Some thoughts on food blogging

The latest brouhaha to hit the world of food blogs is this article in Food and Wine Magazine in which Pete Wells criticizes what he calls "cheese-sandwich meanderings". While it's easy to dismiss the entire article, which is not the best example of journalism to ever exist, I think there are some things to be learned from his off-hand comments about food blogs.

My comments here are, of course, my opinion only, and my focus is on personal food blogs rather than food blog aggregators and the like.

Define your purpose

What is the purpose of your blog? What you may want to consider is whether or not you are concerned about increasing your readership. If your primary objective is to have an online journal interspersed with recipes and you're not overly concerned about who or how many people read your site, then there is nothing more to worry about. However, if you are interested in gathering a wider audience of specifically food blog readers, you may have to think this over.

I suspect that most people who follow food blogs do so because of —surprise!—the food related content. I am that way myself: unless the writing is truly exceptional, I don't regularly follow a blog that is labeled a 'food blog' if there is too much stuff about the kids, the pets, the spouse, the day job, movies, etc. that isn't about food. If you can relate your kids, pets, spouse, day job, etc. to food in a witty way, that's different, and you are a very talented writer. Talented writers aren't that common.

But then what to do with all your non-food thoughts? There are two ways to go about this. One way is to categorize your blog entries between "Food" and "non-Food", and create separate pages for them and/or establish separate RSS feeds for them. Another way, which may be simpler if you're new to blogging and web site construction in general, is to establish a separate blog for the non-food, mostly personal thoughts. With so many free blogging options out there such as Blogger, LiveJournal and Wordpress.com, there is no reason you can't. As an example, I have a personal site where I write about a motley variety of topics. The readership there isn't as high as it is for Just Hungry but I don't worry about that: it's an outlet for me to express my views. Another better example perhaps is Merlin Mann, creator of the very popular personal productivity site 43 Folders. He maintains a Live Journal where he quote "writes about issues of the day and what he ate for lunch". I read every post on 43 Folders, but I'm not really interested in what he ate for lunch (well, he's not a food blogger) so I'm glad to skip his Live Journal.

Find a focus in your food

Now that you've concentrated your food blog on food, it's time to define what it is in the world of food that you want to focus on. How much you narrow the topic down, I feel, is entirely up to you. For example, on Just Hungry I try to concentrate most of my articles on these general areas:

  • Cooking Japanese food, especially from the perspective of a person who lives outside of Japan and sometimes has trouble getting the right ingredients
  • Recipe adventures and experiments
  • Swiss food - from the point of view of a non-Swiss living in Switzerland

Not all of my posts are about these topics, and they have evolved over the 2+ years I've been maintaining this site, but I feel that this gives some personality to my site that may distinguish it from others. You may choose to narrow it down even further of course; for me, for this particular site, it's focus enough, and judging from the number of people who visit the site it seems readers agree.

Take your time, and show me who you are

It's so easy to just write off the top of your head and upload the entry, but are you sure you want to do that? Ask yourself these questions: do you think anyone would want to read what you wrote? Do you have anything unique to say? What makes you, your approach to food, or your circumstances different?

One particular type of food blog entry that I have an aversion to is the one where the poster says something like this: "I found this recipe by Nigella Lawson in her book Forever Summer, and decided to try it. It came out great! So here's a picture and here's the recipe." That's not too insightful. What drew you to that recipe? Did you make any adjustments? What about presentation? How did the main critics in your life react? What did you serve it with?

An example of a good try-a-recipe post is this one by Clotilde where she starts out with one of my recipes, explains why she was attracted to it, and adds her own variations. She injects her own tastes and personality into the article, as she does in all of her blog entries. Elise of Simply Recipes, does so also. I particularly enjoy the posts about her father's recipes.

And speaking of recipes: original, tried-and-true recipes are always welcome, in my opinion. (I really don't understand why a certain food blog aggregator excludes blogs that focus on recipes. That makes about as much sense as a political blog aggregator that excludes blogs that focus on say, George Bush. But I digress.)

Ultimately it's about the quality of the writing

The Food and Wine article does contradict itself several times, but ultimately I believe the point it makes is that the thing that draws someone to any blog, food or not, is the quality of the writing. (The writer of the article seems to have a fondness for the sarcastic or extreme. I don't share the same preference, but it takes all kinds.) If you can make people laugh, or think, or say "wow", or try one of your recipes—then you have a winner.

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