Are Food Blogs Over?

[Image from Roboppy’s Flickr via Slashfood.]

In this week’s New York Magazine, there’s a story about a 27-year old who spends most of her life and her money eating out at trendy, of-the-moment restaurants. To be honest, I didn’t read the article—that’s the side of the food world I have zero interest in (fad-following)—but one line (highlighted by Eater) stood out for me to the point that I’ve been thinking a lot about it: “The food blogs are still big, but they really had their moment in the early aughts.”

At first, I rolled my eyes. But then I scratched my head. I mean, I don’t agree with the time frame—if food blogs had their moment, they were in the late aughts—but the larger question that this glib statement poses is a good one: are food blogs over?

Let’s look at the facts. Food blogs couldn’t be huger: everyone with a camera and a soft palate has one. There are food blog communities—like FoodBuzz and BlogHer—that involve thousands of participants in contests, discussions and real world events and seminars. There are food blog alliances, food blog codes of ethics, and food blog classes taught at distinguished culinary schools.

If you’re looking for a niche food blog—gluten-free kosher cooking, high-fiber Nicaraguan desserts—you can probably find it. And even if you’re not online, there’s no shortage of food bloggers popping up on cookbook shelves and on TV, hosting shows for Food Network (like Pioneer Woman) and Cooking Channel (like Eddie Huang).

Food blogs over? Hardly.

And yet, as my friend Zach Brooks pointed out over Twitter, “There is a valid point in there somewhere. If you started today, don’t you think it’d be harder to get the same number of followers?”

Absolutely, though I do think I would’ve persevered, even today, and figured out a way to get noticed. That’s just my personality. But this culture of camera-wielding, link-swapping, conference-going food bloggering is a very different culture than the one I discovered when I started my blog in 2004.

Whereas before, there wasn’t a clear sense of form—the form was still being discovered—now food blogs are all rather homogenous: bright colors, punny title, big, SLR-photographed pictures of food, lots of buttons for sharing and liking on Facebook*, and a safe, crowd-pleasing writing style that wouldn’t be out of place in an airline magazine.

[* I acknowledge that I’m guilty of some of this too.]

What’s gone, as far as I can see, is a sense of discovery, a sense of danger. People start food blogs now to recreate what others have already created; very few food blogs feel new because they aren’t new. They’re doing what’s been done before, albeit with different recipes.

But new recipes aren’t enough; you’ve got to keep pushing the form to keep something alive. And in that way, food blogs did have their moment already. The form is now old hat; and though new voices are emerging all the time, those voices aren’t heard because they’re trapped inside a carbon copy of someone else’s food blog.

So!

Am I saying it’s impossible to create a noteworthy, relevant food blog today? Not at all. But I am saying, in order to do so you can’t copy what’s come before; you have to forge something new. Whether it’s your concept, your design, your writing style, your subject matter, or your photography, you’ve got to find a way to push the genre forward.

Food blogs aren’t over, but they’ve fallen into a kind of stasis. Let’s all pledge to take more chances, to think outside the box to usher in a new era of food blogging: one less concerned about S.E.O. and one more concerned with surprising and delighting the food-blog reading public.

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