Monday, March 03, 2008

more tales from the frying pan

Warning: This post contains opinions, lacks objectivity, is not written by a journalist and would benefit from a once over with a red correction pen. It would never appear in print media and will probably only be read by a couple of dozen hundred people.

I return to my modest, non-niched, only accidentally witty and rarely entertaining blog to formally acknowledge today’s post is sponsored by The Age. If not cash, then definitely a smoked salmon filled roll and a drink or 2 for comment. I managed to pop into the Food Festival’s Frying Pan sessions a little late, after a fulfilling a work obligation and left at afternoon tea. I’ll admit my limitations and say this is no fair review of the entire day as I can only write about putting my head into 3, half sessions on various aspects of the world of food writing and have come away a little baffled. I am not entirely sure what audience the presentations were pitched at (but then again, I spread myself thinly and did not witness a complete session so the bewilderment is likely of my own making). There was more than a pinch of smugness exuding from a few of the professionals on the very heavily Farifax biased panels but this was tempered by the generosity of many of the others that braved the stage.

I headed off to Recipe Writing because you may have noticed it is not my forte to slavishly quantify. I picked up some bitchy gossip about some famous food writers (if you want to appear witty and in the know, slagging off Nigella and Delia is currently in vogue) and as a bonus learnt more about writing styles than from the other sessions I attended. I came away a fan of Lucy Malouf for her modesty, calm and practical advice. While I don’t think I learnt anything new about actually writing a recipe, it was an eye opener to realise that cookbooks are rarely recipe tested by anyone other than the author. That explained a lot.

I had divided loyalties in the afternoon over which food bloggers to support by attending their session. Hence the double act starting with So You Want to Write About Food. Two panellists were Fairfax food publication editors – whose advice could almost be summed up by “Whatever makes you think you could be anywhere near good enough to get published?” along with “be funny, entertaining, irreverent and informative” (but still don’t imagine we’d ever print you). Julie Gibbs from Penguin, gave a similar message but with more humility and at least one story of hope for anyone whose manuscript has languished in a publishers slush pile. And then there was Jamie Wodetzki from The Breakfast Blog who as a “reformed lawyer” may be better equipped than the average blogger to hold his own in a hostile environment. It was mentioned that in earlier sessions there had been a fair amount of slagging off about blogs and he did a more than valiant job at representing us all. (If you are reading this Jamie, I’m the woman grinning inanely at you every time they tried to take a swipe at the blogworld and had a polite coughing fit to cover my laughter when there was the speech about the pristine ethics of wonderful journalists).

I snuck out and headed off to see Ed and others speak to the converted about the joys of blogging moderated by the irrepressible Helen Razer. Full marks to the organisers for taking onboard the criticism from last year's festival. The session was both practical and passionate (including input from the floor). I love Stephanie Wood’s Elegant Sufficiency but felt at times she straddled the dual roles of journalist and blogger a little uncomfortably*, though when she actually talked about writing her blog – she beamed. I left the session with my head spinning with all the reasons I blog. Do I secretly want to be a writer? Yes and no, I have been paid very generously in the past to write on other issues which was an utter joy but food writing is a hobby rather than a vocation. Do I see myself as a journalist? Not at all, nor have I ever claimed to be. I write a blog mostly out of enjoyment but am very happy to know other people get something out of it as well. A narcissist perhaps but if I learnt anything about the world of food writing today it is that I am not alone in that!

The highlight for me was putting faces to the names of some other bloggers and catching up with those who also get a perverse enjoyment of living a well-seasoned life. Thanks to Ed and Matt for facilitating that.

*Update: A spirited debate along the lines of 'does the quality (or lack) of writing in food blogs threaten the future of good journalism' (at least that's the part of the thread I've taken - there are other strands as well) continues in Stephanie's Blog - a must read for food bloggers.

Apologies for those who've stopped by to read more on cooking whole fish, how to make gyoza, thoughts on vegan food or just a peak to get ideas on where to eat in Melbourne healthily or not on an expense account. Normal food oriented, amateur writing will resume shortly.

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Blogger Juliette said...

Wow this was quick! We were talking about the immediacy of blogging in sessions today and you've certainly proved it... I admire this ability as it takes me a few drafts to write anything comprehensible, which yours certainly is, and entertaining too. Thanks for this too as it was frustrating missing some sessions to go to others and you've filled me in on those.

8:00 pm  
Blogger GS said...

I think we should have just taken over at lunchtime and gone "Oi! All bloggers who'd like to meet each other - over here" :)

8:03 pm  
Blogger Ed Charles said...

I'm sorry I didn't get to chat more but great you made it. A nice summary. The industry is really against bloggers but they only seem to be able to give isolated examples of their gripes. I suspect they are more frightened of public scrutiny than anything else. All of us are. However much they hate what they may sometimes read on the internet on blogs it often only reaches a small audience and is nowhere as near damaging as something printed in a newspaper. I'd like to see where this debate will be in five years. I wonder iof they will have grown up. I shall blog this soon but a heavy deadline looms.

9:24 pm  
Blogger claire said...

Waaah, so upset I wasn't able to make it! I was caught up at work and couldn't take advantage of the freebie Ed had organised. Great to read about it though, thanks AOF! :)

10:14 pm  
Blogger neil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:29 am  
Blogger neil said...

Nicely done. I had to work so it was great to vicariously catch up. Nice to see that some journos think enough of us to actually criticize what we are doing, I think there is a compliment in there somewhere along the lines of the only thing worse than be talked about is not being talked about. But still, it is important to listen too.

1:05 pm  
Blogger Lucy said...

Yes, well, you are as always, right on the mark AOF. A great round up - shame you missed the first discussion as Gabrielle Hamilton's (of Prune in NY) wit and wisdom was particularly good.

Lovely to meet. Really. We must do it again sometime!

4:35 pm  
Blogger stickyfingers said...

Nice One! Red pens are banned in the Blogosphere - hooray!

Duncan at Syrup and Tang has posted a precis on yesterday's opening session if anyone is interested in more vicarious reading.

For my part, although I was grateful to Matt Preston for his largesse, I came away with a heavy heart at how behind the times so many of the panelists were, especially when it came to talking about current trends, let alone future trends. I found Helen Razer's moderation disappointingly cut short interesting discussions, apparently because they broke format.

The upside is that many of the bloggers that I read are breaking ground that the printed media will eventually pick up on - so there's no need to take heart after being made to feel like lepers by certain panelists.

Another positive is that the members of the Melbourne Slow Food Convivium who attended were so impressed by our passion yesterday that they too will be starting a blog.

Deep down the old Punk in me is relishing the fact that we are on the fringe, like a bunch of anarchistic rebels and that one day what we do will be considered the norm and hence we are the battling visionaries.

8:20 pm  
Blogger grocer said...

ooh that was excellent

4:02 am  
Blogger Vida said...

Sticky you are the cutest hippie ever!!! Look at it this way, this is great publicity for the bloggers and this has been the most passionate of discussions and show of unity amongst us ever... This is a journalists dream (sadly), I mean really we could not have paid for such PR!!! It's all good!!! Though my entire body was shaking when I decided to speak (though not at all alloquently) I am SOOOOOOOOOOOO pleased I did, look what came out of my embarrassing behaviour. I say embarrassing because my passion took over and it meant my rational went out the window, I really could have said it better but you know perhaps it really needed the passion behind it or I would have been just another boring fart rambling on and on, but like this I was the crazy, loud blonde and that sells the story far better... I happily pay the price to get us heard!! I have told Gabrielle Hamilton how much we enjoyed her on the panel and she is pleased for the feedback, now that is one down to earth hippie chick!!! Vida x

7:44 am  
Blogger GS said...

Special hello to all the Melbourne bloggers popping by food nazi for the first time - it has been lovely to swing by your sites to read your take on the day too. Next time - we really must all find each other!

Vida - I think you should never be embarrassed about passion :)

8:03 am  
Blogger Ed said...

Great to hear the Slow Food People getting with it. How many ex-hippies/punks are there blogging for Christ's sake?

8:25 am  
Blogger Ran said...

Sounds like I missed a lively debate. If you enjoy blogging and get something out of it, then why should it be critised by print media who have an often different audience anyway! You all (all melbourne bloggers) inspired me to start a blog so you cant be doing too much wrong!

9:49 am  

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