Reflections on Eight Years of Food Blogging

On Saturday, this blog turned eight. If you had a baby on the day that I started my blog that baby is now eight; in other words, your baby is not a baby. And neither is this blog.

At the beginning, the blog seemed like a means to an end–a way to get noticed in the food world–but the older I get and the older the blog gets, the more that I’m realizing it’s an end in itself. Every week, I get to share stories and recipes and pictures and videos and rants about lettuce and you mysterious people out there, whoever you are, read what I write and react. Even though this space that I carved out with my blog is virtual, it now feels so populated with real people–people who come up to me on the street and say things like, “I made your dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, they were a hit” (that happened in Silverlake)–the blog seems more like a real building that people visit every day, leaving traces of themselves with comments and ReTweets and Facebook wall postings. Without you, this blog would be a lonely place. It’s a shared effort and I wouldn’t still be doing it if you weren’t there to keep me company.

What’s funny is that at the beginning, when I first started, the idea of fusing this blog with my real world persona was somewhat daunting. What I mean is that at the beginning, I was just a voice in a fog–I could be anyone, really, and no one would know the difference (except my friends who knew that this blog existed). My writing voice, at the beginning, was a bit more outrageous, a bit quicker to judge. I was still a law student at the time and I remember being nervous that my classmates would discover this weird blog that I had, where I ate cat food and made a cupcake shaped like Janet Jackson’s breast.

Even a few months later, when I started playwriting school at N.Y.U. it took me a while to out myself as a food blogger. I remember writing an e-mail to my classmates telling everyone about it; it felt strange not to, like I had a secret life that needed to be exposed quickly or the secret would fester. I was scared that one day someone would be like, “Dude, I was Googling spaghetti and I saw your picture. Why didn’t you tell us sooner?”

Back then, being a food blogger was a bit freaky. This was before the “Julie & Julia” movie and before cameras came with a food picture setting. It wasn’t until I sold my first book that I started to feel less freakish; then I could say I was a “food writer” and point to the book. But pointing to my blog, at that point, took some courage.

It was the Food Network that really forced me to fuse my online persona with my real world persona. It all happened rather fast: one day I was at a coffee shop in Park Slope meeting a producer; a few weeks later, I was in front of a camera interviewing Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray all on the same day. My first day. It was like not knowing how to swim and being dropped from an airplane into the Atlantic ocean. But I swam and survived.

Being on camera made me more confident as a food personality. Having to be in so many situations where I had to assert myself, whether welcome or not, made me realize that there’s value in knowing who you are and presenting yourself confidently. It helps to have a platform that’s internationally recognized, like the Food Network. When I did a commercial for my web show that aired on national TV during “Next Food Network Star,” I got e-mails from long lost camp friends and people I hadn’t spoken to since high school.

Was that Food Network personality my real personality? It’s hard to say. I was more outgoing on camera than I am in real life. In real life, if I walked into a kitchen and saw Anthony Bourdain standing there with Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver, Giada DiLaurentis and Rachael Ray, I’d run away screaming. When it happened to me and my director in Miami, I had to lift up a microphone and just go for it. My interview with Bourdain, where he trashed the Food Network, went viral; the next week, Bobby Flay pulled me aside at a photo shoot and took me to task for it. I felt like saying, “That really wasn’t me…I’m just a food blogger!”

But I wasn’t just a food blogger at that point. I was something else: a brand? A personality? Who knows. When it all ended, I was a bit depressed, a bit confused. And then there you were, my blog-reading audience, who could care less if I “pop” on camera or if I’m marketable in Des Moines. You’re there because you get a kick out of me in my most un-distilled form.

Honing my voice, trying to make it truer and less sensational, has been my goal these past few yeas of blogging. I think it culminated in my “It Gets Better” post where I talked about Craig’s family meeting my family for the first time. There was nothing to gain from that post, there wasn’t a hidden corporate agenda; my intentions were pure and possibly noble. I wanted to tell my coming out story to help anyone who might be reading and struggling.

Sure enough, after writing that post, I received an anonymous comment from someone saying that they were still in the closet and that the post helped them. I wrote them an e-mail saying that I was available if they needed to talk; we started a long e-mail exchange (turns out he was a high school student) and eventually I helped him come out to his friends and family. All because of a food blog post.

Which is what this is all about, at the end of the day. Food blogging isn’t about making it big in the food world. People who blog to launch their food careers are missing the point. Yes, things will happen if you have a popular blog–the opportunities that have come my way have been wonderful and I’m very grateful for them–but it’s easy to ignore the greater good that’s come from this. And that’s the very intimate, very personal, and very real relationship we food bloggers have with our readers. There’s a huge gulf between you and the big name figures in the food world: you don’t know what Ina Garten and Paula Deen ate this weekend, who they hung out with, where (or if) they watched the Golden Globes. But if you read my blog and subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll know all that and more. You know what my mom looks like. You know what my house looks like. You know what my cat looks like.

And if you’re a member of my Facebook Fan group, I know what YOU look like. Every time I load up my blog and scroll down a bit, I see your smiling faces there in the right column and I think: “Wow, those are the people who read me on a regular basis.”

So thank you for helping me along on this journey. I couldn’t imagine my life without this blog and I couldn’t imagine this blog without you. Thanks for giving me the courage to put myself out there all these years, for better or worse. Here’s to (at least) another eight wonderful years.

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