The Empire Strikes Back ... the organised food media and food bloggers

I came across some interesting stuff on food writing on the net recently.

You first had an expat chef at Mumbai crying about the fact that everyone was in a hurry to review his restaurant here. No one gave him the 'trial period' that reviewers in the civilised world give.

Well, I am sorry but as far as I know there are no discounts diners get for being your guinea pigs while you get your act right.

The Chef, Alex Sanchez, then pooh pooh'd everyone who wrote about him and ended with a fervent hope that Rashmi Uday Singh would review him. Hers is the definitive word on food in Mumbai according to him.

Sanchez wrote the post a while back so I hope his wish of an original Rashmi Uday Singh review was fulfilled since then.

Mangal Dalal wrote a rejoinder to Sanchez's article. Over there he wrote about food critiquing and then qualified it by saying that none of that applied to bloggers.

He wrote this on a web site where Sanchez ironically writes now too. Posts where, among other things, Sanchez vents about how we treat chefs as servants at Mumbai and how we deserve the level of shoddy service that we get.

All of this came back to me when I came across a blog post from Australia which Rushina tweeted.

"@Rushina MG How wrong you can be about food bloggers! RT @fnbrilliant @grabyourfork: Weekend Aust article"

The article was an Australian blogger, Helen Yee's, defence against an Australian journo, Elizabeth Meryment, who took off on food bloggers saying how food bloggers have no business writing as they are not 'trained', they don't ask questions that are technical enough, that they are taken in by fads, they eat free food and write nice things about that. I have paraphrased the article here but you can read the actual article yourself and decide.
When I read these posts I did a quick check on the Finely Chopped Facebook page to see if people would prefer 'technical, expert like factual' articles on food versus those which have a personal take. The vote was in favour of the latter. Though the market researcher in me must point out that this is a biased sample of people who do enjoy reading blogs.

The Australian article refers to restaurant reviews which of course is not what all food blogging is about. Whether journalists are 'technically trained' enough on food to critique it is a question for another day.

And, in case we forget, we are talking about food here and not, er, rocket science.

The question of 'expertise' or understanding the art has been the crux of the critic versus creator debate in various fields. Movies, literature, art. Not just scrambled eggs or chop suey .

It is for the readers to choose what they want. An 'expert' who knows whether a creme brulee has been baked in the right oven at the right temperature with eggs laid by a chicken with no existential issues. Or someone who tried a creme brulee for the first time and just wants to write about how he or she found it. Maybe something as simple as "I prefer brownies. This is not sweet enough."

Yes, bloggers don't have to go past editorial control but they are also operating in a pure free market economy. People will read you only if they like you, find you relevant AND credible. Unlike journalists, bloggers are not riding on the back of publications. This is survival of the fittest in its ultimate form.

Bloggers meets & junkets are getting popular in India too, but to dub all food blogging content to be a result of this would be very ridiculous. The chances of a mass media editorial feature being a paid one is much higher and, at least in India, this is rarely disclosed.

I pay for the stuff I write about. I pay for the brands I buy at shops I might mention in recipe posts. Exceptions are when friends treat me. In those cases they do not have a stake in the restaurant in question. At the most I might feel awkward as I might not want to hurt the feeling of a friend who was generous enough to treat me to something which didn't turn out to be good for no fault of theirs. Would be bad manners or churlish if I did so. Plus it's personal and I do not really need to share it with the world at large. So I keep quiet about it.

If I have been hosted by a restaurant or business establishment then I mention that. I just wish that journalists would do that too.

The article questions the 'love of food' which all food bloggers apparently claim as their motivation for blogging. Well of course it's not true. People blog for various reasons - from sharing experiences and getting feedback  to working towards goals which could vary from landing a job or a book deal or promoting a business. Let's not do readers a disservice by saying that they can't read through this.

As for me, I begun blogging three and a half years back as I was bored with most local mass media content which seemed like staid advertorials to me.

Meryment quotes A A Gill and says "A.A. Gill, who was in Australia at the same time as White, is more direct. “I don’t read them; I would never read them,” he asserts. “As if I have the time.” "

Having tried to read Gill's book when a friend gave me his book all I can say is that the feeling is mutual.

Guess it's 1984 all over again.

 PS: Interestingly one can post a comment in response to the blogger's post but not to the magazine article .

That's the difference between blogging and mass media if you were to ask me. Interactivity versus the voice of God.

Here's the discussion on the Facebook page:

Finely Chopped: Debates on blogs vs publications made me wonder do you prefer reading a factual description of a restaurant or a reviewer's personal take?

Shubhranshu Das personal tale ... facts are passe

Finely Chopped Hmm I have been reading some POVs on how bloggers can afford to write what they want while publications need to be objective, factual, well rounded, 'owes it to the reader' etc. Most read as advertorials to me. Guess this debate would apply to other critics too - music, cinema, sports, books

Poli Gupta I would always go for the personal review

Shubhranshu Das What applies to the publication applies more so to the blogger, they are immediately identifiable and can be held directly accountable for deviations in experience, reccos etc...

Finely Chopped My take Shubhranshu is that people catch on if you are fake or if your tastes don't match that of the reader so guess you are right. Plus you identify with the style of the blogger/ writer

Pallavi Sharma Personal take for sure.

Finely Chopped Must admit that we are a bit a biased sample here as we read blogs. My problem is with media reviews which sound disturbingly close to advertorials