(Note: this has been edited from the original to more accurately reflect my opinion. Being quick on the draw had merits in the Wild Wild West but elsewhere it's best to make sure your post conveys the tone you intended before hitting publish. Ed.)
I must alert you that this is a seditious post. Or it could be, if you believe in an unblemished media establishment. You may not want to read any further -- I cannot protect you if you do, so consider yourself warned.
In a recent article in Food & Wine, author/columnist Pete Wells walks us through the handful of food blogs that he really likes and, in so doing, enumerates the qualities of both good and bad food blogs. According to Mr. Wells, bad food blogs (called "cheese sandwich blogs") are boring him and others with their (our?) "here's what I ate for lunch today" ramblings. As you might imagine, by corraling most of the food bloggers out there under this unflattering unbrella, he's trampled on some egos. But he also makes some really great points. (Hint: you should go read the article yourself at some point.)
What follows is my response...
...wherein I list and analyze Wells' criteria for a good food blog and by so doing defend my own blog's right to exist and its extremely high level of creativity and perfection (natch!);
...wherein I explain why I am not offended by his comments;
...wherein I describe my latest favorite cheese sandwich.
According to Mr. Wells, the qualities of a good food blog (or any blog) are:
1. They must communicate passion. Money Quote: "This should be easy when the subject is food, but it does rule out cheese sandwiches. Listen up, bloggers: Nobody cares what you had for lunch today!"
2. Something must be at stake. Money Quote: "The stakes are not always as obvious in gastronomy, but they do exist."
3. They must be timely. Money Quote: "Third, the blog should be timely."
4. The blog must have a sense of purpose. Money Quote: "The author can't just curl up on the sofa like an overfed retriever and recollect his last bowl of kibble; he should strain forward like a terrier who's late for an appointment with a ham bone. Above all, the author should know how to complete the sentence 'This blog is about___.'"
But enough about Pete! Let's get to me. Do I communicate passion? I think you all know how much I love ____ and ____.** Right. Next!
Is something at stake? Hmmm. Not sure about that one. But I'm going to give myself a break here, since Wells didn't actually convince me that any of the food blogs he likes have anything at stake either. I don't think that most blogs outside the political sphere -- the only one Mr. Wells mentions, incidentally -- are risking much.
Now as for timely, well, here I give myself big marks. (a) Food is arguably the biggest, baddest trend in the country these days. Everyone loves (or loves to hate) the Food Network, and according to a twenty year study of dining habits, Americans are eating out more than ever, to the tune of an average 15 billion meals more a year. (b) When I do write about restaurants, they're almost always timely; to whit, two of the last three mini-reviews I wrote were of Ame (opened 12/05) and Medicine Eatstation (opened summer 05 but hey, The Chronicle just reviewed it in November and SF Weekly this month, so I think my post still qualifies as timely.) If Mr. FM hadn't fallen, you could add Scott Howard to the list.
Finally, a sense of purpose. Here is where Mr. Wells and I part ways a bit. He seems to equate a sense of purpose with a single-minded focus. For the sake of argument, let's apply that same rigor to print-based food magazines. When you do, you see that each of them has a sense of purpose -- Food & Wine for instance celebrate restaurants and celebrity chefs, Gourmet likes its food politics, and Bon App is all about throwing a fantastic party. That POV drives their editorial content. Nevertheless, they don't shy away from product reviews, restaurant write-ups, newsy articles, travel writing or recipes -- all of those kinds of pieces are included in every single issue of those magazines. All to say, I think what Wells is really looking for in a blog is a voice, a reason to tune in, and that is a very individual judgement. I'm not going to argue whether I have a unique voice or not, but I know that all the bloggers I read on a regular basis do.
Unlike Mr. Wells, I am drawn to blogs many times because of their very so-called navel-gazing. I love personal essays and memoirs, and I like the feeling that I "know" some of the bloggers I read. It makes it more interesting -- there's a level of almost Jungian congregation to every post. I know that Adam loves the Barefoot Contessa, or that Shauna has had several near-death experiences. Knowing these things about two people I have never met gives them personality and soul, and it gives us a common language. It endears them both to me and makes me care about what they have to say. I become personally invested, and so I can read a post about a cheese sandwich with interest.
On this point, I must wonder aloud if Mr. Wells is still reading Noodlepie now that its author has started blogging about the process of writing an article for print publication. The article he chose as an example has nothing to do with food, which means that Mr. Noodlepie has gone a wee bit off topic. Is that forgiveable? If you're interested in him, then it is. If all you care about is content -- as you might with a traditonal print publication -- then it's probably not.
Are you still with me? If so, I'm on to why I'm not offended by the article. Namely, because I like that Mr. Wells recognizes food blogs as a positive contribution to the food media world, and evaluates them vis-a-vis their own unique set of criteria. I don't feel that blogs should be compared to print publications about food. (The example above using food magazines was merely illustrative of how a sense of purpose might be less narrowly defined, and how it can co-exist with off-topic content within the same publication without being destroyed.)
Fact is, food blogs are different from food magazines or food sections in print publications (or even online publications put out by more than one person). Blogs aren't trying to replace print media (some think they can, but they're wrong). In fact, many blogs aren't really trying to do anything but entertain their creators and a handful of readers. They are, by their very definition, navel-gazing undertakings. I didn't start my blog because I felt that the established print food media was lacking, or even that the food blogosphere was lacking. I started it because I wanted to write for an audience, and this was the quickest way to get one. And I have done that -- I get letters every week from readers around the globe saying things like "How your recipe saved my life" or "Thank you."
I also happen to agree (how could you not?) with Mr. Wells' assertion that most food blogs -- hell, most blogs -- are badly written, irrelevant garbage. But just because most of them are does not mean that all of them are, and I don't personally want to be judged by the least common denominator among us. The truth is, though, I doubt Mr. Wells would like my blog if he read it. But that isn't the same as agreeing with him that it's crap; it's just his opinion. You, and I, have a different one, and so the world keeps spinning.
In sum, blogs have our own raison d'etre, and readers have our own raison, um, de lire, shall we say, and I respect Mr. Wells' right to like the blogs he likes. That is, after all, the whole point -- for each of us to read the blogs we like, no matter the reasons why, and for blogs of all shapes and sizes to continue cropping up. Some will rise above the clutter and impress thousands of people; others will play to a smaller room. But whichever type they may be, blogs are a valuable addition to the media establishment. They can be quirky, single-minded or terribly unfocused; they can be funny or personal or interested in nothing more than the contents of one's belly. And that is their beauty, folks.
Now on to the damn cheese sandwich. Mr. Food Musings' recent convalescence has unearthed one more reason for him to love me and for me to love him back, something that six years of togetherness has never once revealed. It has brought us closer together than I could have ever thought possible. "What is it?" you ask. It's a grilled cheese sandwich. I will spare you another soliloquy on method or childhood memories since I just waxed rhapsodic the other day, but I will tell you that the new favorite grilled cheese sammidge in our house is Swiss, tomato and avocado. Grill it and weep.
**If you guessed bacon, chocolate or Mr. Food Musings then case closed.