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That’s a Mouthful: Observations on Food Blogs

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The reason I’ve not posted for several weeks is that I’ve been so busy working on the new site.  Between that and regular life, I’ve had no time for David’s Table.  I had no idea the new site would be so much work. Take for example an article I am writing on coffee.  I’ve spent well over a month researching everything from the best grinders to the perfect ratio of water to coffee. (It’s 16:1 for those of you keeping score at home.) I feel like I have coffee coming out my ears.

The point is this: If you want to do something well, you can’t rush it, and given the limited time I have, things are moving slooooooowly.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it. Is a thoughtful approach to food blogging a waste of time?  Do people even care? Is it better to just slap up a pretty picture of something yummy and a half-baked recipe that most people will never try just for sake of keeping your website traffic high? Or is it better to post something thoughtful on a less frequent basis in hopes that your readers eventually regard you as a reliable source?

I’m betting on the latter.  The last thing I want The Kitchen Journals to be is another recipe-centric food blog.  I want readers to think of it as a reliable source of accurate and practical information for the home cook. I want it to be something different from the everyday food blog.  To that end, I’ve studied a ton of food blogs. You name it, I’ve probably seen it at least once. There are a lot of good ones out there and a some not so good ones. Along the way I’ve made a few observations that I’d like to share with you.

Now before I do that, let me just say that these are merely subjective observations.  The opinions expressed are no one’s but my own.  Your welcome the share your opinions in comments section.

Most Readers are Other Bloggers

With the exception of a few superstar bloggers like David Lebovitz, most of a food blogs’ “repeat” traffic comes from other food bloggers. Just take a look at the comments on a fairly popular site, most of the people commenting have a link to their own site.  As a case in point, one popular blogger I follow recently posted a recipe that attracted 25 comments. That’s not bad for a day’s work. However, all 25 came from other bloggers.

This should come as no big surprise. One of the common tenets for driving traffic to your own blog is to comment on the blogs of others. We do this, I suppose, in order to increase traffic and drive ad revenues, but if we’re all just looking at one another in hopes of getting people to look at us, what value does that kind of traffic bring to us or the advertisers?  It’s as if we’re saying, “Oh, you’re wonderful.  Now look at me.”

Yes, to an extent, we bloggers are largely singing to the choir, but that’s not so bad.  I guess what matters most is the community that forms between us.

Looks Aren’t Everything

They say we eat with our eyes first. So it shouldn’t be surprising that most of the successful bloggers are also accomplished food stylists/photographers.  People are drawn to food that looks good. You aren’t going to attract too many readers with pictures of  food that looks like this.

I truly appreciate a well photographed dish, but shouldn’t the picture accurately reflect the recipe?  Take one pastry chef blogger who presented a picture of a perfectly iced cake that was so delicious looking you couldn’t help but drool over it. It was picture perfect. However, the recipe that followed bore no resemblance to the cake in the photo.  For one thing, the cake in the picture was a round layer cake, but the recipe called for a 9 x 13 pan.

I’ve learned to be suspicious of overly stylized photos. They leave me wondering if more effort wasn’t put into the photo than into the recipe. The most egregious offenders are those photos I call pretentiously unpretentious, wherein the blogger has tried too hard to make everything look natural.  They want us to think everything just fell into place.   The tell-tale sign is the “randomly scattered” herbs that have been perfectly placed with a pair of tweezers.

Where Are the Rest of the Photos?

We’ve all been guilty of this one, myself included.  Most post include one or more pictures of the finished product, but few bloggers post photos that illustrate preparation of a recipe.  This seems odd given that the internet is a multimedia-rich, interactive environment.  It just seems that we bloggers could be doing a lot more to exploit the medium. Deb Perlman’s posts at smittenkitchen.com usually include a shot of the mise en place, as well as several shots at various stages of the preparation.  These types of shots are much more useful, and often far more interesting than a static shot of the final results.

More picture can only help the reader to see how a recipe works.  Of course, that means a greater time commitment for the blogger, and in all fairness, it’s difficult to prepare a recipe and photograph the process at the same time.  You almost need a second set of hands.

It’s a Woman’s World

Sorry guys, but we are vastly outnumbered when it comes to food blogging, and that’s a good thing (to borrow a turn of phrase from Martha).  It’s good for us to get a little taste of what women have had to deal with for generations.  The moral of the story is that you’re writing for a female audience.  So don’t lose sight of that.

I believe the estimates put the percentage of women food bloggers at somewhere in the high eighties.  No wonder I feel an immediate kinship whenever I come across another male blogger. I immediately subscribe to their site even if it’s a bad one.  What can I tell you ladies?  We men have to look out for one another.

One Ginormous Collective Sweet Tooth

The broad majority of posts on food blogs are sweets.  Is it any wonder that we as a nation have a problem with obesity?  I’ve also noticed that sweet posts tend to get more comments than savory posts. What’s not to like about a cupcake with a honkin’ big glob of smooth and creamy butter frosting?  Everybody likes dessert. (Well, not everybody, but I’m not sure those people aren’t from another planet.)

Yes, if there is one thing we bloggers are guilty of, it’s that we are a little heavy on the sweets.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all could make a concerted effort to serve up more balanced food blogs?  Perhaps for every dessert we post, we could pledge to post 2-3 savory dishes. Or maybe we could pick one day a year for a sweet-out, wherein we would only post savory recipes and no sweets.  Our waistlines may thank us for it.

Ad Nauseum

Many food bloggers have chosen to monetize their sites through advertising.  There are a lot of advertising networks out there to help them do just that: Google Ad Sense and affiliates programs, Blogher, Gourmet Ads and various others. Most bloggers make little to no money off of advertising this way, and those that do have to work very hard to maintain the income they can get.  Trust me. Food bloggers are not getting rich.  Most of us are doing it out of love.

Bloggers earn most of their money when readers click on the advertisers’ links.   They receive very little for impressions viewed. Yet every time you log onto a food blog using an advertising network, the advertisers are getting their products and services in front of you for pennies on the dollar. In the days before the Internet, advertisers used to pay big bucks for that kind of exposure.

While advertisers pay very little to get the attention of blog readers, the lion’s share of what they do pay goes to the advertising networks.  The bloggers see very little of it, yet the blogger has done all the work. In the end, it’s the blogger that brought the reader to the advertiser.

At The Kitchen Journals, we will roll out without advertisement, but we are looking at new advertising paradigms that respect the reader, bring value to the advertiser, and ensure that the writers and photographers get a fair wage.  It will be a difficult balance to strike, but we aim to do it.

Recipes, Recipes Every Where and Still Nothing to Eat

Carlos Petrini, father of the Slow Food movement, once said, “Now we have an overdose of recipes, recipes, recipes – this television bombardment is pornographic. Traditionally making food is an act of love, and there is a difference between pornography and making love.”  I know exactly what he means. After you’ve spent hours reading food blogs, you start to become numb by the sheer volume of recipes out there on the web.  Some of them are good. Some of them are bad, but one thing is for sure.  There are a lot of them; certainly more than we could ever need in one lifetime.

What is gained by putting yet another recipe out there?  Is it unique?  Does it improve upon an existing recipe? Does it highlight a specific seasonal ingredient?  Will readers learn something from it? Has it been thoroughly tested? Did someone other than the blogger test taste it?

In an op-ed piece about the demise of Gourmet magazine, Christopher Kimball, the editor of Cook’s Illustrated and host of America’s Test Kitchen wrote, “Google ‘broccoli casserole’ and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise — the kind that comes from real experience, the hard-won blood-on-the-floor kind.”

Before we heap another recipe onto the pile, we food bloggers need to ask ourselves in earnest “What real experience am I offering, and is it thoughtful?” If not, then there is plenty else we can write about when it comes to cooking that just might be more practical.

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Julius June 5, 2013, 7:55 am

    I think what is missing, as you said to me one day, are blogs about the joy and love of cooking. Not about eating. Blogs focused on eating post recipe, after recipe, after recipe, after recipe… While they do look delicious, there is often little behind it.

    Churning out great content is very difficult, from my experience, and takes a lot of effort. Researching, testing different recipes, trying different tools, taking pictures, and writing about it is all part of it. Posting less often, more thoughtful, is what I focus on. Whether I’m successful at that has to be judged by my readers.

    • David Ellis June 6, 2013, 10:19 am

      Julius, The biggest lesson I’ve learned from blogging is that really good content really takes time. If people knew how much time and money goes into some of the articles they read in their favorite magazine and newspapers, they’d be shocked. Thanks for the comment.

  • Bai June 5, 2013, 9:24 pm

    I’ll take quality over quantity anytime…especially when it comes to all things food. :)

    • David Ellis June 6, 2013, 10:20 am

      Bai – Thanks for the encouragement. It was like a virtual shot in the arm. I’m glad to hear that others out there appreciate a thoughtful approach.

  • Amanda @ Easy Peasy Organic June 7, 2013, 4:07 am

    Hi David,
    I liked this post a lot. I can relate – I’ve had blog-identity crises time and time again, wondering if it’s ok to write posts about life and not always recipes. Forgetting and remembering who I’m writing for. (me) (the Fans) (my daughter) (me) Interspersing the hard reality with the joys of throwing flour around a kitchen. I like it real, and I think showing the struggle makes it real. Tweezers have their place, but the blogs I truly love are the ones about real life *and* food.
    It’s nice to meet you :)
    Amanda

    • David Ellis June 7, 2013, 10:54 am

      Amanda, It is a rainy, dreary Friday here in D.C., and my plans for the weekend have been squashed by a tropical storm they’ve named Andrea. Hemangiosarcoma is curled up inside my best friend (albeit he’s a dog, but still my best friend). My sixth host son will soon return home, and the everyday life we have shared for the past 10 months will come to a close. Yes, I was feeling a somewhat blue, and then you stopped by my little blog and introduced yourself with such a great comment. I wandered over to your site, http://www.easypeasyorganic.com, and I can tell you this: You needn’t worry at all about an identity crisis. Just keep writing posts like the ones you have been. They are real, and they are fascinating.

      Food and life are so intertwined. It is more than appropriate to talk about both in the same place. After all, it is food that brings us to the table, but it is the conversations that we share there that connect us to one another. I am so grateful you dropped by today. Thanks.

  • Amanda @ Easy Peasy Organic June 7, 2013, 5:23 pm

    Beautiful words, David. I think I like *this* place :) xx

  • Alice June 7, 2013, 9:07 pm

    Hi David, thank you for those thoughtful observations. So many of your points are valid and at some point, I too had concerns regarding the content I was providing for people. In the end, my solution was in video and I guess it’s important in a world (where we’re all trying to differentiate ourselves from the rest,) is to find that unique voice.

    Purely based on my design background and my love for a good visual you can out me into the ‘food porn’ category too!

    • David Ellis June 9, 2013, 12:10 am

      Great comments, Alice. Your videos are certainly a great differentiator, and I’d say you’ve found your voice and than some. They are fantastic. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Tunie June 8, 2013, 3:26 pm

    The best blogs are readable because they represent someone else’s loves and interests, and that’s always engaging, regardless of their skill level. It’s the only reason I read blogs – and that criteria makes it effortless to sift through all the dross, whether clearly mercenary or simply boring. Some people are terrible photographers and cooks but their commitment or joy or personality or passion – whatever they have to offer – comes through the screen. Amateur Gourmet is an example and many others.

  • Colleen, The Smart Cookie Cook June 9, 2013, 3:02 pm

    I think a lot of people, especially readers, don’t understand how much time really goes into a quality post. You have to develop the recipe before you can actually make it, and it may take several times before it turns out. Then you’ve got to photograph the food, edit those photos, write and edit the post…it goes on forever! But I think it’s worth the time and effort to turn out something great. Your posts, for example, seem very well thought-out.

  • Susan@LunaCafe September 3, 2013, 11:26 am

    Interesting post and commentary. Glad I found you. :-)

  • Anne Marie Barletta November 17, 2013, 10:40 am

    Hi just found you, and what a find it is! I’m not a food blog but just love your philosophy. I’m looking forward to more new content and will dive into you archives. Thank you for your work.

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