Mar. 20, 2013 - Issue #909: Water Crisis
Documenting food one post at a time
Food bloggers bring a distinct voice to local food scene
Keeping on the pulse of the ever-changing and ever-expanding scene is a dedicated group of food bloggers that feels as though it's growing just as quickly. On any given day, Internet perusers can keep up-to-date on the dining adventures of numerous local foodies, all with their own tastes and niche. Each has come to their online platform in their own way: for some it stems from cultural ties involving family meals, while others discovered a love of food upon an introduction to independent dining once they were free of the financial restrictions of student life. Regardless of what led them to their respective culinary explorations, sharing their experiences is done all in the name of exposing fellow Edmontonians to hidden gems, events and recipes they may be unaware of otherwise.
However, food is subjective, and one person's experience at a restaurant may vary greatly from the next. This is a factor Sharon Yeo of Only Here For the Food maintains makes for a well-rounded portrait of the restaurant once numerous bloggers begin to post about the latest hot-spot. With respect to the subjective nature of reviewing food, she believes it's also important for a blogger to be up-front about biases from the get-go, noting her affinity for small plate-style dining as an example.
"I hope that if people are reading my blog consistently, they get that bias. I don't want to hide them; I don't think you can be neutral and I don't think you can be objective because everyone has their preferences," notes Yeo, who has been blogging for six years and remains active in not only restaurant culture but also community events, such as co-founding What The Truck?!, Blink pop-up dinners and continued involvement with Eat Alberta.
"I think they generate a lot of discussion," notes former Vue food writer and blogger Liv Vors, who has been posting regularly on her blog Dine and Write for the past three years while working towards a PhD in biology. "I've certainly seen that happen on Twitter, especially if there is a divide of opinion about something ... a lot of small restaurants don't advertise. They rely on people to stumble upon them and write about them and that in itself provides a wonderful stream of information."
Naturally, with that discussion comes feedback from readers, and with the majority of people possessing easy access to a computer these days—not to mention the surge in popularity of sites such as UrbanSpoon and Yelp—everyone has the capacity to become a critic. However, Vors and Yeo believe different forms of media, whether it be blogging or more traditional mediums like print, have their place and are able to provide readers with very different types of information and perspective. Vors had the opportunity to meet renowned food writer James Chatto in Toronto at Gold Medal Plates in 2010 and posed the question to him as to whether there was room for the professional food reviewer or writer anymore, and his reply is one that's stuck with her.
"He said there's room for both but the onus is on the reviewer," she recalls. "Regardless of whether you write for a blog just for yourself or you write for a nationally circulated newspaper: don't criticize just for the sake of being mean. It's fun to criticize; it gives you a sense of power, but unless you're providing constructive feedback, it provides absolutely no purpose."
Of course, there's going to be a little bit of friendly competition to see who can break the first review on the city's newest establishment, but Yeo stands by a "more the merrier" mentality, as continued expansion of the city's food scene makes it impossible for one person to cover it all.
"It would be great to see more geographically based blogs, so, for example, someone who lives in the suburbs, why don't they write about things that are going on there?" she says, acknowledging it's important for bloggers to link to other blogs on their own sites—something she'd still like to see more of to create a link between bloggers in the food community, one she views as stepping outside the blogger stereotype. "People have a stereotype of bloggers in general that they just sit in their basement on their computer and attack people or attack restaurants and that's not true. I think the majority of food bloggers are out in the community, they're out at restaurants meeting people. They're doing everything they can to find out more about the food scene, so I think to be a successful blogger you have to be out there."
In addition to a plethora of blogs chronicling the ins and outs of the city's restaurant industry, some choose to focus more on the at-home side of things. Michelle Peters-Jones, who moved to Edmonton from England in 2010, shares cultural recipes reflective of her East Indian heritage via The Tiffin Box, a personal blog she started in 2008 under the moniker Food, Football and a Baby, which she eventually changed as it became more food-centric and the title was no longer reflective of her life or the blog's content. While her career began in academia, a friend dared her to go on Masterchef UK, where she ended up becoming one of four finalists. The recipes she made for the show became a hit on the message boards, and a friend suggested she start a blog. She quickly grew a following, many of whom have stuck with her since the cross-continent move.
"What's helped me in Edmonton is my story," says Peters Jones, who is self-taught in photography and arranges photo shoots of each dish she makes—often melding traditional Indian cuisine with local ingredients and modified techniques—and features on her blog, which she maintains in addition to being a mom and assisting Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Kathryn Joel with Get Cooking culinary classes. "I have a niche, I have a certain focus to my blog and it rarely varies from it."
Regardless of the type of blog, posts need to be maintained consistently to keep readers coming back.
"People lose interest quickly," Vors notes, adding that it's also important to engage with readers if they happen to comment on a post. "With the Internet, I think our attention spans have shortened quite a bit. If you're not throwing something fresh and colourful at people constantly, they lose interest."
Consistency is also important when it comes to focus and tone of a blog. Vors rarely writes from a first-person perspective, instead trying to take readers through a dining experience as an omniscient observer, while Peters-Jones injects her posts with personal anecdotes about a recipe or experience. There is no right or wrong way to go about it, but as Peters-Jones notes, it is important to remain genuine, as readers will see through it quickly if a blogger tries to put on a facade.
"Keep an open mind and evolve and move where your blog takes you essentially," she advises, saying that it's important to avoid becoming discouraged and stick with it, particularly in a blog's early days when page views are low—and develop a thick skin. "Negative comments come with the territory. I think people find it really easy to post negative comments because you're anonymous; you're hiding behind your keyboard."
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