In How I Got My Job, folks from across the food and restaurant industry answer Eater’s questions about, well, how they got their job. Today’s installment: Caity Moseman Wadler.
If you’ve ever tuned in to one of the dozens of shows on the Heritage Radio Network — the nonprofit radio station covering everything about food and drink from policy to hospitality — then you should know Caity Moseman Wadler. As executive director, she ensures everything runs smoothly from the station’s headquarters in a pair of shipping containers behind Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn, New York.
Moseman Wadler has always been interested in food and promoting a better food system, but she originally thought she might do so as a family doctor. In the following interview, she explains her journey from pre-med to landing a Julia Child Foundation fellowship at the Heritage Radio Network. She also offers some excellent advice on how to snag a dream job that allows you to collaborate with culinary heroes like Alice Waters.
Eater: What does your job involve?
Caity Moseman Wadler: No two days are the same — managing a lineup of 35 weekly food and beverage podcasts, running live broadcasts from food festivals, event planning, fundraising, supervising an absolute dream team of really smart and driven staff, developing partnerships, trying my best to be an IT consultant, scouting new shows, making sure our work stays in line with our mission (of enhancing equity, sustainability, and deliciousness), and eating and drinking very, very well.
What did you originally want to do when you started your career?
I always planned to go into medicine — I have a lifelong interest in how food systems affect public health, and my goal was to be a family practice doctor and consult on good food and nutrition. That all changed when I realized how little time doctors get to spend with their patients — I realized there were more effective pathways to change the food system.
Did you go to culinary school or college? If so, would you recommend it?
I was pre-med in college and majored in molecular biology/biochemistry. I went to Middlebury College and, for me, the liberal arts education was exactly what I needed to help me admit to myself that the career path I’d always imagined for myself might not have actually been the best fit. When I decided to quit my job as a scientist and really focus on food, I got a master’s degree in food studies from New York University in part to accelerate that career change. For me, college and grad school were the right path to finding the job that really matched my sense of purpose. I don’t think everyone needs to go that route though — some people have a much clearer idea of their goals early on.
What would you have done differently at school or paid more attention to?
I put a lot into the pre-med path, but in hindsight I’m glad for the experience and the brain training. I wish I hadn’t stressed as much about studying for the MCAT though!
What was your first job? What did it involve?
I filed for a work permit when I was 14 and got a job as a waitress at a small-town breakfast and lunch diner. I really preferred being in the kitchen though, so soon enough I switched roles to be a short-order cook. I still make a mean breakfast.
My first “real” job out of college was in antibody engineering at a biotech startup. I’d begun to doubt whether medical school was for me, and had a high-tech science degree to put to use. It was meant to be a temporary thing while I figured out my life, but it turned out I loved the work. It was hard to turn away from that stability and relative financial security to start again in a new industry.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you were starting out in the industry
Networking doesn’t come naturally to me, but it was so critical to getting connected in the New York City food scene and the good food movement. I forced myself to become a “yes” person, to be more outgoing, attend lots of events, and ask for help and ideas from people whose work I most admire. I had to get over my shyness.
What was the turning point that led to where you are now?
I applied to the Julia Child Foundation’s Food Writing Fellowship program, and was placed at Heritage Radio Network. The turning point, if you could call it that, was that I realized how much this lean nonprofit media organization had in common with startup enterprises, and that jumping in with a broad problem-solving and systems-building point of view was actually really productive.
What were the most important skills that got you there?
Being an independent learner — all the slogging and Googling and tears that got me to the point of being a spreadsheet whiz in my biotech job really paid off, both in relevant data skills and in building the mentality that problems can be solved through research and testing, which is super important on a small team.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Learning from all kinds of people in the food industry and beyond, and knowing I’m playing a role in amplifying voices that will change the world.
What would surprise people or something you didn’t realize going into your job? Why?
People in the food movement tend to be incredibly generous with their time and ideas when you make thoughtful use of them. Almost no one says no to an interview request.
What’s one of the coolest things you’ve gotten to do?
I’ve gotten to know so many of my food heroes! Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be having tea with Alice Waters, ice cream with Rose Levy Beranbaum, pizza with Jamie Oliver — I spend a lot of time feeling starstruck. But the greatest thing about this sort of network-building is that it has opened up new possibilities for collaborations between organizations and people that amplify each other — together, we’re greater than the sum of our parts. That’s something I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately.
What advice would you give someone who wants your job?
Be ready to step out of your comfort zone, knowing that awesome things will come of it — and you’ll probably find that it’s not so bad on the other side, either. Be humble, ask for advice, don’t feel like you have to be an expert at everything; just be ready to learn something new every day (or hour!).
Amy McKeever is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy of Caity Moseman Wadler.
Illustrations from the Noun Project: camera by Dhika Hernandita; covered dish by Made by Made; wine by Made by Made; lightbulb by Maxim Kulikov; hand writing by Pongsakorn.