Kyle Villemain and Hanna Raskin, who requested that her identity remain hidden, so that she could continue her role as an anonymous food critic.

564. Where food and institutional power intersect in North Carolina is focus of new partnership

When independent-minded, entrepreneurial journalists get together, they can create great things. 

Kyle Villeman, founder of The Assembly, a newsletter-based journalism startup in North Carolina, launched his publication as a way to tell impactful and big stories about the state university system that he felt deserved more attention. “I kept asking smart people whether we could build a platform to pay good writers good money to spend time on big stories,” he says of The Assembly’s launch during the pandemic. 

“Since then, we have focused on power and place in North Carolina and that comes in so many different forms. Initially it was very much about politics and higher education and who was doing what with that institution. We still do a lot of that, we still hit very hard, but we also want to explain and bring a state to light and talk about cultural power and people power and place in many ways.” 

Part of the stories he feels deserve attention are those pertaining to food — not just restaurants as places to go, but the way food arrives on plates, the policy surrounding it and the people who make it possible for us to eat. 

Enter Hanna Raskin, founder of The Food Section, who launched her newsletter during the pandemic after 10 years as the food editor and critic for the Charleston Post and Courier.

“The pandemic made it clear to me, as I was covering everything that was happening, that my readers really relied on me,” she says. “Restaurant workers were afraid to go to work, restaurant patrons who didn’t know how to support business owners. I was getting calls, in some cases, from tearful employees who were scared to go to work. There were so many people across the south had no one to call. It became clear to me that food journalism needs to exist not just here in Charleston but throughout our region. Food is the center of almost every important story. If we’re talking about holding power to account and challenging authority when necessary, that is the ultimate food story.” 

Raskin launched The Food Section as a newsletter through a grant from Substack, teaming up with Villeman after that funding ended and at the same time Villeman was looking to expand his network across the state, beyond the original audiences of Willmington and the Research Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. 

“The core for us is, as The Assembly, we’re going to put money out there to help hire food writers in the cities we’re expanding to. They’re going to report to Hanna. She will edit them and craft amazing journalism. They’ll go into our products and her products as appropriate. The end result is the beginning of a food newsroom in North Carolina at the tutelage and direction of a great food editor and good journalism in the cities for our existing audience, as well as Hanna’s southern-based audience,” Vileman says. 

They share a passion for serving their readers — all subscribers — and providing well-written and researched news going a little deeper and a little beyond what they might read in other publications. 

“Personally, I care deeply about North Carolina and its people and the journalism informing them,” Raskin says. “I respect what The Assembly is doing and understand the story is not being fully told without food being part of it. It’s really important for me to bring strong, rigorous, independent journalism first to North Carolina, and the second part, professionally, is to build the Food Section beyond a one-person newsletter to a network across the region. The hope is that we can make this work in North Carolina, we can make it work in Georgia, we can make it work in Tennessee. There are a lot of independent, upstart, really smart media organizations that need to be telling food stories and don’t know how. My hope is that’s the way the Food Section is going to grow.” 

The Assembly, a digital magazine about the people, institutions, and ideas that shape North Carolina, recently partnered with The Food Section, a newsletter that covers food and drink in the American South. Kyle Villemain and Hanna Raskin, founders of The Assembly and The Food Section, respectively, discuss what their partnership means for the Carolinas and beyond.

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