Food blogging is dead.

I’ve just been a bit slow in pulling on the latex gloves and getting out the hacksaw for an impromptu autopsy of the still warm but tasty corpse. Over the last few weeks, I noticed a few posts rueing the good old days of writing about food on the Internet, back in the golden year: 2005. Graham Halliday, writing on Word Of Mouth quotes a friend, scent of green bananas:

the best food blog ever is already dead... everything about it was personal and informative without giving away too much personal information, nothing about it was soulless... i never felt like it was a commercial site, nor that [he] was ever shilling for anyone nor anything. i didn't feel like he was using it as a personal resume, or as a platform to something else. it was just a really great journal about food


The blog in question, Fatman Seoul ended in ’05. Back then Conde Nast hadn’t wizened up to the online game. From Accidental Hedonist:

When it comes to food blogging, I miss 2005.

There. I've said it. I feel a whole lot better.

This has been on my mind for quite some time, partially exasperated by the fact that Epicurious, was voted 2nd best food blog this year in the Weblog awards. We've come a long way from all of the press the food blogs received in 2004/2005. In two years time we've gone from individuals and private citizens getting acknowledged and read for their writing and their passion for food to that bastion of individuality Condé Nast getting kudos.

This isn't to knock the fine folks over at Epicurious, but I've always felt that food blogging was the anti-Condé Nast - the place where you went to when you wanted to get an individual's opinion on food, not an institution's.


Coincidentally, 2005 was the first year that I started writing about food for my own website. Eating Asia, Real Thai and Chubby Hubby all started in 2005. Gut Feelings, as far as I know, was yet to be dreamt up.

So what killed food blogging in 2005?

If I had a healthier ego, I’d say that it was me, personally poisoning it with impure prahok. Otherwise;

Corporatisation of food blogging.

Around 2005, people started to get paid for writing food blogs. Not paid well, but paid nonetheless, often as another part of their existing role in a media organisation. (It is worth mentioning that apart from a small handful of online editors, nobody is making a living from writing solely about food online yet. I briefly made a living from it, but only because I was living in the world’s 13th poorest nation). Since ’05 Conde Nast’s aforementioned vehicle began, as did Word of Mouth, the Guardian’s attempt to shoehorn newspaper content into the online boot. Part of the problem with both blogs seems to be a lack of clear identity: are they a separate entity of the publishers or do they exist to shill for the offline publication?


Professionals moved online, food porn goes hardcore


More food writing and photography professionals – people who otherwise make a living from food media - joined the online fray in 2005; often freelancers independent of the publications for which they work. This had two distinct effects. Firstly, it raised the bar. At a guess, the slickness of photography, design, or the quality of the writing acts as a deterrent for new food bloggers, many of whom have something worthwhile to contribute. It scared the old guard who had previously drawn audiences without having magazine-quality pics or prose.

Secondly, it started a range of blogs with specialist topics dear to the heart of their creators, the antithesis of the “journal about food” for which scentofgreenbananas pines. Sometimes the new blogs seemed to be borne from the frustration of producing dull content for mass market publications; an outlet for the non-commercial and not readily marketable food ideas. Sometimes they were just borne from the love of a single topic. Bacon, for example. This atomisation of food sites makes it ever more difficult to find a niche.

The tide of shit


Like the rest of the Internet, most food blogs are not worth reading. For every thirty new food sites I come across, one will end up in my RSS reader. This lukewarm tide was not perceptible when I began in 2005 or at least, the ratio of good to bad was more favorable.

The problem with so much bad content is that the corporate and professional blogs seem to shine in comparison. Well written but poorly designed (or poorly photographed) blogs have little chance to stand out any more.

So, any chance of resurrecting the corpse in 2008?

6 comments:

    Hmm, a lot of food for thought there young Phil. But for me personally it had never occurred to me that I was ever blogging, about food or otherwise, for anyone other than myself and a couple of friends and family members. I've always considered blogging to be a purely self indulgent pass time that feels slightly more high-minded than playing tetris. I've met some cool people, yourself included, and generally find it gives me one more reason to go out and find yummy things to put in my mouth. That said, food blogging is only dead to people who ever saw it as something more than a self-centred infatuation with their own stomachs, which I never have. Food blogging will only die for me once I find a more entertaining procrastination option or cease to have an interest in what I put in my mouth. That's why I never edit my writing, throw up shitty photos and do but the bare minimum to make Gut Feelings a pleasurable reading experience. Because I don't care who's reading. Perhaps, the only way to revive your sentiments towards food blogging is to come ride the tide of shit and enjoy the ride for what it is.

    I never read most food blogs either. I just look at the pictures. I like to see what other people eat. It fascinates me in the same way that peering inside someone's bathroom cupboard does...

    Does that make me weird?

     

    Fascinating that the blog bubble burst within two years! That is ephemeral indeed!

    The genesis you describe sounds pretty much like the story of how the music industry (or whichever golden sub-genre you care to name) ended up turning to shit. Loads more people jumping on a bandwagon, before corporate labels try to make money from that (by now) old and rickety wagon...

    I have to think more on this matter...
    I wasn't blogging in the heyday of blogging, so I guess I can't feel that anything has been lost... I, like Maytel, claim no moral highground on blogging, but for me that's simply because nowhere more than the internet is it more clear that "there will always be people more talented or less talented than yourself."

    From a reader's point of view, I would agree that the number of blogs has proliferated... and that there is a tide of shit out there. It just gets exhausting to plow through thousands of ill-informed opinions.
    It's interesting to consider what makes a GOOD food blog nowadays... and it's interesting to hear that true-school bloggers don't necessarily rate top-notch pictures and presentation as categorical must-haves...

    Though I have a number of blogs bookmarked, there are only a few that I bother to check up on now & then,
    And I can't think of any single factor that links them other than maybe a sense of the beautifully absurd??
    They range from the very professional but still personal A&A/Ideas in Food (tipped by Paul); to 'Watashi to Tokyo', a food diary by Mari-chan, which has quite poor grammar & few photos but very nice idiosyncratic style and interesting food news links from Japan that I wouldn't otherwise hear about.
    ...I like Phil's blogging a lot too.

    Like Maytel I also enjoy publishing blog posts as a leisure activity, but also as an exercise – think that even if the photos aren't always brilliant or the writing engaging, it's always a good brain exercise via shouting into the void....
    it's made me think more about what, where, who with and how I cook or eat...
    which I think in some regards is very good (when it comes to ethics, like Maytel's socio-economic asides), and in other regards it's kinda bad... in that I now have to more carefully weigh up between spending money on a fine meal or kitchen equipment or on some old records...

    There was a sort of prayer I read in a nice old buddhist californian cookbook which cautioned against using food for self-glorification or obsession.... I think a bit of obsession is important for any hobby but. It's always good to question WHY you are doing something. Having said that it is indeed nice to read things that are written or presented nicely by thoughfully obsessive people, but it's much better when they're not TOO earnest about it.

    The nice thing about Gut Feelings is that I don't think anyone on it has any special need to prove anything in particular to themselves... and I really enjoy reading your posts.

    That's also why I think 'proper' journalism will always have its place... there are some bad writers working for various newspapers, but in many cases there is a reason why some people end up getting paid to write about food... it's because they're good at it. Good at performing the exercise thoroughly.
    The one food blog which I do check every single week is in traditional media, the Village Voice: good old Sietsema.

     

    Maytel - You're not weird. Voyeuristic consumption is better than conspicuous consumption.

    I was going to compare the genesis story to the skateboarding scene going mainstream, but thought that the example would be too esoteric. Skating got better (and infinitely more varied) when it became more than just a few surfers hanging out in Dogtown. I think that food writing is getting better (and more varied) too. There are many more rides to enjoy. Even shit ones. I don't feel any loss if the nature of food writing on the web did somehow fundamentally change post-2005.

    I'm not sure how you'd define a good food blog these days (or for that matter, in 2005). I enjoy good food writing (or just new ideas) with a lack of polish. It's like stumbling into an amazing barbecue in a vacant lot and getting to drink all their booze and eat their ribs. When blogs become consistently earnest they tend to annoy me, but I can't think of anything that links the ones that I read (or the ones that I don't).

    Unless I'm writing for money, I've never really cared who reads what I write. I can't stop writing because I love the process of doing it.

     

    Hmm, that's a good question. I'm fairly new to the world of food blogging. I've been blogging personally for years, enjoying it as a kind of writing practice, and, honestly, that's all I think the best blogs are.

    I think a major factor in the commercial blandification of a lot of blogs is where they come from. I think you can genuinely make money from an American blog in a way that Australian blogs just can't.

    Either way,* I've jumped in to the fray with my own food/research blog, which I've started in the hope of (a) making the PhD process less isolating, (b) having a record of recipes and food I have liked. It sure as hell won't give Epicurious a run for its money, but hopefully it won't make people cringe, either.


    * please don't take this comment as cheap blog pimping. I've just been thinking a lot about food blogging as I've been in the process of starting one, and thought I'd put in my two cents

     

    Pimp away! Thusbakeszarathustra.com is an excellent URL, by the way.

     

    Food blogging is dead — hardly. It seems to be on the increase, whether good or bad ones, it's on the rise. And this post being back in 2008 doesn't have the foresight of now being viewed in March 2012.

     

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