Thursday, July 30, 2009

Deconstructing Food Bloggers (also, a focaccia)

For once, this post will not revolve around food… but around food bloggers.

When I started this blog a few months ago, I didn’t tell my friends and family right away: I wanted to get things rolling and have some content first (and, if possible, hone my photo skills a bit). But recently, I gave my father-in-law The Chocolate Bunny’s URL. Yes, the same father-in-law who helped me out on the last Daring Cooks’ challenge: it was only fair to show him what I’d been up to with the powders we’d made.

He had some very nice things to say about the blog itself, but one of his appreciations concerns you guys: having read most of your comments, he told me he was impressed by how nice and friendly everyone is.

This got me thinking. It’s true that I have never read a nasty comment on a food blog, or even on a food forum. I think we take it for granted, but think about it: have you ever read something along the lines of “Ewww, that soup looks gross!” or “i hate ur writing, ur blog is boooooring” on a food blog? I think I’d be shocked if I did.

And God knows there are plenty of nasty comments on other parts of the Internet. I have a private blog on LiveJournal, and there are loads of quarrels between members over there. And, as my father-in-law has shown me, even something as apparently innocent as an opera video on YouTube can lead to really horrible comments: not just disagreements, but downright offensive insults.

So what is it about the food blogosphere that makes people so gosh-darn nice? Why is this place such a haven? I can think of three hypotheses, some of which don't quite work:

Hypothesis 1: Food is not a controversial topic.

Most often, when I see people arguing (or hurling insults at each other) on the Web, it’s usually because of social, political, or otherwise intellectual reasons. I’m sure you can all think of touchy topics that generate aggressive comments: pro-choice vs pro-life, gay rights, political opinions, religious opinions, and even tastes in books and music (e.g., Wagner being associated with anti-Semitism, and so forth).

Compared to such topics, food seems like a pretty tame subject. Because it’s more sensual than intellectual (even though we all know a lot of concentration goes into some recipes), people are less likely to see it as a point of contention. You either like zucchini, or you don’t. And it would be pretty ridiculous to write something like: “Glargh! You made Russian stuffed cabbage! You must be a Communist!”

And yet… Is it really that much of a stretch to imagine someone getting upset about food for socio-political reasons? My above example was intentionally ridiculous, but what if someone posted a recipe featuring an ingredient that came from a country under a totalitarian regime? After all, food boycotts are not all that uncommon. Or what if someone made a dish featuring endangered ingredients or wildlife? Food choices do not exist in a vacuum, and they are closer to controversy than we might think.

But despite that, I have never seen vegans make aggressive comments about meat-based recipes on food blogs, for example. Despite the potential for controversy and disagreement, people just don’t seem to go there. Why?

Hypothesis 2: People who like to spend time in the kitchen are happier in general.

I don’t really believe in this one, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. Food bloggers cook, bake, and write about food because they enjoy it. By all logic, people who can indulge in something they enjoy would tend to be happy, and happy people don’t spit venom all over the Internet.

But then, where did the stereotype of the Temperamental Foodie come from? You’ve all seen representations of him/her in pop culture: I can think of the main character in the German movie Mostly Martha (remade in the US as No Reservations), or the food critic in Ratatouille, or even Conan O’Brien’s satirical portrayal of Martha Stewart as the Devil. That stereotype must have some grounding in reality. As much as we would like to imagine that cooks and bakers are all happy and nurturing, that’s probably not true: foodies can be nasty, just like any other group of people. (Not that I personally know any mean foodies, but there must be some out there.)

Hypothesis 3: People who care about food are more sensitive to decorum and etiquette.

Or, in other words, food bloggers are more civilized. Again, the Temperamental Foodie stereotype goes somewhat against this idea, but it still seems like the most plausible theory.

My reasoning goes: if food bloggers go to the trouble of making elaborate, tasty dishes, arranging them with care, photographing them from every angle, and then writing a long, entertaining post about it, it’s because they care about how it will come across to other people (their readers). They care about what people will think of them and of what they do. And this probably shows through when they comment on other foodies’ blogs (because only foodies look at food blogs): if you go around degrading others gratuitously, chances are people will not have a very positive image of you. It’s not hypocrisy – it’s manners. Foodies have manners.

Well, that’s my take on it, anyway. If anyone has other ideas or thoughts on this, I’d be more than happy to hear them.

So I’d just like to close by thanking each and every one of you for being so friendly and encouraging. I’m really having a blast with this blog, and it’s all thanks to you.

And to reward you for reading all the way through, here are pictures of the focaccia I made this weekend:

I used Marcy Goldman’s recipe for Summery Tomato, Zesty Olive and Onion Focaccia, topped with fresh basil.

It was really addictive, a crispy, stronger-tasting take on our usual, traditional caprese salad (oh, basil and tomatoes, how I love thee). Happy days!


  1. See, now that is a very interesting post... And now that I think about, yes, you're right; I never see any negative comments on any of the foodblogs I visit. And why is that? To be honest I have no idea... I've stopped going to other places because it just didn't make me feel good. I used to be on a model/photographer forum where you would post photos of the shoot you did and people could comment on them. The idea obviously being that you can learn from others constructive criticism, but there were just to be many lame comments... So I stopped caring and just didn't visit the place anymore.
    Ofcourse I think the main thing we all have in common is a general love of food. And I think that that is really were the big difference lies with other blogs/forums etc. Think about it. If you write a blog about politics and you would attract other people that like politics you're likely to disagree at some points..

    But then I also don't necessarily like all recipes I see... Hmmm, no; wrong theory too... Sorry, this is gonna be a looooong comment! I'm thinking as I write and I am known to be lengthy sometimes... :)
    Anyway, I love your thoughts about this and would be interesting to see what others come up with!
    Love the focaccia too by the way. I am going to be making a focaccia myself this weekend with onions, cherry tomatoes and three cheeses (so basically three flavours) for our BBQ! Not sure if I have time to take photos but if I do, will post about it!

  2. I think this was a very lovely post!! I agree on all points!
    Your foccacio looks very apart & so delicious!!

  3. I know, I showed my friend our blog and he brought up that everyone was so "nice". I asked him what he expected us all to say...

    Its true, we all spend so much time making and photographing our food and its like an art form. These are our little museums of past culinary art projects... If someone doesn't like it they just wont comment.

  4. Great read and SO true about food bloggers. Like you said, such hard work and creativity is put into so many dishs in the blogging world, that cooks and bakers appreciate it. Now, to be honest, do you think if people could actually taste every blog's dish, they would be as nice? Most of us would, but you'd have your pro-chefs who would probably be snooty and ornery! BUT, who needs them? I think Food blogging is the best type of blogging on the net..great people, great write-ups, great photos etc.

    Now, can I PLEASE have a hunk of that lovely focaccia and ALL the Caprese salad?? OMG, that drizzle of balsamic on top is calling out to me! Gorgeous colors and photos!

  5.'re talking to an old ascii troll hunter from Usenet days, m'dear...

    My theory is by virtue of showing people how and what we eat, we are are more likely to be more interested in how and what others eat. In the process we are both teacher and student, ambassador and tourist. The student to teacher evolution is important to the subculture, I think. Because most of us don't come from a position of professional training, and have learned by wrote or home ec classes, there's an automatic kindness given to those who are at the beginning of the learning curve.

    Nastiness in the foodblogging world exists, I've seen it and have tried to quell some of it, but in general it seems less pervasive than in other areas of the interweb.


  6. C'est que tu nous fais réfléchir aujourd'hui. Je crois que les personnes qui se passionnent pour la cuisine sont naturellement curieuse. Bien sûr, la nourriture ce n'est pas comme la politique ou d'autres sujets, comme tu dis si bien on aime ou on aime pas un aliment. Par contre, je ne sais pas pour les autres, mais pour moi, lorsque je vois un aliment que je ne consomme pas ou pire que je n'aime pas sur un blog je suis curieuse de lire la recette et les commentaires. Car j'aime découvrir et apprendre. Pour moi, le partage d’un repas que l’on a préparé ou que quelqu’un nous a préparé est un acte de partage et d’intimité. Je sais le temps et l'énergie que j'ai investi pour faire plaisir aux gens que j'aime et je reconnais le temps et l'énergie que les autres investissent! De plus, peut importe le niveau de connaissances et/ou d'habilitées culinaires et artistiques lorsque une personne nous présente son plat, elle y a mis du coeur et elle y a mis du temps! N'est-ce pas naturel de la féliciter de ses efforts? Le monde de la cuisine en est un de partage et d'échanges. Les commentaires désobligeants ne sont pas constructifs et ne permettent pas d'apprendre ni de nous dépasser. C'est un merveilleux monde celui du blogue de cuisine, car nous pouvons partager nos connaissances, apprendre, évoluer, développer notre goût et élargir nos horizons gastronomique! De plus, apprécier le travail des autres et l'admirer est un excellent moyen d'aller au bout de soi-même et de dépasser ses propres limites. La vie ne s'arrête pas qu'à notre expérience, n'est-ce pas!

    Soit dit en passant, super belle focaccia! Comme je suis allergique aux olives, je ne peux pas en manger. Alors, vive les blogues de cuisine qui me permettent de zieuter à ma guise sans risquer de mourrir!

    Bonne journée!

  7. Great post! Foodies have manners--I like that and wholeheartedly agree.

  8. Very thoughtful ideas. I agree your ideas fit and yet like you say not altogether. Like Jasmine I have seen a bit of nastiness on food blogs & forums but it is rare. Any nastiness I've seen has always been met with an overwhelming "straighten out and fly right".
    I've wondered about it many times and can't seem to put my finger on a final right answer. Manners ... maybe. Happy people ... yes but then we also deal with the usual kitchen disasters and the usual ups & downs of life.
    Maybe food bloggers want to hang out with nice people ... why ... I'm really happy they do.
    Bread and salad is wonderful to bring us all together.

  9. Nice dissertation! I like your theories. Of course if you offered me that focaccia I'd agree with pretty much anything. Delicious!

  10. This is so well spoken. When I cook or in my kitchen I'm in another world, And I try to cook with Passion. Passion just isn't there in the world. People have to have passion in there work, there love, there life. And you show that you have passion. Thank you,