Blogged Down (in) the Details: The Cult of the Food Blogger

15 Dec

A recent article on the cult of the food blogger has made me especially contemplative about my venture into the medium.  My decision to become part of an online community of food proselytizers is in some ways a natural progression in that writing for me is as second nature as eating. For as long as I can remember, I have felt a particular affinity for the written word. Some people communicate better orally. I am not one of those people. I often find it difficult to distill my thoughts and feelings into the formal patterns and stilted rhythms of  everyday speech. Something is always lost in translation. I don’t know if this is because I started life with an Elmer Fudd tongue and therefore have some residual fear of tripping over simple words, or if, perhaps, it is a byproduct of shyness and insularity. Perhaps the answer lies in some combination of the two. However, the written word has always been different. I can make people “feel” what I feel through writing. I can say the things that I can’t say to them face to face. I am more “me” than at any other time when I am writing.

Food is also a medium of spirit that allows for a transcendent brand of communication. It can be a barrier breaker (and conversely, maker) that “speaks” to us on both an intellectual AND emotional level. Eating is something that we all know how to do. It is a medium through which intention and motivation and inspiration are unspoken yet easily understood.

And so for me, I am ecstatic to finally meld these two forms of communication together. At the same time, I am mindful of certain sober realities. There is a responsibility that comes with writing for an audience about any subject, but particularly about food.

The Scotsman article emphasizes that  “food and the internet are a good fit.” Specifically, it posits that the “act of eating” has historically “cemented relationships” and is an “intimate daily ritual”; (2) that social media is now “a centerpiece of personal life”; and (3) that therefore social media is “replacing” the dinner table as a meeting ground.  I consider this statement and partially agree and disagree. I think that one of the positives of the internet is that in some ways it democratizes cooking. For example,  I may not have an Italian grandma, but suddenly, I feel emboldened to attempt gnocchi because I have easy access to recipes and instructional videos and even some historical tidbits about gnocchi. In this sense, the internet is like the melting pot of America, as those who are passionate about food start to expand the range of cuisine that they cook at home and become more fearless and less parochial in their tastes.  In addition to its role in disseminating cooking traditions and giving people “a peek” into a world or a culture or ethnicity that is not their own, the internet also allows for dissemination of technical cooking skills. At the same time that there is a lot of misinformation, there are a lot of great resources that are valuable teaching tools for the non-professional enthusiast.

On the flip side of the coin, the Scotsman’s analogy is somewhat glib. The relationship between food and social media is a somewhat uneasy one. At the same time that it can democratize, bloggers can also help to stratify and create rifts. The article itself hints at some of these rifts. First, there are those who use social media as a way to document their privilege and to promote exclusivity. Think of the food bloggers and writers who dine at only the “right” spots and who are the “taste makers” in an oh so haughty fashion.

There is also a growing cleft between  professionals in the industry and bloggers, although of course, there is a lot of overlap as chefs and cooks obviously tap into social media as an important business tool. Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea, brings up an important point when he questions the willingness to sacrifice the integrity of food itself in the quest to document a la minute via photography and video a meal in all of its perfection.  And then of course, there are those bloggers and tweeters that casually and heedlessly wield their power to make or break businesses.

I am also ambivalent about the “unashamed gluttony” of certain blogs as food porn. I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t believe in the importance or beauty of food photography. After all, one of the reasons why I love subscribing to food mags is the glossy photos that also show you exactly how perfect your food at home can never be, LOL. In all seriousness, however, even mundane food photography as well as videos can serve as important teaching tools.  However, I just don’t know that I am all that interested in blogs with the main purpose of documenting every detail of every meal eaten out as some sort of library of mass consumption. First, they are pushing form over substance. Second, and more importantly, this is the most egregious way in which social media/food blogging is serving to stratify rather than democratize. If you have ever watched the new Cooking channel you know what I mean. The catchphrase of the network is “stay hungry,” which is heard as an almost panting voice accompanied by images of impossibly perfect produce. The first time I heard it, I was immediately disgusted. In a world where so many go hungry everyday, those who can afford to overindulge our senses should not be so cavalier and thoughtless.

So what are my parameters in writing this blog? I know very little at this point, but I what I do know I will share. My blog will not be recipe or restaurant review driven. I feel that there are enough of these blogs around. This is not to say that I will never offer up my opinions about certain food establishments, or that I will never provide recipes in the texts of my posts. Rather, it just means that the focus of my entries will be different–they will primarily be a mix of personal anecdote and critical thinking about food (including food science, tidbits of culinary history, current events, and consideration of ethical issues). It will probably not feature much “food porn” although I do hope to include some photography when I am more comfortable with wordpress.

One important point that the Scotsman article makes is that food blogging is still “a grey area” without the “professional standards of journalism” but with the “potential to exceed the influence and reach of” traditional media outlets. Because of this, I am going to be mindful and thoughtful of my content and my objectives. At the same time, I am also enormously excited that ordinary people like me can find a voice through this medium, and therefore, it is something with which to have fun.

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