(Note: Self-indulgent post ahead. You’ve been warned.)
I’ve been thinking about approaches to food writing a lot of late. Thoughts that were helped by a d Twitter conversation I held with Julie from WinemeDineme.com, and furthered by Anthony Bourdain’s recent episode of No Reservations, calling food bloggers “food nerds”. All of these inputs into my internal dialogue have me baffled and bewildered.
The question that it comes down to is this: Why do we write?
(Disclaimer: When I say “Why do we write?” what I mean is “Why do we produce content”. If you’re taking pictures, or doing podcasts, the question still applies.)
Introspection can often be a messy affair, doubly so when one tries to do so in public. After all, what is more important? The end result? Or the struggles that occurred that allowed (and forced) the end result to be created? From a consumers point of view (and from the point of view of any commercial enterprise), the only thing that matters is how well the end result is received. Everything else is simply a meta-conversation. Who cares how eGullet.org came into being, or No Reservations for that matter, as long as we enjoy the end result.
But blogging is a different beast. Many people blog without a care for how many or few people come to their sites. The result is that people produce content that goes without mass consumption, and to the producers, that is just fine. The difference between them and Anthony Bourdain? It boils down to three things – each individual’s voice, the medium in which they are able to distribute their voice, and the size of their audience. It’s not much more than that (We can argue about the quality of said voice, but quality is a subjective ideal, so we’d never get to agree on what equates to “good”).
So again, if we don’t write for an audience, then why do we write?
The question is not a new one to me. Back in 2004, when I first fired up Accidental Hedonist, the purpose was merely to create a repository of notes so I could demonstrate some passing knowledge of food to any book publisher who may have wanted to accept my book proposals. Why did I want to write books? It was a means to an end. The short answer: I wanted book writing to subsidize my desire for travel. Which, if you think of it, isn’t really a good reason to write a book.
The weird thing is – about two years into writing Accidental Hedonist, traveling ceased to be the goal of the blog, as it morphed into a means to answering my personal questions I had about food. I later expanded the site to allow other people answer their own questions around the topic. The Punchline to all of this? Soon after that change in approach, opportunities started arriving that would allow me to meet the site’s initial goal, though I didn’t recognize it at the time.
The question of why popped up again last year about this time, as I sat in the gray area between book completion, book release, and first book sales numbers. Why was I writing?
For a while, I was producing content to essentially ensure that I could add to whatever dialogue was being developed in the food blogosphere. But it soon became apparent that dialogues rarely happen any more on blogs. Instead, many people have come to use twitter to follow up on any conversations a post might create.
However, many people mistook this activity as an excuse to promote their own conversation in order to force a dialogue. Anyone who has pimped their own blog posts is guilty of this (and I have done this myself). The food twitter world soon evolved into two different types of conversation – conversations about the everyday world, and conversations that dealt with several flavors of self-promotion. As I am particularly horrid at self-promotion, I pulled back from the twitter world, and changed my approach to Accidental Hedonist. It was during this time (about June of 2009) that I thought very seriously about shutting down the site for good.
I didn’t though. Instead I asked myself the same question I’ve been asking myself now for six years – why do I write?
I think for the first time, I came across an answer that has calmed me down a bit. I looked at what I was doing for pleasure outside of the publishing world, both book and blog. I delved into the beer world, big time. Yes, these forays resulted in content for the blog. But this was a side benefit. A lot of “research” I did last year never made it to the blog. It was these activities that gave me much joy, and provided me the answer to that question. It’s as pure as an answer as I’ve ever had to, because it’s honest, and it doesn’t give a rat’s patoot about how many page views I have, or many books I may or may not sell.
I write because I have to know about food I’m interested in. I don’t care so much about the “how-to-create-a-dish and/or recipe”. No, what I’ve come to care about is the “why?”. Why are there $75,000 bottles of whiskey? Why do we have a fear of food? Why did a country the size of Maryland end up with more varieties of beer than the United States? Each one of these questions, and many others, intrigue me to no end.
I suppose that makes me a “food nerd” on some level. But I don’t really care all that much. Life is simpler now that I don’t feel the need to improve my page views, or feel the urge to “brand” myself. I just want to know “why”, and let those of you who ask the same questions I had in on what I find out.
That is why I write.