I don’t normally weigh in on the bloggers vs. professional food writers debate because the fact that it’s always framed as a dichotomy seems to me to make any argument pointless considering the fact that many professional food writers have their own blogs; blogs and traditional media are different and for different purposes (though obviously there is a lot of overlap) and often complementary; and that many writers who started as bloggers publish in traditional media too – not to mention that I don’t believe for a minute that one (bloggers) preclude the other (journalists). I read just as many food magazines and books as I ever did and while I suppose “the people I know” don’t constitute a sample group any scientist would take seriously, if they are anything to go by, most other people continue to do so too. Despite not wanting this to turn into an “us versus them” argument, I think because I’m responding to an article which draws that line it’s impossible not to but I’d like to make it clear at the outset that that’s not how I view the world of food writing.
This poorly researched article by Elizabeth Meryment in The Australian managed to stick in my craw; in what seems to be an attempt to file her copy with the minimum of effort and thought while simultaneously creating a stir by polarising readers she trots out trite old arguments which have already been discussed elsewhere endlessly, then parrots A.A Gill who declares of blogs “I don’t read them; I would never read them… As if I have the time.” He nevertheless appears to have time to have strong opinions on them, saying “[Bloggers are] not doing it particularly well.” If he doesn’t read them, I wonder how he knows that is the case – he sounds suspiciously like a kid who “knows” he hates peas.
The fact is, I actually agree with him. In many cases, restaurant review (and other) blogs don’t do it very well but I’ve actually read a lot of them and know that there are also many that have a witty, well-informed and critical take too. Meryment quotes Australian food writer Natascha Mirosch who says that because bloggers might have their own agenda, don’t feel they are bound by the constraints of traditional media and lack transparency about whether or not their meals were paid for by the restaurant they are reviewing, it is dangerous to place trust in their opinions. My reply to this is threefold: Firstly, it’s rather ironic. Surely one of the constraints of traditional media is the onus on a journalist to do good research and know the topic they purport to be writing about – clearly not true in the case of Ms. Meryment herself. Also, the fact that bloggers are not bound by some of those constraints can make for fresh and interesting reviews. However, I also think she is comparing short order cooks to starred chefs when she does so – most well-respected bloggers wouldn’t dream of posting a review without disclosing whether the meal was complimentary. Blogging is still in its teenage-hood but attempts are being made to adhere to a code of ethics and there is plenty of discussion surrounding the topic. The whole thing also elides the fact that journalists in traditional media are also often courted by representatives of those who would have their wares promoted. Is there a person in the world who doesn’t have an agenda? If so I’ve yet to meet one. Surely no-one in this post-modern milieu still believes in the myth of objectivity.
In an attempt to cast aspersions on the veracity of bloggers, she mentions that “among the more prominent bloggers, those with fringe experience in media or food” (italics my own) are common. As far as I’m aware, journalists don’t have to be businessmen to write about business, or politicians to cover politics. Granted, good journalists tend to specialise in one or two fields but I would argue this is the same of bloggers.
She also quotes Ed Charles “ a prominent food blogger (!) and freelance journalist” (exclamation mark my own) who claims “most people under forty haven’t heard of Marco Pierre White given he hasn’t cooked in a commercial kitchen since 1999.” This – forgive me, for I am judgemental – casts immediate doubt on his expertise for me. Most people haven’t heard of Fergus Henderson of Nose to Tail fame either, unless they are interested in food. And anyone under forty who is interested in food is just as likely to know about Marco Pierre White as Fergus Henderson.
Food bloggers run the gamut from restaurant review blogs to writers in the vein of M.F.K Fisher who write about life through food to recipe blogs, nutrition blogs and food styling and photography blogs, as well as food blogs which focus on different dietary restrictions. I resent being lumped in with restaurant review bloggers by someone who has no more than a passing acquaintance with them and obviously knows even less about food blogs in general – not because I don’t like restaurant review blogs, but in the same way I would resent someone calling me anything else I am not. I also take exception to the charge of untrustworthiness. In fact, trust is a vital currency in the online world; because I reveal so much about myself – and by extension make my “agenda” obvious – my readers trust me. As to the comment about the “handful” of bloggers who cross over into paid work – please. Bloggers who publish in magazines and books – and who are paid to write online – are legion. As a percentage of the bloggers out there they are small but no-one accuses Kobe Bryant of lacking credibility merely because lots of amateurs play basketball.
While it’s abundantly clear from Meryment’s closing comment “… you would be hard-pressed to find a newspaper journalist prepared to suck packet-stock soup, even for Marco Pierre White” where she stands on the subject of food blogs, she seems to have failed to notice that when she uses the term, she is referring only to restaurant review blogs, a small niche in the vast world of food blogs which displays a sad dearth of research as well as a certain sloppiness in her use of language – disappointing in someone who has presumably been through journalism school. But I don’t then extrapolate from that that all journalists are therefore sloppy, and therein perhaps lies the difference between our approaches.
Pink Peppercorn Sprinkles for Ice-Cream
Years ago a friend of my then-boyfriend, who had pink dreadlocks (the friend, not my boyfriend) told me about how she’d eaten crushed pink peppercorns and sugar over vanilla ice-cream somewhere in Europe. The idea appealed to me and it’s always been on my to-make list. I made it just before I left Austria but I think ice-cream in a cosy house is just as appealing for those of us in winter. It has quite a kick so you won’t want to use too much – it’s definitely a treat for adults.
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Crush the peppercorns in a mortar and pestle until fine and stir together with the sugar. Sprinkle over good quality vanilla ice-cream. The mixture will keep in a sealed container for at least a month.