Right now — at this very moment, as I’m typing this — I’m not thinking about employing the proper grammar, syntax and structure to ensure this sentence is both informative and concise.
I’m not wrestling with pithy transitions or struggling with whether or not writing in first person is a foolish idea.
I’m hungry. I’m thinking about what I want to eat.
I’m thinking about this bar down the street that serves a cheeseburger made of organic beef rush-delivered from a place called Fossil, Oregon. It’s topped with English cheddar and knife-handle-sized rashers of house-cured bacon.
I’m also thinking about this poorly lit hole in the wall — seedy, but whatever, it’s got the word “Tasty” in the name — for a leaky takeout container of gulai kambing, spicy Indonesian lamb curry served with shrimp crackers.
Maybe I should stick to the Thai place around the corner — good tom yum. Or that little coffee shop that also offers Ethiopian food if you ask right. Yo, how about a hoagie? A hoagie would be good.
Gotta charge my camera battery to make sure I get pictures of all this.
Hey, maybe I should get pizza!
Or maybe I should get back to work.
Why am I like this? Why can I not concentrate on a task without immediately ditching it for grub? Why does every thought return to stuffing my face?
Well, I’m a food blogger. It’s how we think.
Photo by GastronomyBlog
We as a web-browsing populace have reached a point where blogs are a part of everyday life, like slurping morning coffee or stepping in gum.
“The most interesting thing about the blogging phenomenon is that it presents an organic formation of community,” says Dr. Zizi Papacharissi, head of the Communication Department at University of Illinois-Chicago. Papacharissi studies how people interact through the medium of blogging. “It’s not forced — it’s generated out of pure interest.”
There are innumerable political and news-gathering blogs that pile up plaudits thanks to their skill at cultivating a feverish audience with such interest. But there are few more vibrant corners of the blogosphere than the online community focused on the discussion, analysis, appreciation or outright worship of food.
Yes, food bloggers have been around as long as blogs themselves. But they’ve made serious headway in the past five years or so, possibly due to what’s been called the “Foodification of America” — people are now more in tune to where and what they eat thanks to the movement toward local/sustainable foods, mainstream influences like the Food Network and hit shows like Top Chef.
Photo by LUNCH with Front Studio
“There’s a tacit acknowledge among [print media] that food blogs are legitimate sources, and will continue to be legitimate sources for the foreseeable future,” says Ed Levine, former contributor to The New York Times’ food section and author of books like New York Eats and Pizza: Slice of Heaven. In 2006, Levine founded Serious Eats, a food community that combines blogging, recipe sharing and discussion. “That’s a huge change.”
So many food bloggers are credible. But who are they, what do they do — and why?
Have you seen people out at restaurants who nudge china around their tables, hunting for good angles while wielding chunky SLR cameras with the same joie de vivre that rushes over most of us when we pick up a dessert spoon? Those are restaurant review bloggers, eager to toss their opinion of the latest hot spot into the fray.
There are home cooks, chopping, boiling and straining to share recipes snatched out of cookbooks or ones they developed from scratch. There are those who address broader food issues and break culinary news.
There are “meal” bloggers who take a documentarian’s approach, snapping pics of everything they consume daily and posting it, forming a sort of digital trail of crumbs in their satiated wake. And of course, there are those who embody traits common to some or all of these classifications.
Photo by GastronomyBlog
With so many far-flung approaches, is there common ground in terms of what makes these hungry scribes tick?
“Food bloggers tend to be passionate about what they’re doing,” says Levine. “I think what makes a great food blogger is what makes a great writer or journalist. They’re hungry for knowledge, they’re good reporters.”
I was eager to learn just how this passion manifested itself throughout the food blog world — and if others were just as singularly minded as I am when it came to eating.
I really enjoy having an ongoing record of my life through a food-focused lens,” says San Diego native Cathy Danh, who started gas•tron•o•my in 2006 while living in Philadelphia. She updates about six times a week, offering meticulously detailed restaurant experiences in addition to home-cooked meals. Readership picked during her time living in Vietnam, when numerous Viet Kieu, or Vietnamese residing outside their country, began logging on.
Lately, Danh has been exploring the Asian ethnic options in LA. But she doesn’t limit herself to one genre — she’s also posted reviews of everything from Pinkberry to a 24-course tasting menu at chef Grant Achatz’s legendary Chicago restaurant Alinea. Her boyfriend has grown accustomed to her habitual photo shoots.
While she has a drive to share her tastes, Danh never bases her eating around gas•tron•o•my alone. “My enthusiasm for food and dining is fueled by my own personal curiosity,” she says. “I eat and blog, not eat to blog.”
Photo by FriedWontons4U
At the age of 5, Shao Zhong emigrated to America from Guangzhou and immediately started down an epicure’s path: Her parents both worked long hours at her uncle’s restaurant in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, and she would cook for herself at home to occupy the time.
In July 2008, Zhong launched FriedWontons4U, a home cooking blog designed to document her “various culinary adventures.” She tackles traditional Chinese dishes — Mei Xin mooncakes, stir-fried lobster with ginger and scallion — but also branches out into acultural comfort food, like a simple egg sandwich with corn soup.
Though her writing is lively and accessible, Zhong approaches blogging as an almost didactic experience, both for herself and for readers looking to improve their skills. “You live and learn and blog about your mistakes, and hope it helps someone out,” she says.
Photo by BurntLumpia
On the other side of the country, Marvin [last name withheld] cooks as a means of uncovering cultural identity. At Burnt Lumpia, a lighthearted Filipino cooking blog he founded in 2006, he puts spins on traditional recipes his mother, grandmother and aunts cooked for him as a kid growing up in Southern California. (Lumpia is a fried spring roll, usually filled with ground beef and/or veggies, that’s a ubiquitous treat in the Philippines.)
Marvin, a former magazine restaurant critic whose fixation on food travels well beyond the blogosphere (he’s a dedicated reader of food mags and “always [has] the TV on the Food [Network] or PBS”), sees Burnt Lumpia as a creative outlet, but also considers it an opportunity to preserve tradition.
“I’m happy in knowing that Filipino food in my family doesn’t have to stop with me,” he says. “I can continue our culture by passing recipes on to the next generation.”
There is certainly no shortage of passion in the food blog world— but it’s also important to note that food blogs can also take on more tangible roles, from a social commentary platform to a revenue source.
Photo by Gastroanthropology
“[Food] embodies everything social science and more,” says Mitchell. “Food is natural, social, human, physical and financial. I just blog about the bits and pieces.”
“Food blogging … makes real money, and if you do it right, it can only grow,” says Low Bee Yinn, a native of Penang, Malaysia who currently resides in Irvine, California. She founded Rasa (“Taste”) Malaysia in July 2006, posting about multi-ethnic dishes from her homeland in addition to specialties from around Asia. The blogger, who works a day job as her primary source of income, runs advertising on the site, but has also turned it into a hub for culinary consulting services, which include recipe development, menu planning and photography.
Photo by LUNCH with Front Studio
Most food bloggers update several times weekly — but most don’t approach the practice with the dedication of New York architects Yen Ha and Michi Yanagishita. In mid-2007, the duo founded LUNCH with Front Studio, a blog about what the ladies who lunch are munching on. “We thought a documentation project where we simply catalogued what we ate every day would be an amusing diversion,” says Ha.
Each weekday, the women post pics and thoughts of what they eat for lunch, then repeat during their late-afternoon tea and snack break. Yanagishita usually takes the pictures, while Ha handles the writeups. They hit a wide cross-section of eateries in and around Front Studio’s Soho HQ, from classic French bistro fare and trattoria pasta to Korean tofu stew and Vietnamese banh mi.
A religiously updated blog like LUNCH seems like the ideal dig site for hard evidence of a specific obsessive trait unique to all food bloggers — constantly documenting, constantly noting and constantly brainstorming. “Michi and I are always thinking about food,” says Ha. “Sometimes just talking about a good meal will make us happy.”
There are “meal” bloggers who take a documentarian’s approach, snapping pics of everything they consume daily and posting it, forming a sort of digital trail of crumbs in their satiated wake.
But does this unwavering dedication manifest itself in a manner specific to food bloggers? Zach Brooks, who founded Midtown Lunch, a daily, content-heavy blog focusing on eats in midtown Manhattan, doesn’t think so. “All successful blogs are obsessive,” he says. “In order to attract an audience, you have to be consistent and compelling. Obsession is the name of the game!”
So basically, food blogging and culinary OCD are not fused at head by an uncontrollable stroke of nature. But chances are; “If you are a food writer, you probably have that obsessive gene,” says Serious Eats’ Levine. “When I used to write Times pieces … if the assignment was to do a story on chicken soup in New York City, I would spend next three months eating every chicken soup that I heard about. Some people would call it compulsive. [But] I think to be good at anything like this, there’s a certain amount of obsessive thinking and doing required.”
Maybe I should get pizza …
Drew Lazor blogs about food and drink for the Philadelphia City Paper.