Julie Powell and the Newsweek Article

I wanted to take a moment to comment upon the recent article from Newsweek “Stop Hating Julie Powell, Please“, particularly the closing paragraph.

Whether you find Powell engaging and humorous or annoying and self-absorbed is a matter of taste, but it is her voice, not her cooking, that she should be judged by. Like it or not, her breezy, chatty, “let me tell you about my dog and my husband and what I did this weekend and oh yeah here’s a recipe for fried squash blossoms” approach set the tone for most of the food blogs today, of which there are thousands. Some do it as well as she did, some do it better, some fail altogether. (And plenty are written by people who clearly know far less about food than she does.) But all owe her a debt of gratitude.

If you search this site, you’ll find a few posts about Julie Powell. None of them are hurtful, or mean. Many of them disagree with some of Julie’s sentiments, but there’s not a post on this site that communicates any jealousy of her success.

However, let me set the record straight. When Newsweek writes:

…her breezy, chatty, approach set the tone for most of the food blogs today,

Actually, the breezy, chatty tone of food blogs is a basic characteristic of the majority of blogs out there, be they political, parental, technological, or food focused. Julie’s approach was a function of the medium, not a function of her approach to her writing.

Julie had officially retired her project on December 11, 2003 and even by then her postings were spotty. But food blogs took off in popularity in mid to late 2004, and by the time the mainstream press had discovered them, Julie had been off of the scene for over a year. In late 2004, no one was talking about Julie Powell on the food blogs. They were more likely to be influenced by Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini, Adam at Amateur Gourmet, Pim at Chez Pim, or Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. These were the people who helped set the tone for food blogs. Julie was no where to be seen.

What separated these food bloggers (as well as many, many others) from Ms. Powell was there willingness to take part in the food blogging community, something which Julie had not done. Projects such as Is My blog burning? set up by Il Forno and Wine Blogging Wednesday set up by LennDevours created an atmosphere that further fostered community, and encouraged each food blogger to seek out one another. This is what helped food blogs explode, not Julie’s blog, and certainly not her book deal.

And what was Julie’s take on this community? When asked by an interview at Salon about the insularity of the food blogging world, she responded thusly:

I’m a terrible blogger and a terrible citizen of the blogosphere. I’m going to get in a lot of trouble, but the truth is, I actually find most food blogs really boring. I try to look at other people’s blogs and they have pretty pictures and they’re so proud — but really, I just don’t care. I don’t know anything about that person, and I don’t know why it’s important to them. Food in itself becomes just a mass of prejudices and snobbery and everyone looks like a prat when they write about food. For me, what I became more interested in was how my life began to inform my cooking and what I came into the kitchen with from my day. I don’t know if I would have ever come to that realization if I hadn’t been keeping a blog. If I’d just written in a journal, I’m not sure I would have finished, because the communal nature of the blog definitely kept me going

From her own point of view, Julie knows she didn’t help foster the food blogging community.

And let me be clear here. I am thrilled at Julie’s success. I encourage every food blogger to take their sites as far as they’re willing and able, and Ms. Powell has certainly accomplished that. We should celebrate her successes as a food blogger, just as we should celebrate those of Molly Wizenberg or Elise Bauer.

But when Newsweek writes:

But all (food blogs) owe her a debt of gratitude.

No, we really don’t. There were other food blogs who did more, who innovated more, who were more friendly, who were more community oriented, and who have been around just as long (and in some cases, longer) as Julie Powell.