shade in the food blogging game {mini rant}

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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.

Untitled 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.

/rant

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40 thoughts on “shade in the food blogging game {mini rant}

  1. Ack. Felicia, this was a really good read and I’m glad you put it on your blog. The more deeply I immerse myself in the food blogging world, the more I see what you’re talking about, and it really turns me off. There are some bloggers I used to love but now I would never recommend to a friend because their blogs are so blatantly commercialized–just begging for views, sponsorship and a cookbook deal. And sometimes I get caught up in the numbers game myself and I feel like I’m getting sucked into a void–thanks for this. I can’t even articulate a lot of what you’ve said here to myself sometimes, but this is the perfect reality check for why I have a food blog. I love baking, I love writing and I love creating.

    But the sub-par Smitten Kitchen recipes! I’m interested to know which ones–I haven’t tried any out of the book yet. I’ve tried a number of ones from her website and some were fantastic; some were flops (probably due in part to substitutions I used). But I suppose she is only human…

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    1. Erika — That’s precisely why I love visiting your space! I’ve had to update my linkroll several times this year, as I’ve seen folks I’ve once admired veer into questionable territory. Granted, they put some really beautiful work out there, but I feel as if they’ve been bought and paid for, and I never want to feel that my creative outlet is owned by a brand or someone else. Then again, this decision of mine is purely personal.

      I tried some of the sweets in the book (I have to go back and take a look), and they weren’t up to snuff. I have a lot of respect for what she does and how she was a pioneer in the food space, but even her space feels stylized now.

      Warmly, f.

      On Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 12:57 PM, love.life.e

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  2. I โค you. This post rings true for me in many ways.

    I don't find your writing dark, just real. And I love that. I come here for your writing and stories, as much as I come for the photos and recipes. Please continue doing what you're doing, because there are people like me who appreciate it.

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  3. And this is why I chose to read YOUR blog. Every recipe you share that I’ve made had been delicious. I *know* that you have made it first, checked it out, corrected it if need be. I also come for the prose. Too dark? Please. It’s why I come here! You are a writer and you write in realness. If being a good brand means looking the part w/o any actual integrity or meaty writing, then forget it. And that’s my rant….

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    1. Thanks, Barbara! A lot of your comments over the months have really inspired me to think about the way I’m living my life and how I can live it, eyes wide open. So thank you.

      I remember I botched a recipe once online, and someone called me out on it and I was SO EMBARRASSED that I apologized profusely and corrected it ASAP. Because with butter and other ingredients costing so much these days, a botched recipe can really hit someone’s pocket. I think that’s what some of these bloggers fail to understand.

      I’m out $40 in ingredients because of these failed recipes. SIGH.

      On Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 1:53 PM, love.life.e

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  4. I just LOVE your rants :). Oh so valid! I have succumbed to pretty pictures from Tastespotting before, only to find miserable content or a failed recipe as well. From the moment I have found your blog, you have set the new standard. Recipes I want to make and words I ponder long after the computer has been closed.

    Thanks as always!

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  5. I have been thinking about food blogging for over a year. So, before taking the plunge I decided to subscribe to various blogs…to get familiar with the game. What I have seen over the past year is an obscene amount of recipe sharing, recipes thar basically require one to ay, “slip this cookie mix under a brownie mix, bake in pan, and voila!” And the giveaways are ridiculous, all propositioned to get more traffic, more hits, etc., but their sites are filled with such uninspiring food. They are seem to post the same patterns too–sudden waves of peanut butter recipes, brownies, pumpkin, corn…they all follow each other and copy. Frankly, I too am tired of it, and thus I thank you for your much appreciated rant. Keep the real coming!

    One more thing: I discovered your blog when my husband and I were planning our trip to Paris in May. I can’t tell you how many of your gems we visited. We stayed in an apartment in the Marais and lived blissfully for 10 days. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Mais,

      I couldn’t agree more. Over the past month I saw a wave of popsicles. This sort of reminds of fashion, where a few key designers set the tone for the season and everyone kind of falls into it, like dominos.

      I’m so delighted that you loved my Paris spots. It took me a long time and many trips to compile a good list of eats, and I feel as if I have so much more to explore. Clearly, I’m going to have to return and eat some more.

      Fondly, Felicia

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  6. You know, Fel, I’ve been reading your blog since at least 2002. You may have some “dark” moments, sure, but that’s part of being authentic. I do know that when I see a recipe here, it’s trustworthy because you’ve tested it and wouldn’t post it if you didn’t believe it was successful.

    I could go off on a tangent about posers and those folks trying to grab their 2 minutes of fame instead of building relationships and an audience in a real way.

    Food is the center of so many pieces of living our lives….it’s about nourishing our lives, not creating only Instagram moments as the purpose.

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  7. I suppose, in a way, if one finds truth dark, than yep, you’re writing might be considered to be so. I would argue that your style is actually quite refreshing, and I enjoy reading all your new posts. Even though I am still very new to this, I cringe when I see all the flashy adverts on people’s blogs and simple close the page down… Thanks for proudly sharing your thoughts… if I could, I’d give you a popsicle as a thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. Yes! I veer more and more toward the spaces with a story or wisdom to share. I find it’s these narratives that unite and inspire us, oftentimes just as much as the dish itself. It’s not something that can be faked.

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  9. You are so on point!

    In the age of Pinterest, pretty pics alone aren’t going to cut it. I don’t care how nice the photo is if the food is inedible.

    What’s going on with food blogging is the same thing that happened/happening to the “Food” Network. It’s sad.

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    1. The Food Network used to be a place where chefs inspired home cooks, now even beloveds like Ina are phoning it in, thinking more about platform than substance. You know, the things that got them famous in the first place. /sigh

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  10. I kind of agree and disagree with you. If you can make money out something you enjoy to do then I say go ahead. But selling books full of recipes we can find on your blog for free is a bit ridiculous. Sometimes, some of these food bloggers forget the real reason why they started a food blog in the first place.

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  11. To be honest I don’t think anyone is padding their bank account by blogging, unless pennies count.Most bloggers have day jobs to pay the rent and those that aren’t doing it just for love are only after the possibility of a commission for a book and maybe some free travel and the kudos.The money isn’t there.

    Magazines have always had adverts, there has to be some way of paying the contributors and the printing costs after all. Ads aren’t evil unless you agree to modify content and opinion to meet their requests. Print magazines will often soft pedal an editorial if the subject is a big advertiser with them, after all people’s jobs are at stake, but most will take a pragmatic line and walk it carefully. And ads are, after all what allows you to have this free WordPress account. I’m looking at a rather ugly ad for a Sony phone on this page right now, WordPress put it there and you have no say in it.

    There are thousands of food blogs, I don’t know who really reads them, I suspect mostly just other food bloggers, and so some envy and backbiting is inevitable, along with the mutual back slapping.to increase likes. It’s a circle jerk that occasionally gets ugly.

    You aren’t the only blogger to take a hair shirt attitude. But at the end of the day, only the writing counts not the writer’s morals or beliefs.

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    1. Hi Nick,

      Thanks for the thoughtful note. I’m a bit confused, as you should never see ads on this site. The blog is powered by WordPress and hosted by Godaddy, so it isn’t free.

      I definitely realize bloggers, en masse, aren’t making the level of income of the top bloggers, my point was the intention. That’s what I call into question.

      Cheers, Felicia

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      1. Oh, definitely. I’m sure there is a bit of inflation, but there are folks (from ads, affiliate links and brand partnerships) are raking in something pretty good. I follow PinchofYum.com (great blogger, who is a fine example of smart monetization with an integrity, in check), and she’s made anywhere from $3-$5K/month on the blog, which isn’t too bad. In June, they made about $8K: http://pinchofyum.com/making-money-from-a-food-blog-june-2013

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  12. Love your blog and your food photography, Felicia. I’m a long time reader and twitter follower, and I’ve always enjoyed all the different topics you write about. I write about food because of how it has impacted my life, the way it brings people together and the fact that it is truly one of the greatest loves of my life. Thanks for staying to true to who you are writing about what you love.

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