Thursday, March 25, 2010

Australian food bloggers conference - how and why I blog about food (part 2)

Why do we blog about food? Aren’t we are all mad, passionat,e food obsessed beings, or is that just me? Some go into blogging with strategies and hopes of book deals or income streams, while others may see it as a way of diversifying their career. I can only talk about why and how I fell into writing about food. Here’s my story so far.

If not for fame and fortune – why blog about food?

In 2004 I got the blogging bug and spent hours venting my over-politicized spleen about the injustices of the world. Not many people read them, so for light relief I’d post about food occasionally. If site meters are anything to go by, it’s abundantly clear that those trawling the net are more interested in reading a hastily put together post about gyoza, than the result of half a day agonizing about the inhumanity of extraordinary rendition.

I created an ill thought out side blog about food (unintentionally offending a few of my potential readers), grabbed a name from the top of my head, used another Blogger template and with it came the identity from my other blog bearing little relevance to food. Five years on it is still the case.

I believe blogs have a life of their own, most evolve in their own direction no matter how we shape them. What has risen to the surface in these years as The Food Nazi is a cook’s journal. As an instinctive home cook, I find it near impossible to follow a recipe to the letter. This blog is the place I record the adaptations (just how many variations on the wonderful banana-based muffins can I make?) and use the site as an online cookbook.

But more than that, this recipe repository has something an offline one can never have – feedback. Blogs like this with open comments create an environment where thoughts can be shared and some discussions can help recipes evolve. For example, this summer when I got addicted to lemon cordial, Cindy’s comment suggesting a magic ingredient turned good homemade lemonade into great lemonade.

Community, on and off line, is a bit like the twist in the recipe. Having a blog has spawned unexpected friendships and delightful experiences. Far from the archetypal spotty computer geek tapping away on his computer alone, the world of food blogging frequently crosses over into real world happenings, perhaps more so than other genres because food after all is inherently social and nurturing.

When not writing recipes, I like to discuss thoughts on cooking, blogging and eating. To talk with others online about anything from food politics (how vegetarians and coeliacs are treated in the food industry), to cooking for invalids, frugal eating and take away coffee. I've loved every one of these interactions with blog writers and readers.

While my vegetarian gyoza recipe may have attracted my all time greatest number of hits, writing about food blogging ethics draws some of the strongest responses from within our world. When my name went onto the speakers list for Eat.Drink.Blog I got a number of emails asking if I could cover this topic at the conference.

Some thoughts on food blogging ethics

Keep in mind these are just my thoughts, not a code of ethics, rather what makes sense to me. Feel free to tell me yours.


Who owns a recipe? According to some upsets in the food blogging realm in recent years, the general consensus is that while a list of ingredients cannot be copyrighted, ownership of the method can be.

Personally, I choose to only blog my own recipes and not transcribe other people’s. I can see why an author or magazine publisher may get uppity if they find their work splashed about the internet for free. It’s one thing to copy a recipe word for word or snip it from a magazine for a physical recipe book but putting it out on public domain is another thing altogether.

The same respect applies to other bloggers. I’ll post my adaptations but link to their original recipe and pay my dues.


I blame Ruth Reichl for my growing unease about blogging restaurant reviews. I fell in love with her memoir Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, recounting her years as food critic for the New York Times. The lengths she went to dressing up in different disguises to check out a restaurant at least three times before writing a review puts our local food journalists to shame. But what about bloggers? We don’t carry anywhere near the weight of reviews in print media? I’ve flirted with reviewing, I read blog reviews of those who share a similar palate but at the end of the day, I doubt that I can do it fairly (even more so as my dietary choices often mean I can eat only a small selection of the menu). But more than that, when I eat out – I want to connect with my dinning companions, enjoy the food, the company and not be side tracked by taking sneaky shots of the food.

I do like to post food highlights from trips overseas, having gleaned the best places for my budget and food preferences from the internet and guidebooks. Not the least, so I can actually remember the name of the place when people ask me a year later. And it’s exciting to know that sometimes these holiday food rants encourage other bloggers travel itineraries too!

Perhaps all my ambivalence about reviewing crystallized in an unexpected phone call I received last year. When you blog anonymously, being outed in your real life is an uncomfortable collision. Though I think I did a fair and honest job musing about why a local eatery wasn't attracting many customers, I got rather annoyed about a string of comments on the post, all made by unknown male personas who’ve never appeared in our local food blogging community before or since. In the same tone they uniformly told me they loved the place and there was something wrong with me if I didn’t. Rather like the bloke (co-owner and chef of said restaurant) when he outed me at work and got all shouty. When your review is the only one of two to appear anywhere for a newish eatery, people read it. If the tone has any traces of negativity the owners won’t like it and potentially it can impact on their business.

I’d suggest if you do review – be fair, own your criticisms and if possible base it on more than one visit.

Then there is the issue of restaurant photography – do we ask before shooting, does the chef have the right to ask us to remove them if our lack of photographic skills make the dish look like shit? I really don’t know the answer to those questions. Sometimes I think that the low lighting in so many restaurants is a deliberate ploy to make us keep our cameras in our bags!

Would you like some sponsorship with that?

Oh the lure of getting something for “nothing”!

I’ve blogged about how we’ve been targeted by those lovely folk in Public Relations before. Some PR people get what blogging is about and know just how to tempt (or manipulate) us but most don’t. Why does someone think I will be wildly excited, even flattered, to write a post about beer, cheese or even cooking classes that I can’t attend in another state or even country?

Personally, product placement can’t be bought on my blog. Every now and then an offer comes my way to go to a food show or the likes that I’d normally consider attending, just as similar invites come my way for industry related events in my day job. I will take up the offer only on the understanding there is no expectation to mention the event on the blog.

I know some food bloggers have another approach, some even actively ask for goodies to display on their blog. I think there’s room for greater analysis of what occurs within the transaction, whose getting the better deal I wonder? Some events and products get amazing, free promotion for a non-cash reward. In a similar vein, when we write for free or give away our photos to a commercial website for a mere link or a mention – we are helping them make money and exploit those who write for a living.

So, how and why do you blog about food?

Taking a closer look at my backdrop for the talk - about every point was covered by a speaker at the conference. The biggest question of them all being "who still uses blogger?".

It was a privilege to be a panelist at the inaugural Australian Food Bloggers Conference. With little or no prior knowledge it was wonderful how my fellow presenters on the How and Why We Blog panel dovetailed into each other. I loved Zoe’s ode to community and writing (and heartfelt wish that her beer brewing partner would find an outlet like blogging to express his passion) and Reem’s delightful tale of starting a blog as a single woman.

See my post on top ten tips for food blogging for the first installment of my talk.

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Blogger Matt C said...

A great post! I've been enjoying all the rumination about blogging that has come out of the Eat Drink Blog thing, even though I wasn't there.

2:02 pm  
Blogger Lisa (bakebikeblog) said...

Thanks for sharing this post! It was also great to hear you speak about all these things at the conference!

2:10 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Hey Matt - that's why I think it is so important to continue the discussion on line. With so few seats available on the day, it's important not to let the whole thing become too cliquey. There are so many food bloggers out there to chat to about this!

4:15 pm  
Blogger Johanna GGG said...

It was great to read your thoughts again and have time to think them through without the weight of all the other presentations crowded on top of them - I love the idea that we can share a lot of the conference through our blogs. You use of the word cook's journal struck a chord with me and I found the reflection on reviews interesting.

It has occurred to me that I would love an alternative word to 'review' as I like to write up a visit to a good restaurant but don't consider it to be a comprehensive review - just like cook's journal expresses what I do better than recipes maybe something like a restaurant diary. I thought about it when recently rejigging my index but the limited space meant I needed a short word that was immediately recognisable. The dilemma continues!

9:47 pm  
Blogger Simon Food Favourites said...

that's a good read. thanks for sharing. although i'm really not sure about "Sometimes I think that the low lighting in so many restaurants is a deliberate ploy to make us keep our cameras in our bags!" — i'm pretty sure it's just to create a nice ambience and mood for the restaurant :-) and people taking photos of their food is probably the last thing on their minds if at all. it's a shame that even though your 'gyoza recipe' post has receive the most hits you still only had 2 people bothering to give you a comment? (3 now with mine). have you thought about why that is?

12:34 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Johanna - I keep coming back to the word "tasting" - like when you have a tasting its not a full meal, its a teaser, an abbreviated experience.

Simon - that phrase was meant to be a little tongue in check (which happens sometimes when there is no food in my mouth :) Comments just don't reflect traffic. Lots of other people in the blogsphere have made it (not all attributing tho!).

7:33 am  
Anonymous penny aka jeroxie said...

Awesome! Thanks for sharing. As I have mentioned during my presentation, my blog started off as an experimental for social media and data analysis. Of course, I love food. I am actually a little obsessive. My twitter following has more food loving people than social media people. But I will continue using my blog to experiment. Some responses will be good and some, not too welcoming to the blogging world.

7:57 am  
Blogger Pat Churchill said...

Well said, Gill.

5:51 pm  
Blogger Thermomixer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:57 pm  
Blogger Thermomixer said...

Try again

Thanks for sharing your reasons for blogging and a look at your philosophy. Your blog is inspirational reading and the photos are so wonderful.

Hope that it really doesn't stop with the whole concept. Community and camaraderie is important.

Although I will not be putting restaurant reviews on my blog, I do appreciate many of the ones posted around town.

7:03 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Pat - I liked your rundown on why you blog. We all come here from different routes. LIke Penny and her "experiment" :)

Thermomixer - I mentioned in my talk that I read reviews (thought the post was getting a little long and rambling so it's not word for word). Most 'reviews' I ignore because they lack any critical criteria but there are some bloggers whose experiences I respect and will happily read them when looking for somewhere different to eat. The differences is knowing the bias, by following someone's blog you get to know their tastes and ethics. Not always the same for punters outside the blog community.

1:38 pm  
Anonymous Amanda said...

Thanks for this article - it is good to be able to hear about the conference and I agree so much with your comment about being able to continue the discussion online. I am still undecided about whether I will review in my blog - largely because I am not confident of my ability to be completely objective if I love/hate a dish and I am reluctant to step on toes!
I guess that my motivation for blogging is, at least in part, being able to talk out loud about food and food issues and sharing that. It is also a really good way to keep track of what I am loving cooking at any given time!

12:19 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Amanda - sharing a passion is wonderful. And as Zoe said, it stops our partner's being driven up the wall by having someone else to share that discussion with!

2:14 pm  
Blogger a tasty morsel said...

hey i like your blog I just started writing my food blog and really need some readers so would be most grateful if you followed my blog

9:36 am  

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