, his autopsy results might already have been soaring on Chartbeat, mined by the quick hands of a circa 2009 Eater editor. But the man known as Mr. Cutlets saw that being the subject of conversation allowed one to steer it too — away from that behavior.

Sometimes he was on the right side of history and his words gave life to Meatopia, which last year anchored the NYC Wine & Food Festival with the spectacle of a crane-heaved roasted steer. Sometimes he was on the wrong side of history, wrestling with the scorn he received for promoting chefs who comped his wedding reception. Sometimes Josh recorded history, whether a moving essay about his father for Saveur, or published tomes like The Hamburger: A History.

The New York Times breaking the news of his passing over a clickbait rush to judgment, and the sincere tribute from all corners of the internet that have ensued, reveals now Josh Ozersky’s place in history, and it’s an honorable one.

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