Food Bloggers: Keep Your Day Jobs
“I am a underwriter by day.”*
Well that’s it. This food blogger surge must stop.
Every house in every subdivision, it seems, is home to a food blogger. In every apartment, petite or palatial, sits a would-be scribe compelled to share the joy of each smoky slab of ribs, silky slice of pie or chilled glass of single-origin iced coffee consumed. This I-shoulda-been-a journalist flits 10 fingers across a laptop keyboard by night, interspersing pedestrian photos with enthusiastic, if unpolished, prose.
I wouldn’t care about the Internet’s overwhelming wad of food bloggers … if the amateurs weren’t getting undue attention.
This will come across as bitter no matter how carefully I say it, although, as you’ll see, that’s truly not my intent: The food bloggers who are savvy about getting their work before loads of pairs of eyeballs are also now getting prime invitations. They’re seated beside me and my ilk at media events; in the past, we were a closed-to-the-public posse of like-minded souls, passionate pros who get as enthusiastic about a cunning pun as a sensationally seasoned caramelized onion. Occasionally, the new bevy of bloggers is seated at such events instead of the credible crews.
I can see why. Credentialed critics might write a glowing feature — or snarl about a soggy salad. If we’re unimpressed, we may not give the host establishment any ink at all. Our magazines/newspapers/books/websites have limited space and we use our precious column inches to guide our readers to the best meals possible. Bloggers, by contrast, seem giddy to be gallivanting to restaurant tables all over town. As thanks for passage into the inner sanctum, they’ll produce virtual pages upon pages of glowing praise — of course with hopes of receiving new evites in the future.
Many bloggers are discriminating, to be sure, and they are due full respect. Others tend simply to write about the basics. I’d like to share two examples. At one recent media dinner for a new restaurant, an egg was lovingly cooked for 55 minutes sous-vide style. Its creamy yolk and satiny white were served atop a frisée salad dotted with bacon lardons and tossed with celeriac dressing, the whole a complement to a seared King salmon fillet. A food blogger — a really neat gal who does a respectable job — summed up her detailed description about the egg thus: “It was very enjoyable.”
That’s clear. It’s straightforward. And if I handed an editor an opinion like that, I’d … well, I’d be an untethered food blogger with no source of income. The pains of food writing — the tortured eons we long-timers loathe — are due to the challenge of descriptive writing. “Very enjoyable” is fine. It’s also an easy way out. By contrast, think about how many times you’ve read a review mentioning a restaurant’s crab cakes. “Very enjoyable” would be unacceptable. Even a predictable sentence like, “The golden-brown discs were filled with well-seasoned chunks of tender crabmeat and plated with a spicy remoulade” wouldn’t do. It would once, actually — but what about the next time that food writer describes a crab cake? That one would need to be differentiated from the first. Not easy stuff.
Here’s the second example of writing that could have more umph. A local luxury hotel flew (I presume) a bunch of New York-based food bloggers into town to cover a culinary extravaganza. Reporting on a special breakfast, one of the guests did what bloggers do well. She wrote a lo-o-o-ong piece and inserted several photos. "And the peacock rug!! I want one in my apartment! ” she cooed. “Handsome devil, isn’t he? ” she said of the chef. Cute stuff. We see creative juice concoctions, honey-truffle butter … all appropriate. And then – ta-dum – “I also drank a cup of coffee with breakfast.” Below was an image of coffee being poured into a fine china cup. Really? (The blog received 35 comments, so obviously she is meeting a need in the marketplace. I’m bewildered as to why.)
I could offer restaurants and hotels the same service – easily, in fact, since I can whip up a written sentence as speedily as that handsome hotel chef can get an omelet from pan to table. I can snap a bunch of photos with my camera, iPhone or iPad and fill up this blog with a lo-o-o-ong combo of images and explanations. I don’t in part because I don’t have time; writing is my livelihood, not a hobby, so I’m repulsed at the idea of doing more once I shut down the workday. (Food bloggers, by contrast, are often engineers, accountants or full-time moms by day; I can certainly relate to their urge to delve into food writing as a hobby.) I also tend to find food blogs boring. I don’t mean that as an insult. I just don’t know why anyone would want to see photos of some other layman's meal along with lengthy descriptions for each one.
I do blog some. On this site, I test out new kinds of writing and venture into topics unrelated to my paid work. My website, by contrast, has what I call a bloggy area on the home page; readers find a regularly changing roster of restaurant and travel news. My goal is to have a lively site so editors and publishers seeking assistance will be impressed enough to hire me for writing gigs. It’s a success.
So I’m not bitter. I have the wherewithal, the reputation and the contacts to be Chief Food Blogger Babe in my market should I so chose. I’m just … dismayed. Although I Tweet and blog and manage three Facebook pages, I’m exhausted by the constantly changing virtual world and the need to keep up with it. I also like having an editor polish my work, a luxury blog posts lack, including mine.
I humbly accept that I’ll be a guest at fewer media meals as the hip techno-whiz food bloggers take my seat, since those go-getters give most venues more press than I do. They tend to be a spirited, intelligent and passionate group of up-and-comers, and I wish them no ill will. In fact, I admire them. But will I feel a little sad, a tad cranky, the next time I read that a bunch of them “checked in” at a new restaurant's grand opening ? Of course. That’s how we people react.
*As for that quote up top, “I am a underwriter by day”: I happened upon a blog today that featured a contest to win a cute apron. That quote is part of the author’s bio. Here’s where I do get mad: That’s not proper English. Get an editor, or get out of the business.
I do like that apron, though. Most of mine are faded and stained shmatas from past restaurant media events.