Normally I’d reserve such missives for a private, long-winded Facebook post, but quite honestly I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the shady practices of food bloggers, who are desperate to attain celebrity status and the coveted title of cookbook author and “online brand.” Let me put this as plainly as possible: I write about food because it’s at the core of who I am. The alchemy of flavors, textures and tastes delight me, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve either had a pen or a whisk in hand. Food has the propensity to connect people in a way that’s visceral, real. We hatch plans, we weep, we rage, we talk our way through our darkness over a plate of hot pasta or a bowl of comforting soup. I write about food because I believe in its ability to heal and bind.
I don’t write about food because I want to be a “brand” or elevate my ranking in Google search with plug-ins, applications, or smartly-worded titles. I don’t write to sell my soul for a stand mixer or to post the au courant recipes making the rounds (popsicles, anyone?). And while I understand the business of content creation, brand building and word of mouth, there is a way in which one can be authentic, passionate, but still turn a profit. And, quite frankly, I’ve seen very few blogs in the food space that manage to keep their integrity in check. Rather, they’ve fallen into a “me-too” think speak of conferences, business cards, book deals, and a strategy that feels machinist rather than honest.
Recently, I road-tested two recipes from sites I found on Tastespotting (an elegant and visual Pinterest for foodies, if you will), and both times I found myself reading the recipes several times, shaking my head, and muttering: This can’t be right. I scrolled through the scores of comments that complimented the food photography, styling, and the personal anecdotes that preceded the recipe. Nothing about the efficacy of the baked goods or even a question on the chemistry. So, against my better judgment, I baked the two loaves from two separate blogs and they were both failures. One was a chocolate chip pound cake, whose ratios could have not possibly yielded the picture on display (3 sticks of butter for one scant cup of flour for the crumble? Are you kidding me here?), and the other was a bread loaf with 1:1 white for whole wheat flour swap, which didn’t account for the density of the flour and the needed to alter the wet ingredients for the substitution.
A long-winded way of saying the recipes were wrong. The photos were dubious, and scores of blogs are securing traffic, fans and deals, based on the fact of one beautiful picture and a few personal words. This reminds me of those gag books, when opened, are actually storage boxes. They’re empty, devoid of passion and authenticity, reduced to the output of a Canon 5D Mark or a Nikon.
Suddenly, all of the blogs appear as a variation on a single theme, a one-note plea for the glory that internet fame brings. The dream of being the next Smitten Kitchen (for the record, I’ve sampled some of the recipes from this book, and they were not up to snuff, but that’s a whole other discussion). Perhaps this is the reason why I’ve been so severe in terms of how I manage this space. I refuse to call myself a food blogger. I refuse to accept advertising. I refuse to try to achieve anything less than what I consider extraordinary.
A friend once told me that I’ll never have the traffic the “bigger guys” get because I’m too dark. My writing is too melodic and sometimes disturbing and sometimes meandering, and I don’t project an idealized life. Sure, I’ve got the pretty pictures and tagged posts, but I don’t project a home that the world covets. I’m not the online equivalent of cotton candy. My dinner parties are messy, replete with sullied napkins and discussions about Rosemary’s Baby, formalism, Amy Hempel, and Orange is the New Black. I’m outspoken, make whole new shapes outside of lines, and pretty much live in the color blue.
Listen, I’m not claiming to be perfect. I’ve had my blogging mistakes and pitfalls, and I was once tempted by the lure of free things, but I try to be as honest as I am aware. I’m trying to deliver food I’d cook and eat. What you don’t see are all the failed recipes. What you don’t read about is the fully uncut version of my life, because I firmly believe that my life is mine, and when it’s all revealed it suddenly becomes less mine. It becomes yours.
This is probably why I read so few blogs, why I trust a handful of folks who don’t write to gain traffic and build brands. They write because they love food, love the power of it, love how it consumes them. They live for that symbiosis. They live to marry image and text. They want to show you just how much this meal meant to them.
Not how much it’s padded their bank account.