One Bite at a Time

by James Boo on June 15, 2011 · 10 comments

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I spent two hours writing a post about the value of food blogging and what I’ve learned over four years of trying to improve my writing by being a food blogger.

Most of that was rubbish, so I’ve extracted the following announcement:

Lately, I’ve come to care more than ever about creating value. It’s a tricky thing to do when one of value’s metrics lives in the heads of people who inevitably don’t share your values. In any case, I’ve decided to cut down on my food blogging so I can focus on work that a) helps me become a better writer or b) creates more value for other people.

I’m not convinced that I’m pursuing either in a way that will allow me to grow, create, and make a lasting contribution. There’s a story in there about the future of food blogging, food writing, food reviewing and the unfulfilling bullshit holding them all together, but like I said, I’m not the one to express it now.

I’ll attempt to contribute stories to this blog every two weeks. Zach will do the same from San Francisco. And while I can’t be as committed to posting as I used to be, I’m still extremely interested in recruiting writers to contribute tales of food and food culture from elsewhere in the world. If you know anyone who would make a good contributor to this blog, please tell them that I’m looking for low-commitment, high-quality writers and photographers to share their travails.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on a few projects – all of them food and food writing-related – in hopes of doing something valuable with all that I’ve learned. If I succeed, you’ll know. If I don’t – well, I’m definitely not going to call it quits on this blog, but I want to know that every time I post a story, it will be a story that I was truly inspired to write and a story that will help inspire the kind of taste that started me down this eaten path.

Wish me luck, and stay hungry.

Comments

Max Falkowitz June 15, 2011 at 9:41 am

Very much with you, James. My previous efforts at stand-alone blogging were all undone by the pressure to churn out content so frequently. Sometimes writing just flows perfectly in an hour and needs little in the way of refinement. But for me it’s usually a more plodding affair, not one I could keep up with several times a week while also maintaining quality. I’m a big fan of infrequent but crafted posts. It’s what RSS feeds seem designed for!

Hungry June 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Good luck with your endeavors, James.

Yvo June 16, 2011 at 1:36 am

Cheers to you.

Danny June 16, 2011 at 10:48 am

man, these food bloggers who post consistently are dropping like flies! ;) anyway, i know what you got up your sleeve could be very interesting. stay hard at the grind, keep on the hustle!

Joon S. June 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Oh no! What am I going to turn to for my weekly masturbatory needs?

Anonymous June 19, 2011 at 4:34 pm

tricky, but I finally managed to masturbate to this post (relevant)

good on you James, for not selling out and doing what you don’t wanna :)

James Boo June 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Max – I know we’re far from alone in feeling this way. The truth is that’s what publications were designed for! But right now people who are inspired by food and want to write stories about food are being pushed to either whore themselves out on an absurd “food news cycle” or to pander to an arcane and ever-diminishing series of gateways to paid publication. With a couple exceptions (Serious Eats being the biggest), we’re collapsing our own food chain here. I’d really like to work on something that helps create more diversity and accessibility to well crafted stories and guides.

Thanks to all for the kind words and high percentage of masturbation jokes.

SinoSoul June 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Fodder for thought: recipe bloggers that monetized in ’07/’08 still generate mass amount of incomes from those vintage posts. Some food bloggers who ceased publishing (perhaps due to.. DEATH) still amass greater Alexa ranking than anyone else who commented on your site.

No one’s forcing you to absorb the new food media. None. You can continue to hunt down, and write about, what you love. That’s the bottom line, always will be. From the pure amount of blog-to-books being published, and the explosive growth in food blogs, one can safely say there’s no collapse of anything, save for a shift in old media and the fiscal possibilities associated with them.

G’luck to ya.

Zach June 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Syndicated food blog posts? Sweet.

In regards to frequency posting, I don’t necessarily think it’s impossible or a drain on inspiration/material. I just think it’s impossible and draining when you also have a full-time day job and a life. Unfortunately, the practice of posting a story when you feel like it/find the time (pretty much what I do) is only a viable habit when the author has already achieved fame and circulation (which I have not).

So food blogging boils (sorry) down to meaningless fun, like Mad Libs or six-hour Smash Brothers marathons.

James Boo July 2, 2011 at 1:40 pm

SinoSoul – your points are definitely valid, so don’t take the speech I’m about to unload here as a rant/argument directed at you. The comments make me want to at least throw out some of the thoughts that were suppose to be in this post before I decided to keep things simple.

Most food bloggers I’ve met want to provide some kind of consistent value to the general reading public (or a niche reading public). It’s never just about hunting down and writing about what we love, and that’s why some level of adoption/exposure/popularity is important. If we’re not getting paid (or if we’re getting paid a pittance), we at least want to be relevant enough to justify committing this much time outside of our paid lives to a higher quality of writing.

My dream for this blog, for example, is to have a regular rotation of writers contributing narratives about food and food culture in different towns and cities throughout the world, 5 days a week. I’m in love with the idea of food writing as a gateway to new experiences (as opposed to telling you what to stuff your mouth with in the most convenient way). My concern is not that there aren’t people out there who think the same way; my concern is that the resources being funneled into food blogging ignore this group of writers and readers entirely.

The food blogging market is ever-expanding, but aside from the fact that the majority of food blogs are terrible, the money and potential career opportunities hung above the blogosphere tends to cast a blind eye to originality and quality. The #1 e-mail received by a food blogger in New York is a form letter from a PR agency trying to get you to be a shill for its clients. The number of blog-to-books I would willingly pay money for can be counted on one hand; the publishing industry is only interested in bloggers insofar as bloggers help them lower their bottom line (i.e. come up with all the ideas, do half the marketing for them, and get paid less than a professional writer) and allow them to only publish things they can prove already have tens of thousands of readers (the laziest kind of margins game). Magazine food writing is a bit better, but most mags — especially big local mags that only really include food as part of their lifestyle/demographic branding — only really care about food as trend. They should be filtering for quality, but instead they’re filtering for “i was there too” or “i was there and you weren’t” snippets. Half their recommendations read like PR handouts, and they hardly ever publish stories that challenge readers’ tastes.

I admit that many bloggers’ threshold for relevance is lower than mine, but in talking to some of my best friends in food blogging, I feel the weight of irrelevance bearing down on us, begging us to quit after years of simply doing what we love. When you spend 8 hours going to a regional Chinese restaurant in Queens, taking photos, writing a good story, and publishing that story on your blog, then a major magazine asks if you can “share” your photo with it, then offers a token amount of compensation but refuses to give a quote, and it’s painfully clear that you’re only one of several bloggers being asked to help said magazine not do its own art job, then you know that food bloggers are not on an upwardly mobile path. And this is in the event that a publication (or bigger food blog) even cares enough to ask for permission. I’m not saying that bloggers deserve an upwardly mobile path to “legitimate” food writing, but I think that there’s a market gap in the definition for “legitimate food writing.” I hope to cultivate it.

And when there is time, I will continue blogging exactly as you say I should, because I love writing for this blog. I’m just sick of being a cherry, waiting to be picked in a market for writing that’s basically a labor-saving device for the people with money and brand recognition.

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