Picking the Food Blogger’s Brain
Recently I was asked by a USC Masters student in the Annenberg School some questions. If you would like to answer them as well, please let me know and I’ll put you in touch.
I actually don’t consider myself a food blogger but since my blog covers mostly my musings on food (as well as dating, being gay-adjacent, theatre, etc), I suppose I can answer these.
1. Why did you decide to be a food blogger?
I had a food blog many years ago. It was uninteresting. It was really a diary of where I’ve gone and what I’ve eaten. This was right after I had a dining club for three years. Once a month, we’d get together and try a new restaurant. We’d continue our thoughts online.
2. Before having a blog, where did you get information and news regarding the culinary industry?
I have always been active in the food community. Whether it was getting my information from Chowhound, Yelp, Citysearch, a variety of enewsletters or simply word of mouth. I have been reading Jonathan Gold’s reviews since I was 7.
3. How did you feel about professional food writers’ works (specifically in terms of restaurant reviews)?
I particularly enjoy the writing of Jonathan Gold but do like others. I read both food reviews and chefs’ autobiographies and books. If a chef like Susan Feniger mentions she likes some hole-in-the-wall Korean cafe, I most likely will seek it out. But I tend to form my own opinions. I have discovered as I got older, I disagreed with about a third of the things JGold likes.
4. What kind of topics do you cover in your blog?
As I mentioned, I go beyond food. I consider my blog more about me than anything else. I suppose you call that lifestyle blogging. I used to have separate blogs for food, weight-loss, dreams, poetry/writing, dating, shopping/fashion, etc but now I just write in this one, theminty.com
5. In what ways do you think information and communication technologies have helped you as a food blogger?
It’s a lot faster now to get a response from people. If I ate something but couldn’t remember exactly what it was, I can either refer to an online menu, my own digital photos or simply tweet it on Twitter. I can post something on Facebook and get a response very quickly.
6. Blogging, a part of the citizen/alternative journalism movement, is said to bring autonomy to ordinary citizens. Do you think your blog has generated any forms of impact on other bloggers, readers, and culinary professionals like restauranteurs and chefs?
It’s kind of funny. Blogs are not generally written by food professionals. I remember in the late 90s when blogs first came about, they were essentially online diaries. In a lot of ways, I still consider that of mine. But being of a print journalism background, I tend to want to be informative. It pleases me when someone says they want to try some place because the food sounded so good and they trusted me (a real person) over some lofty traditional food reviewer.
7. Most of the food blogs focus on foodie stories, i.e. purely food-related. Do you think food bloggers should venture out of the realm of restaurants, chefs, and ingredients, and into a more hybrid format of stories, combining other disciplines like economics (such as the collapsing aquaculture in the North Atlantic) and agriculture (the great debate between Michael Pollan and Whole Foods)?
There is more than one kind of food blogger. I have found this out as my blog progressed gradually to be more food focused. I’ve been called a restaurant blogger by recipe bloggers. Recipe bloggers may want to be the Next Food Network Star or they may be blogging family recipes for generations to come. Either way, their demographics and numbers will rank them higher than any restaurant blogger. People googling for a chocolate chip cookie recipe will more likely click on a blog that features a recipe than read some possibly maudlin thoughts of a restaurant blogger going gah gah over cookies at their local bakery.
As for whether or not food bloggers should be more “journalistic” and report news stories, that’s just a personal choice.
8. Ethics among food bloggers have been a much-debated topic in recent years, especially after the publication of the Food Blog Code of Ethics by Brooke Burton (of foodwolf.com) and Leah Greenstein (of spicysaltysweet.com). How do you feel about this code of ethics? Specifically, do you agree that food bloggers should not take free food (and even if they do they have to disclose it) and remain anonymous?
Food bloggers are not journalists. The whole point of being a journalist is to adhere to established ethics. People know this and then trust journalists. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be ethical but people should always bear in mind that just because one food blogger likes it (and possibly taken free food) doesn’t mean it is set in stone. I could have a fabulous experience one night and another could eat the exact same meal but come across a bad oyster. If we both blog about our meals, who’s going to believe us? Take everything with a grain of salt.
PR companies and restaurants run a risk when they invite bloggers to their restaurants. They want the “free” publicity but usually only if it’s good. Bloggers who have reported truthfully their thoughts could be blacklisted from future events. Restaurants who want to achieve success should listen to all sides of the story.
9. One of the phenomena that occurred along with the proliferation of food bloggers is the chefs’ retaliation to negative reviews and photo-snapping. Have you ever encountered a situation like this? Also, if you know any chefs how do they feel about you as a food blogger reviewing their food?
This is America. Everyone has opinions. They’re like assholes. You don’t have to agree with the asshole who doesn’t like your food. But again, this is America. If you want to succeed, perhaps that asshole has a point. Your burger was too salty that night. Get over it. Fix it or 10 other people are going to say the same thing.
As for pictures, I take them and I work pretty damn hard to be quick and unobtrusive. I have yet to encounter anyone asking me to stop taking pictures. Only once did someone ask me where the pictures were going to appear. My friends who have been asked are usually told with a smile they look forward to the pictures.
As for the chefs’ opinions, some even try to be impromptu food stylists. Chef Ludo came over once to see how I was doing and other than pointing out I had water on my camera and debating the merits of a lightbox, he didn’t seem adverse to photos. It has helped his popularity tremendously to see pictures of his food all over the internet.
10. Can you give a word of advice on an aspiring food blogger?
If you want to blog for yourself, good for you. If you want to be popular, come up with a hook. You can have the best writing and the best photos, but people have to care about you and what you’re doing. There are probably hundreds of food bloggers in L.A, what makes you so special?
It took me a long time to even decide to go forward with theminty.com. Yes, I had many other blogs but they were little fish. Almost all of them were password-protected and most likely no one read them. I was going to create a brand, the Minty and now that it’s been about 8 months, I think I’ve had some success. I have over 2000 reviews on yelp but enjoyed a certain anonymity despite having my real name and photos up. With my blog, I have no pictures of myself up but now I’ve gotten to know more than just the plate of food in front of me. I enjoy the camaraderie of my fellow bloggers but also getting to know the person serving my food, the person cooking my food and the bartender making my drinks. They’ve all become my friends.