There was a good deal of food blogging about food blogs this week. In response to New York Magazine’s story on youth food culture, which few read but many are discussing, Adam Roberts riffed on a line in the story that said that food blogs peeked in the “early aughts.” Roberts still looks young enough to be carded but having started AmateurGourmet.com in 2004, he is an Ancient Mariner in the blogosphere and concedes that it is harder today, far harder, to be noticed. The blog form, he writes, is no longer new and is, therefore, missing
“…a sense of discovery, a sense of danger. People start food blogs now to recreate what others have already created; very few food blogs feel new because they aren’t new. They’re doing what’s been done before, albeit with different recipes.”
As with any writing, risk and originality are the heartbeat of blog posts and in the rush to get noticed in a crowded place, a woeful number of wonderful new voices are not heard. Not, says Roberts, because they don’t have something to say, but because “They’re trapped inside a carbon copy of someone else’s food blog.”
Like a breakaway church or a revolution, the shake down effect of New Media on Old Media resulted almost immediately in calcification of blog form, methods and etiquette. What should be infinite possibilities for creating and publishing your own work on a blog, quickly lapsed to a Stalinist-narrow mindset of “right blogging.” This may be exasperated by the fact that search engines rely not on human-ness but on numeric algorithms to drive traffic. Anyone who has ever committed a typo in a web-search is all too familiar with the unforgiving digital gods. But ambition and greed — How do I become the next Pioneer Woman? — wreak equal havoc on the idiosyncratic imagination.
This week’s ruling against a self-described “investigative blogger” seeking to avail herself of the legal protection afforded traditional journalists is not exactly a boon to thinking-outside-the-Blog-Box. At the very least, writes the New York Times, the fine line between first amendment protection and slander needs to be reconsidered. The founders didn’t have the internet in mind…
Simona Carini, a Cook ‘n Scribble student, sent along several interesting conversations about the ruling and its implications from a radio broadcast that aired yesterday on the west coast. Eager to avoid becoming part of case law, the judge quickly clarified this ruling, saying that it was directed only at the individual involved.
For food bloggers, the message seems to be: it’s okay to make fun of industrial food, just don’t try to shake down Unilever promising kind words in exchange for cold cash!
As at least one court wrestled with the disparity between journalistic ethics and regurgitation-and-accusation style blogging, OC Weekly proposed self-policing in a story that offered five commandments aimed at restaurant bloggers.
Unlike its optimization strategies, however, the internet’s evolving ethical code does not limit the artistic possibilities of writing on the internet. Rather, a failure of nerve, commitment or imagination — or all three — is the Big Foot of blog invention. In addition to practice — writers write — reading expands the writer’s vocabulary, worldview and sense of what of possible. In a post on Atlantic.com this week, Maura Kelly, the author of Much Ado About Loving: What Our Favorite Novels Can Teach You About Date Expectations, Not-So-Great Gatsbys and Love in the Time of Internet Personals, said that she’s all for movements like Slow Food, Slow Beer and Slow Cocktails, but wonders why activists are so focused on what goes into our mouths and less concerned with what goes into our minds. She proposes a 30-minutes-a-day reading practice for media-barraged minds:
“By playing with language, plot structure, and images,” she writes, slow reading of great books “challenges us cognitively even as it entertains. It invites us to see the world in a different way, demands that we interpret unusual descriptions, and pushes our memories to recall characters and plot details.”
Several posts this past week defied the di rigueur cheerleader-voice that increasingly typifies food blogging. With a single turn of phrase in a short introduction to making chicken soup — “It’s the best cure I know for a ragged day” — Ruth Reichl breathes new life into the standard recipe head note and had me speeding along the back roads of upstate New York in search of fat old birds, feet on, please.
After luxuriating in David Lebovitz’s spare, sensual food prose, however, I all but turned the car around and headed for the airport and the first Paris-bound flight available for a warm baguette — something I’d nearly forgotten in these many years of American wood-fired artisanal loaves. “When you get a perfect specimen, one that crunches audibly when you bite through the crust and the inside has a creamy color and a slight tang from a bit of levain – save for a swipe of good butter or a bit of cheese – anything else is simply unnecessary,” he writes. I admire how his restraint — his masterful descriptive writing — never overshadows some lovely trove of history or cook’s advice. Pass the butter.
Jonathan Gold, the Pulitizer Prize winner restaurant critic who recently joined the LATimes, wrote a review of a marijuana and Chinese herb dinner that should be read by every restaurant blogger in the world. Although intended for print, the review shows how a true master can weave criticism, social commentary, story and a healthy dash of irony together to distill an entire era into a single meal. I admire Gold’s distinct voice, and admire even more how he manages to maintain that voice while creating a piece that is all about everything but himself, an increasingly rare feat in the world of restaurant writing.
Wonder which new food TV series will win the ratings battle? Will it be the gonzo series about a couple of entrepreneurs hell-bent on making everything taste like bacon whose development was announced on Deadline this week? Or will it be Food Forward, the ever-so-earnest PBS documentary on people changing the national food landscape that Huffington Post wrote about?
Julia Whitty, whose first book on oceans, The Fragile Edge, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal Award, has a brilliant and beautifully written story about the state of the oceans this week. In addition to being a fine example of how lyrical language can simplify a complicated subject, the post is also a reminder about the implications of our recommendations and the recipes we publish.
My friend Nancy Jenkins alerted me to the piece and It reminded me of an account about the difficulty of reporting on complex subjects that Beth Daley wrote several years ago. In it, the writer explores how leaving her desk — and hopping a fishing boat — enriched her writing (but further complicated the subject). This piece from the Huffington Post continued the conversation, Considering Those Lobsters…
Our crowd at Cook ‘n Scribble was busy this week. Julie Grice is giving some verve to the unsexy part of cooking-to-the-bottom of the fridge…and our Poet-in-Residence, the former photographer Tom Hirschfeld, writes a love letter to one of his kitchen Heroes, Jacques Pepin.
Meanwhile, Cara De Silva, who rocked the recent memoir class with insights gained while writing her book, In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin, apparently rocked an audience in New Jersey recently with her lecture for the annual gender and genocide lecture.
Potato photo credit: Hannah Stone