Q&A with Judy Wu of ‘The Hungry Learner’

James Bien, Reporter

When Judy Wu graduated from the School of Education and Social Policy in March, she was not ready to give up the life of a student. As a self-proclaimed “lifelong learner,” she decided to start “The Hungry Learner,” a blog unlike any other. She exposes the lives of Chicagoans, revealing the issues that affect every level of the city, all through the topic of food. She emphasizes that her site is not a “food blog,” but instead a blog about people who find comfort in sharing a meal together. The Current spoke with Wu to discuss her experiences running this unique blog.

The Current: Your blog has a specific aim of exposing Chicagoan culture through food. Why did you decide to take such a unique approach to blogging?

Judy Wu: I knew after college that I just wanted to learn about things in general. I wanted to talk to people, meet different adults and really try to understand what’s going on in the world. I specifically wanted to learn more about people in Chicago, but I realized that that wasn’t going to gain a huge readership, and one thing that every organization, person and idea has in common is the element of food. It helps that I really love food, so I combined the two. I know that there are a lot of food blogs out there, and that is definitely not my goal. That’s done and I’m really not interested to blog about food. I just wanted to talk about other people and use my blog as a platform to show what Chicago has to offer.

The Current: How did you come up with the name “The Hungry Learner?”

JW: I feel like I’m a lifelong learner, and I’m always “hungry” for knowledge, which ties in with food really well.

The Current: What has been your favorite story to cover?

JW: I’ve really enjoyed shadowing Beverly Kim, a professor at Kendall College. Spending a couple of hours with her taught me a lot about the restaurant industry and its problems. There are so many gender and racial issues involved. I wasn’t aware of those and she told me really interesting stories. Cooking is seen as a predominantly female thing, but the industry is dominated by white males. It’s also really cool to see how a top chef works. We had really great conversations about the specific words and jargon that chefs use. It was kind of neat to learn all about that.

The Current: You very boldly state that you are not up for “kissing ass” and even invite critics to “chat over some good food.” What is it about food that brings people together and stimulates conversation?

JW: There’s a common element in sharing a meal. Having a meal is not just about eating, it’s about sitting at a table to chat over anything. There’s something so natural and so communal about sharing a meal together. It doesn’t feel as interrogative. It’s actually a conversation between two people, and that’s what I like.

The Current: What is your favorite cuisine?

JW: I love Thai food, but I’ve been really digging Ethiopian food.

The Current: Is there any food you don’t eat?

JW: Nope. There are things that I generally don’t eat normally, but there’s nothing I will refuse to eat. I will try everything.

The Current: What do you hope to inspire in your readers?

JW: I hope to inspire people to learn and be curious. I think that there is so much interconnectivity within the world, especially with food. We have the farmers growing the food, the transportation of food, which involves creating a more sustainable city structure, and we have the actual consumers of food. The whole life cycle of food — so many people and processes are involved that I really think that people can learn from.