Tag Archives: Food Blogging

Writing From Authority – Power Dynamics and the Roles of Writer and Reader


I find it coincidental that yesterday, Adam Roberts asked the question “are food blogs over?”, during the same time I’ve been trying to figure out the role of the individual blogger and their relationships with their readers. The two points are intertwined, in my point of view, as there seems to be something of a innovation vacuum in the food blogging, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what blogging “is”.

It needs to be stated that this last point is strictly my opinion, but it’s based on an idea that was reinforced by my shaping beliefs about writing, as well as a post from Terrible Minds entitled 25 Lies writers tell (and start to believe). I was particularly struck by #9:

 ”I write only for me!”

Then don’t write. Sorry to be a hard-ass (ha ha, of course I’m not), but writing is an act of communicating. It’s an argument. It’s a conversation. (And yes, it’s entertainment.) And that necessitates at least one other person on the other end of this metaphorical phone call. You want to do something for yourself, eat a cheeseburger, buy an air conditioner, take a nap. Telling stories is an act we perform for others.

For the longest time, I’ve said that you only need one thing to blog  - to know why you’re blogging. Everything else will fall out of that.  But my assertion had an aspect that I didn’t take into account – the audience.  I was blogging, at first as a place where I could store items I could use for larger writing projects, then I was blogging as a means to communicate some of the most egregious behaviors of food companies, and then I was blogging as a way to either distract myself from, or, at times,  highlight aspects of my larger writing projects.  Not once did I take the role of the reader into account. Unknowingly, my own reasons for writing had backed me into a corner.

If a writer, blogging or otherwise, needs an audience – and we all do, or else what’s the point  - then the writer should look at the relationship between themselves and their audience.  That relationship can be looked at in a multitude of ways, and can manifest itself in ways from loving, to hateful, to everything in between. Regardless of how it manifests itself, the relationship between a writer and their audience is a power dynamic. The writer has the ability to influence that dynamic through words, and establish the relationship with their readers based off of differing levels of charisma, knowledge and expertise, writing skills, celebrity,  and power of persuasion. The writer, by definition, dictates the relationship, although the readers can shape it as well through a variety of methods.

A long time ago, I made a decision to base my writing on knowledge and, later, expertise. This was a conscious decision made from the simple, controversial opinion that I believe that writers, when communicating to/at their audience, should know what the hell they are talking about.

(Side Note: This is power dynamic is clearly on display in both of my books, but from the opposite side of the coin.  Both books start with someone at the start of the book lacking knowledge (Krysta in 99 Drams, and myself in Sweet Tooth), and then using history’s narrative to fill us in on the details of the relevant subject.  The idea was to give the reader an avatar-of-sorts to which they can share the experience and keep them engaged in the book. How effective I was at that is up for debate.)

When it comes to food blogs – heck, blogging in general – such consideration of the power dynamic between reader and writer never occurs.  The result is that we have blogs out there where the writer is talking at their reader, rather than with them, and their authority comes only from the skill of their writing and “loudness of their bullhorn”.

The “loudness of their bullhorn” needs some explanation. It’s nothing more than a metaphor, really, with the bullhorn being the medium in which the writing is conveyed, and its loudness being the amount of readers that come to the site.  The Huffington Post or Eater.com both have a louder bullhorn than mine here at Accidental Hedonist.  This would change if I had more everyday readers than either of these two sites. However to do that, I would have to sacrifice some things very dear to me, like sleep, and some aspects of my personal ethics.

Authority and power dynamics are  weird, intangible variables that are very rarely considered when someone starts a blog.  When everyone has access to tools that allows them to have a bullhorn, then what distinguishes one person with a bullhorn from another? Some use technology to gather more hits on their sites – this is where SEO and publicity and marketing come into play. To extend the metaphor further, this tactic is little more than turning up the volume on the bullhorn.  The risk with this tactic is that if your loudness is the only arrow in your quiver, then eventually you will come across as shrill and/or vapid.

No, writing has to be more than the size of the readership. Quality of the writing needs to come through at some point. Now quality means different things to different people. For some, as long as the content created by the writer is entertaining, that’s enough.  For others it’s being informative, and still others it’s grammar and spelling.  It’s in this aspect that a good writer will consider many of these variables and address them to one degree or another. In my experience, the less variables considered, the less chance the writing has of being any good.

I could go on about this all day. But my point here is that good writing and good blogging comes down to how well the writer considers their role in the power dynamic they have with the reader. If all the writer is considering is how well their food looks on their screen, or how to shape their posts to get the most readership exposure, or how many posts they have to make in a given day to please their editor, then the trust they have with the readers is minimal to non-existent.  Good writing comes from somewhere else.  If blogs, and by extension food blogs, want to break out of their stasis, they need to find ways where they are communicating with their readers, not communicating at them. Because if they don’t, then they are doing little more than adding irrelevant data to the fire hose  that is Internet.

More importantly for myself, I have to hold myself to the same standard.


Carole Greenwood Follow up

Woe to the chef who now gets a public reputation of being “difficult”. Carole Greenwood, she of the recent picture difficulty, recently had a few folks do a follow-up by presenting their “Carole Greenwood Challenge”. The challenge? One writer tries to take a picture of food. On a following evening, another writer was challenged to be very particular in their ordering.

The results can be found here. From the piece:

When my waiter returned with my meatloaf he noticed the yellow legal pad on the table. “Writing a love letter?ˮ he asked. I said I was taking notes for my blog, and added, after a moment of hesitation, “I like to take pictures of my meal on my phone, too.ˮ

The Reaction: He paled; his eyes bugged. “Be really careful about that,ˮ he whispered. “If the chef catches you, it’s gonna get serious.ˮ

Okay, yes, this prank was mean spirited. But I have to admit to laughing in a few bits.

(Thanks to eGullet reader monavano for the tip)

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Chefs, Carole Greenwood

DC Foodies vs. Carole Greenwood

Now this here is a bit o’ interestingness…

It seems as if Jason at DC Foodies has had a run in with Buck’s Camping and Fishing chef and owner Carole Greenwood. While eating dinner, he took some pictures of the food (as food bloggers are wont to do), which caused the chef to come out during dessert and discuss the legalities of picture taking. Aside from that, it appears as if Jason enjoyed the meal.

That is, until Carole Greenwood’s Lawyer sent a cease and desist letter. From the letter:

Dear Sir:

Please be advised that my client, Buck’s Camping and Fishing, has requested that I contact you with a demand that you cease and desist from showing any pictures that you may have taken of the food and facilities of the said restaurant.

Carole Greenwood can be a pain in the tuckus to her customers, or at least so says Washington Post writer Tom Sietsema, so this outburst should not be that big of a surprise.

But it does beg the question, should a restaurant patron be able to take pictures of the food in a restaurant? Or is the mere look of the food proprietary, as Chef Greenwood would claim?
Of course, the folks at eGullet are all over it, with the best answer so far coming from writer cdh:

Copyright law is pretty clear that the pictures you take are yours and only yours. If the chef has any copyrightable subject matter that you took a picture of, then you might need rights, but I really doubt that the composition of a dish on a plate is copyrightable subject matter… (probably too utilitarian, though it might be artistic enough, and consequently a potentially very expensive issue to litigate… if she can afford the fight herself…)

So, you, as an invitee on the restaurant’s property are licensed to be there subject to their conditions, one of which might be that you don’t use a camera. If your license to be on the property expires because you use your camera, you might be liable to the owner of the property for trespassing on their land (damages are usually minimal)… but the pictures are still yours. You definitely own the copyright to the pictures, and unless you agreed to a nondisclosure agreement you can probably do with them as you please.

Personally, I have no issue with taking pictures at a restaurant, as long as I don’t ruin other people’s eating experience (I no longer use flashes on my camera at a restaurant). But I’m also biased, because word on the street is that I’m a food blogger.

Can anyone provide better information on this?

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Food Blogs, Ethics, Carole Greenwood

Boston Globe

If you wish to read the original article, click here

Food bloggers chronicle their delicious obsessions

By Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe Correspondent

They’re known as FatMan Seoul, tastee, Splendid Spatula, and Sal Monella. And they like to hang out in places like the Accidental Hedonist, Hungry Tiger, and Food Porn Watch.

Sometimes they chime in with a comment, but mostly they just like to watch. Or read. Or pretend they’re eating.

They’re not sexual deviants but ”food bloggers.” And the websites and weblogs they visit, create, and update on a daily basis all share a single fetish — for food, with a capital ”oo.” ”Some people eat to live,” FatMan Seoul announces in a blog that’s a field guide to his forays into Korean cuisine. ”Some live to eat. I belong to the latter, and it shows . . . at all the anatomically wrong places!” The link to his e-mail address doesn’t say ”contact” but ”Burp Me!”

Weblogs, or blogs, are akin to online journals. But they also include links to favorite sites and resources, a way for readers to comment, and an archive for discussions and disagreements (careful what you post). Armed with digital cameras, keyboards, and easy-to-use software, gourmands can now create online shrines to beloved or dreaded aspects of the culinary realm: a memorable visit to a Parisian patisserie, a cool must-buy fondue pot, or a warning to skip an overpriced bistro. There are blogs for beer or pizza and blogs based around themes like ”18th Century Cuisine” or a single city, such as Saigon. Some are written by chefs and other food professionals.

Shaun Chavis moved to Boston in August to attend Boston University’s Culinary Certificate and Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy programs. Soon after, she began Burning My Fingers. ”I wanted to create my own record of culinary school and also share the experience with people who knew me,” Chavis says. On her blog, you might find a lesson in sausage making or a sticky encounter with strudel dough.

The vast majority of food bloggers are amateurs whose enthusiasm spills out into cyberspace for anyone who’ll nibble at their words. ”I think in a way blogs are cooking shows for the Internet,” writes Pim Techamuanvivit, who runs the popular blog Chez Pim. ”That’s what we do really — we talk about the stuff we cook, or the things we ate.” The voracious Bay Area traveler, originally from Bangkok, says she began her blog like many addicted Internet users: as a series of e-mails to family and friends. ”I was sick of writing 30 identical e-mails to update everyone on what I was doing,” she says. When her friends began asking for recipes and restaurant recommendations, Chez Pim was born.

Techamuanvivit found that the more she wrote on food, the more readers were seduced by her descriptions of pig fests in London and sublime couscous in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. She now gets between 3,000 and 4,000 hits a day. ”I’ve got a lot of comments and e-mails saying how they live vicariously through me,” Techamuanvivit notes. ”Frankly, I am not entirely sure if I should be flattered or freaked out by them.”

Food blogging is so popular that this year the first annual ”Food Blog Awards” were launched by Kate Hopkins, who runs Accidental Hedonist from Seattle. ”Yes, a half-dozen or so food blogs have been recognized by some of the mainstream media,” says Hopkins. ”But there are well over 100 food blogs out there, and plenty of good writing.” So she wants her awards to draw attention to the more obscure backwaters of gastronomic cyberspace. Hopkins announced winners last week.

Chez Pim won for best restaurant reviews. But the big winner for ”Best Overall Blog” was Chocolate & Zucchini, the creation of a French woman, Clotilde Dusoulier. The site gets about 4,500 visits a day and recounts, in English, Dusoulier’s daily Parisian food adventures, such as a 900-word ode to and instructions for a tarte tatin with salted butter caramel.

In 15 months, the blog has turned Dusoulier, a computer engineer, into a professional food writer, cooking instructor, restaurant consultant, and conference speaker. ”My ambition is to make a living from those food-related activities, something I had never considered before starting the blog,” wrote Dusoulier, who now has a book deal with an American publisher.

Another oft-cited blog is Adam Roberts’s the Amateur Gourmet, this year’s ”humor” winner. It’s easy to see why: Aside from the site’s snappy prose, its ”Saturday Night Live”-worthy comedy sketch mpegs, such as ”Great Moments in Musical Theater Featuring Eggs” and ”Project Sourdough,” are hilarious. ”Though I don’t make money at all,” Roberts remarks, ”I love knowing that there’s an audience.”

It was Roberts’s Janet Jackson breast cupcake photo essay, featured on CNN, that brought his blog instant fame. He originally stumbled into blogging as a law student (he’s since abandoned that for an MFA in dramatic writing at New York University). Cooking shows led him to his own kitchen experiments and eventually to Chowhound.com — the low-tech, less snazzy grandfather of the whole online food phenomenon.

”We’re iconoclasts, not followers of buzz,” says Jim Leff, describing the community of Chowhounds he’s helped nurture since 1997. He says his movement is seat-of-the-pants, compiling ”chowconnaissance” by eating its way through strange neighborhoods and never settling for anything ”less than supreme deliciousness, amen. (That’s the chowhound prayer.)”

Chowhound is not technically a blog — Leff claims he’s never read one — but a website akin to a community message board that covers the country and has regional subgroups. Desperate foodies type messages they’re certain someone will answer. ”Pho!?,” ”Best chicken salad?,” ”Help! Quintessential Boston lunch,” ”What’s good in Dorchester?”

The camaraderie is normally kept strictly online, but on occasion the interpersonal contact boils over into the real world. Bloggers in Paris have met for potluck dinners, and in San Francisco they have congregated in Golden Gate Park for massive cook-offs and tastings.

On the Boston message board, on Jan. 4 at 17:31, a Chowhound named Burt asks, ”Anyone know of a really excellent Jewish rye bread resource on the North Shore?”

”I’m no rye bread expert but Karl’s Sausage Kitchen (Rte 1 N, Saugus) has some dark rye that I enjoy,” is the reply from ”Chris VR” at 19:01.

Forty-five minutes later, Karl S. interjects, ”That’s Lithuanian-style dark rye, not like Jewish deli rye.”

Techamuanvivit, the Chez Pim blogger, says, ”I could ask Clotilde [of Chocolate & Zucchini] or Pascale [of C'est moi qui l'ai fait] in Paris when I need to find out about something specific to French food. I could also ask Anthony in Vietnam about something there, or Jeanne from South Africa. Or they could ask me for something Thai. With the blogs, your foodie community could expand from a block party to cover pretty much the entire world.”

The Power of Blogs in Food & Wine

Once upon a time, Trader Joes was placing this wine on their shelves— a Chiaro del Bastardo Italian white wine that costs $6.99. Mark Fisher, writer of the wine-blog Uncorked had read about this deal and thought it worth checking out, being a fan of reds that the were made under the same label.

When he got to the store, something was amiss…

About two-thirds of the bottles were what I’d expect to be the color for a 2003 dry white: straw/pale green. The other one-third were deep golden; they looked more like 15-year-old Sauternes. The bottles sat side by side, labeled identically.

Both the Managment of his local Joe’s and the nationwide management were initially less than helpful in solving the problem. That is, until he wrote about it on his web blog. Then they decided to do something about it.

Too bad it wasn’t quite enough. What Trader Joe’s thought was a local issue is now a national one. Now they’ve removed the wines from all stores nationwide while they try to figure out what went wrong.

Kudos to Uncorked for showing the power of blogs!

Thanks to Tom at Fermentations for pointing this out as well.

Technorati Tags: Wine, Trader Joe’s, Wine Blogs

Whole Foods Blogging

Hmmm… It seems as if the CEO of Whole Foods, one John Mackey, is blogging.

’tis a bit lacking in content tho’

Technorati Tags: Whole Foods, Supermarkets, Blogging, John Mackey

Metablogging: Julie and the Insular Food Blogs

If you’re looking for some mainstream press on Food Blogs, there’s a recent article in Salon with Julie Powell.

Who’s Julie Powell you ask? Some of you may remember her from her Julie/Julia blog, where she tasked herself with creating every recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was a marginally successful blog, being one of the more popular blogs at the dawn of the explosion of the medium.

Some of you may remember her from her recent editorial in the New York Times, where she inferred that Whole Food Consumers were organic snobs who’d forgotten the lower class.

Still others of you may know her from her recently released book Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.

In reading the article, two things become very apparent: First, Julie is certainly enjoying her new-found celebrity status. Second, she doesn’t seem to like the genre of blogs which she helped create. From the article:

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.

That sound you heard was Ms. Powell’s credibility with the current crop of Food Bloggers fizzling away. Not that she cares. After all, as her press packet clearly states, she had a six figure advance on the book and possibly a movie deal with Steve Zahn playing her love interest (tho’ she’d prefer Don Cheadle).

I’m truly not as bitter as I sound, as I feel that Julie can like or dislike whatever she wishes. It’s simply very clear that she doesn’t wish to speak for any other food blogger save herself. That’s certainly her perogative.

I’d rather focus on the question the interviewer stated to illicit the above response.

The food blogging community seems very insular. Are there any other blogs that you follow closely or admire?

I’ve read a few comments across the internet that are insulted by the term “insular”. The thinking is that Food Blogs are undeniably popular, so how can we be closed off and isolated at the same time? As a reality check, there are hundreds of food blogs out there, and it’s simply impossible for one food blogger to follow all of them on a regular basis. It’s difficult to be insular when fellow food bloggers can’t read 95% of the blogs that are out there.

This more than anything tells of the popularity of food blogs – the sheer number of them. How can foodblogs be insular when we have a community of 1000 blogs?

Which is why I take the term “insular” as a compliment. Even with the size of our community, we’ve created various memes and communal interactions that give the impression that we’re a closely knit community. We exchange e-mails with each other. Various food bloggers have dinner with each other. Considering how much we’ve grown since 2003, this is nothing short of amazing.

This is why I’m not so bothered by the term. We’ve created a community with a fair amount of interaction with one another. But at the same time, numbers show that our audience is more than “other food bloggers “. An actual audience is reading our sites. We have the best of both worlds.