Food Blogging for everyone
Since its beginning back in the late nineties, blogging has flooded the world with unbridled public opinion, the value of which is often questionable. In regard to food blogging, it’s fair to say anyone with an internet connection, a camera and something to say can get on board. Skill, expertise and aptitude for the job are discretionary criteria.
Detractors of food blogging complain that it’s an amateurs’ game. Food professionals object on the grounds that it’s at best presumptuous and at worst unethical.
Food blogs tend to fall into two main categories – recipes and restaurant reviews. Both forms have precipitated controversy over copyright issues and professional ethics.
Watch those recipes
Home cooks, while offering up their latest culinary creation, should be certain it’s uniquely theirs before claiming authorship. It’s not just “Molly’s Cherry Cupcakes” though, anything published on the internet is vulnerable to claims of copyright infringement. For complete information on copyright law, you should refer to your country’s relevant authority, which in Australia is the Copyright Council.
While stealing of recipes is clearly naughty, the line between outright plagiarism and adaptation is fine. How many ingredients can you change before “Mrs Bakewell’s Down Home Pot Roast” becomes your “All New Original Pot Roast”? And if you include “adapted from” or “inspired by” in your recipe, does that let you off the hook? The jury’s still very much out on that one (but enjoying the pot roast while they deliberate).
In the book “Food and Social Media: You Are What You Tweet“, Signe Rousseau mentions a notorious incident of alleged breach of copyright that led to the folding of a publication. It also earned the perpetrator a fourth place on Robert X. Cringely’s “10 Dumbest Tech Moves of 2010” list.
While it’s tempting to sit at your computer and let the creative juices flow unimpeded, it’s important to keep issues like intellectual property rights and ethical standards of behaviour in mind. You may be surprised to learn that there is a “Food Blog Code of Ethics“, originally developed in 2009. The website doesn’t show any updates since 2011, so as with many codes, compliance probably remains largely a matter of personal choice. In summary, the code prescribes honesty, basic decency and not doing anything we wouldn’t like done to ourselves, and you can’t argue with that.
Cash for Comments?
Another murky area is that of endorsement, either explicit or implied. This can range from a product or restaurant endorsement in return for a freebie or two to essentially putting it all out there for the highest bidder. As bloggers are not professionals and don’t get paid, you might think why not grab the chance to make a buck on the side? In an area that’s still pretty much unregulated, that option seems to be the prerogative of the blogger concerned.
Reviewers … pros vs bloggers
When it comes to restaurant reviews, there are some restaurateurs out there who aren’t happy chaps. For one thing, some of them don’t take kindly to the latest trend of diners whipping out their smartphones to capture every offering before anyone’s even taken a bite. And it’s not just restaurant staff who object. As a recent article in the Adelaide publication Indaily described, a stand-off is developing between restaurant reviewers who do it for money and those who do it for fun.
Journalists claim bloggers lack professional accreditation and the requisite knowledge to voice an opinion. Journalists may be feeling like a threatened species, but clearly that’s the result of many other factors besides food bloggers stealing their thunder. Nevertheless, when it comes to accountability, transparency and professionalism, some bloggers may have a case to answer.
An article in Hospitality Magazine questions whether bloggers are the “ambulance chasers” of the restaurant industry and asks whether public opinion should rest on the shoulders of these “fickle faddists”, rather than the broad respectable ones of industry professionals.
In a 2007 article on ABC News, Ashley Phillips outlines the case of a blogger who had the gall to take a stick to one of the world’s legendary restaurants, New York’s Le Cirque. In his post entitled “Only a Jerk Would Eat at Le Cirque”, the blogger described the food as “mediocre” and the service as “rude”. His comments generated a lot of flack, although he did get an invite back for a free meal.
If criticism is deserved and it causes restaurants to sit up and take notice, that can’t be a bad thing. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert to judge the value for money of a restaurant meal or to justify your judgement in print. However, anyone broadcasting public criticism should at least be aware of its potential repercussions.
Food Blogging pitfalls
In an article entitled “The Virtual Roundtable: Food Blogging as Citizen Journalism” mentioned in my last post, Denveater (who’s been both a blogger and a professional journalist) remarks on how good it is as a blogger to be free of editorial constraint. The delights of open-ended choice of subject and word count though, she notes, can be a mixed blessing. We have to watch the digressionary impulse. As she says “what starts out as a straightforward critique of the new boulangerie down the block yields to a lament for the grandmother whose kitchen glowed in Kansas sunlight and smelled of bread baking”… and the infinitely referential roundabout of links scattered through our prose like currants through a bun. While helpful to the information addicted, linking can be overdone.
Blog wisely but well
In blogland however, as this article says, “obscurity doesn’t nullify accountability”. It seems to me that so long as we understand that, the advantages to be gained from blogging far outweigh the potential problems. It gives the little man (or woman) a voice and a chance to be heard. And it’s a genuine form of creativity often denied to many in their everyday jobs. As well, as a passionate writer or cook, it’s a way of getting your work noticed. If you think you have something worth sharing, whether that’s your latest baking success or the great night you had at Joe’s Bistro, there’s every reason to give it a go. Finding out whether the world thinks it’s worth hearing is all part of the fun.
Best Food Blogs
As mentioned in my last post, many websites and publications put out “best of” lists. Below are a selection of some that seem to appear with some regularity. Worth checking out if you’re looking for some food blog ideas. Of course what’s “best” is entirely subjective and the ones below don’t include any Australian ones, which is an omission that I will have to rectify.