“Food is so bonding, it’s universal – it connects people.”
That is how Grace Cameron – the publisher and editor of JamaicanEats Magazine eloquently describes the power of food during our Zoom call in early July.
You can safely assume that I wholeheartedly agree with Grace’s statement. Being a foodie, I know first-hand the power that food has. Food has opened my eyes to new cultures; new people, different ways to cook, and has made me instant friends with anyone that can passionately pontificate about food.
While the Jamaican-born publisher/ editor publishes an entire magazine devoted to food, she confesses that she is not in fact a “foodie,” nor does she spend a lot of time in the kitchen. She appreciates food, but telling stories through food is what truly delights her.
That shocked me; I had to dig further and find out more about this incredible lady.
During our almost 2 hour conversation, Grace said that her entry into food writing occurred when she worked for The Gleaner – a well-known newspaper in Jamaica. That ultimately led to her starting her own magazine.
JamaicanEats was created in Jamaica, but Grace has also lived in Toronto, and Vancouver, and is currently settled in Toronto. The magazine includes recipes (I want to make the plantain tart), stories about food staples (there’s an article on the different types of curry), and special features on Caribbean chefs.
Okay, I am revealing too much. You need to read the entire interview to find out more about her!
JamaicanEats magazine: founded in 2006
Audience: Global – countries including Canada, US, The UK, Caribbean and the diaspora
Fun Fact about Grace: She considers herself an avocado and mango snob!
When did your love of food start?
I am not a foodie per se – I appreciate food.
When I moved back to Jamaica from Toronto in the late 90s, I started working at the Gleaner newspaper – the largest media house in the Caribbean. It just randomly fell to me that I would be the Lifestyle Editor, and the food section fell into my lap as a part of the Lifestyle section.
At the time, the food section was really crappy – no one was paying attention to it. I took it on and transformed it into not just recipes, but stories around food, and I found that the local audience, as well as the overseas audience, responded very enthusiastically to it. That’s when I realized that 1. It’s about storytelling and 2. Food is more than just eating and nutrition – it’s about people coming together, breaking bread, telling stories, and finding connections.
Did you think that running the section in the newspaper would lead to publishing a magazine?
When I was at the Gleaner, I realized the response to food – not just the recipes. Sales increased, local readership increased, and overseas readership also increased.
I realized how emotional and captivating food is, and so I approached the Gleaner about going beyond just a weekly food section, and I proposed having a food magazine. They entertained it for a little while, but they decided against it. So I kept it in mind and I kept thinking – “there’s something there.” I realized there was no such magazine or publication that existed anywhere.
I did a little bit of research and reached out to friends and colleagues in different parts of the world, and asked what they thought of the idea – and they loved it! So I thought, “I’m going to launch my own magazine!”
Why did you call it JamaicanEats?
I called it JamaicanEats because I could speak about Jamaica more intrinsically as to what the food and culture are, and I could speak about Jamaica with more authenticity than I could the entire Caribbean. I called it JamaicanEats with the intention of bringing in and incorporating other parts of the Caribbean.
Changes in the publishing industry
The magazine was successful for several years, but as the publishing industry leapt into the digital world, and with the economic downturn in 2008, Grace decided to suspend operations from 2012 – 2015. She took the time to figure out what she wanted to do with the magazine.
She returned to Vancouver, B.C., and opened a bakery for a year.
While casually reviewing messages on her JamaicanEats Facebook page, she noticed that her members were leaving a lot of messages. They told her that they were patiently waiting for another issue of her magazine.
Not knowing what she was going to do with the magazine, she offered to give them their money back. They declined and said that they would wait for the next issue. #loyalty
That got Grace thinking. She did some research on the industry again, and decided to restart the magazine, and returned to Toronto.
How did your magazine change after you took a break?
I re-launched the magazine in 2015; I was still trying to figure out what to do in terms of readership and subscribers.
I was selling the magazine online and didn’t have it in retail anymore. I started doing Caribbean-themed pop-up events. I organized my first one in Christmas 2017, and then added the Caribbean Street Food Festival last year. The idea was to create a Caribbean experience, and to also integrate the magazine.
In terms of events, 2019 was such a good year. I had a good turnout; I felt like I was on a roll.
Was your business affected by COVID-19?
Yes, in February of this year, I did a Caribbean Board Games and Brunch Event. It was meant to roll over to several more events this year. I had an event set for the end of March and 2 weeks before the event, I had to postpone it. Covid-19 stopped that in its tracks.
I sat back and started to re-think subscriptions of the magazine and pushing the hardcopy of the magazine – there was an interest in it.
As the world was reeling from being on lockdown due to Covid-19, there was another event that shook Grace. She, like many others, was shocked and horrified by the senseless killing of George Floyd. Emotionally, she felt paralyzed and it set her back 4-6 weeks. She felt rage, disbelief, anger, and mourned his loss. Luckily, Grace was able to come out the sadness, and focused on the magazine and other opportunities.
What’s on the horizon for you?
Thanks so much for chatting with me and talking about one of my fave subjects. Once the world gets back to “normal”, we need to meet up for lunch!
To find out more about Grace and her publications, please visit the following links: