Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Food Blogs

On Tuesday night my long-lost friend Lisa, who had been hiding in New Hampshire for two years and now works for a comedy agency, invited R and I to come along with her on assignment to Housing Works Bookshop's Tuesday night comedy show. Overall it was very good, a super funny line up and a surprise performance by Jim Gaffigan. The only joke I can remember, though, came from the least funny comedian in the show. He was talking about blogs and pointed out that almost everyone he knows has a food blog and how its the equivalent of telling someone that you're going to write about the restaurant you went to in a diary, take pictures of the food, stick them in the diary, then hang it out the window of your apartment so everyone can read it. For some reason everyone laughed, he was probably getting the residual laughs from Jim Gaffigan's set, so mostly we were laughing because we'd been laughing before, but the blog joke struck a chord with my little troupe for... obvious reasons. R and Lisa both looked at me smiling and I laughed along with them because if you show people you can make fun of yourself they like you. But really I was thinking, Sigh, it so f-ing true.

Since my discovery of food writing and subsequently the food blog culture, I've come to realize I'm paddling a small raft in a big ocean full of ocean liners, pirate ships, yachts, Coast Guard boats, abandoned kayaks, and runaway jet skiis, but aside from the wide-range of vehicles traversing these oceans you can't help but notice the sheer amount of boats. There is actually such a thing as foodblogblog.com, which serves as a directory exclusively for major food blogs run by professional writers and photographers. Then there's the little guys like me that simply want to obsess about food in hopes of somebody hearing me and thinking its funny. And then paying me. Unfortunately that's also what the big guys are doing and they have nicer boats that actually fit a genre.

What I mean is there are several categories food blogs tend to fall into. If you look at Delish's Best 20 Food Blogs you begin to notice a pattern: recipe blogs with professional looking photography like SmittenKitchen, baking blogs with professional looking photography like Bake or Break, recipe/musings blogs with professional looking photography like Orangette, fun vegan blogs with recipes and professional looking photography like Vegan Yum Yum (I'm not kidding), food travel blogs by inherently odious people with semi-professional looking photography (no control over their lighting situation, I'm afraid) like Traveler's Lunchbox, and the English-writers based in foreign countries like Lobster Squad, who who writes about Spanish food and is based in Madrid. She does drawings. There are also the handful of unique career-launching blogs like Wine Library TV (which became a multi-million dollar one-man corporation on how to become successful doing what you love... and you know selling wine). But I won't go into the beverage blogs, they're a whole other ball of wax.

Basically what I'm trying to point out is that blogging is no longer, and hasn't been for years, the turf of 19 year olds Live Journaling their romantic forays and mishaps... or more to my point, about what kind of cake mix they used to baked cupcakes last Saturday. Blogging is now the terrain of professionals looking to maintain a presence online (or amateurs trying to go professional by maintaining a presence online), by writing and photographing (well) what obsesses them, tweeting about it, and hoping people respond. And they do. Its becoming so that readers now trust bloggers as much or more than professional, published food writers. And the reality is, bloggers are now becoming their brethren and vice versa. Since the advent of Julie Powell, this has been the dream, but then where does that leave the food magazines like Bon Appetit and Food & Wine? And the proper websites like Leite's Culinaria and Epicurious, are they now just more sophisticated blogs? I should hope not.

An observation my teacher David Leite made when he was forcing me and my classmates to exit our comfort zones and interview food industry professionals and stuff hours of primary resource material into an eloquent 999 words that might never see publication (while we wondered, is this what I signed up for? We just want to obsess about food!) was that the presence of blogs was actually a very positive thing for professional food writers. In his reasoning, it would force them to actually do their jobs and be reporters. Leave the op-eds and the recycled recipes to the home cooks, food writers are supposed to inform and innovate! But a big problem that has arisen within the publishing world is that professionals are no longer getting paid what they used to and that was pretty meager to begin with.

So what's going to happen to all of us? Will we suck all the oxygen out of our ocean? Will we reach the firm land of professional food writer-dom only to realize we're walking on a melting glacier?

I think the more interesting question is, why are we all doing this in the first place?

Aside from the use they serve for the blogger, I know blogs are actually super useful for the reader as well. At least the good ones are. Recipes are the most obvious benefit, but they also teach you how people talk and think about food in their own terms. There are no editors, there's no "magazine's voice" or word count they need to subscribe to, this is what they really think and sound like. I think if our comedian friend's observation of the over-abundance of food blogs indicates anything, though, its that there is a very strong demand for food writing, specially during a time when the food industry is stuck between a rock and a hard place, the economy on one side and the obesity epidemic on the other. Cooking is experiencing a reawakening. Julie & Julia, Michael Pollan, and Super-Size Me have forced us back into the kitchen with a laptop propped open on the table in place of a cookbook. This is good for the reader and in a way good for the writer because if you can't get paid for it, at least you have an audience. Of course if after a while we still can't make money off of this then maybe we should consider starting blogs featuring funny animal pictures with captions over them. Put those professional photography skills to good use.

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