From food blogs to food porn!
Food Blogs — Culinary Chronicles for Every Nutrition Niche
By Sharon Palmer, RD
Vol. 8 No. 4 P. 38
Online food discussions are exploding in popularity and redefining the way information is disseminated. Learning about these blogs may help you retain control of your clients’ nutrition education.
Welcome to the new century, a digital age that has opened our eyes and search engines to the blogosphere with its vast quantity of subjects for bloggers to dissect, lampoon, and brood over. In the world of blogs, it almost seems that the more obscure the subject matter, the more highly it is regarded. Dave Young’s Branding Blog (www.brandingblog.com) posts an Obscure Blog of the Day, choosing sites such as Water Blog, which waxes profusely on the qualities of the familiar liquid stuff.
Whether you know it or not, blogging has firmly sunk its teeth into the food and nutrition realm. Since food blogs first carved out a niche on the information superhighway, a blog has been invented to hash over just about every micro-aspect of food—from Burrito Blog (www.burritoblog.com) that hopes to analyze as many burritos as the blogger can get his hands on to The Garlic Dude (www.garlicdude.blogspot.com) that focuses on, you guessed it, garlic. These blogs have captured people’s interests. With often hilarious tales of restaurant meals, comments on nutrition articles, and personal diaries of gourmet pursuits, once a reader gets addicted to reading blogs, it’s hard to quit. And blogs are fast becoming a new form of journalism, feeding the public’s ever-increasing thirst for knowledge, whether or not the information is accurate.
“The world of food blogs is growing exponentially, with all sorts of new blogs popping up every day. Food blogs will continue to shape the culinary world by pushing it to work harder and ever fresher,” says Molly Wizenberg, the founder of Orangette, an award-winning food blog.
So are you ready to learn blog-speak? You’d better start, as your clients have probably already learned the language.
What Blogs Are All About
A blog, deriving from the term Web log, is simply a Web site that is usually focused on a particular area of interest in which items are posted regularly. These posts can include text, images, or links. Blogs often use a conversational tone and discuss experiences or viewpoints. They are often online diaries or journals in which people post poems, complaints, and daily experiences. They can be in the form of cultural, topical, educational, collaborative, or directory blogs. Blogs are set apart from traditional Web pages, forums, or newsgroups because they allow for easy creation of new pages with the aid of automated templates, and they usually allow for the blogger to invite discussion from readers.
Blogs can be hosted by dedicated blog hosting services or run using blog software on regular Web hosting services. For less tech-savvy bloggers, server-based blog systems allow people to create blogs without having to maintain their own server. Feedback systems allow visitors to post comments about various blog entries.
The term blog was first coined by Peter Merholz in 1999 and was quickly accepted as both a noun and verb. Blog usage spread after 1999, becoming more popular with the arrival of blog tools that made blogs more than just Web sites. By 2001, the first mainstream American blogs appeared, such as AndrewSullivan.com, which blogged on politics. How-to manuals started appearing and schools of journalism began taking blogs seriously. After all, Dailykos (www.dailykos.com) received up to 1 million visits per day during peak times, displaying just how mainstream blogs had become.
In 2005, Fortune listed the eight blogs business people could not ignore, and now Newsweek hosts a Blogwatch column each week. MIT started the Blogdex project to gather and review data on thousands of blogs. Blogging has become a form of instant access to important news events.
Eating Up Food Blogs
It’s only natural that the many facets of food would be fair game for blogs, spinning out blogebrities (yes, a common term in blogging vernacular) in the world of gastronomy. Food blogs dissect the microcosm of cuisine, delving into recipes, restaurant reviews, specific foods, and often the minutia of the blogger’s every mouthful. At KIPlog (www.kiplog.com/food), a directory includes an astonishing variety of food blogs. Food Blog Awards soon emerged in which blogs were honored as the “best” in various categories (see sidebar).
“I started Orangette because I love to write. I also came from a family of food lovers and cooks, both professional and otherwise,” says Wizenberg. “In the summer of 2004, I traveled to Paris to do research for my eventual PhD, and after many days spent walking the city in search of the best baguette, picnicking with friends, lots of champagne, writing long letters, and soaking up the smells of the markets, I decided to leave graduate school and focus on food and writing, my long-ignored twin loves. A friend suggested that I start a blog as a place to store my writing and a showcase of sorts for editors, and so Orangette was born.”
Orangette (www.orangette.blogspot.com), the winner of the Best Overall Food Blog Award 2005, gets roughly 1,500 readers per day from just about every walk of life and from all over the world. “My readers come to Orangette not only for a recipe or a juicy photograph, but also because they know that I will take them by the hand and tell them a story,” says Wizenberg.
And it’s not just inspirational writing that lures readers to food blogs. The self-deprecating, wickedly funny writing style of many food blogs has become legendary. Winning the award for Best Food Blog – Humor for 2005, The Food Whore (www.thefoodwhore.com) has the byline, “Gracefully turning tricks since 1999.” Get a taste of the humor that The Food Whore dished up in a recent post:
January 5, 2006
I am doing this for the kind lady who e-mailed me concerned that my guacamole might look like hummus. I can assure you, it does not. But a few weeks in the refrigerator can make a dish of hummus look a lot like guacamole. Anyway. Everyone has their way. Here’s mine. Peel and remove the pit from a couple of ripe avocados. Mash well and hit with a few splashes of fresh lime juice. Add in a few shakes of Tabasco sauce, a little kosher salt and a nice shake or two of chili powder. For good measure, I add a few TBS or so of chopped cilantro. And that’s it. That’s my guacamole. One time I added chopped tomato and was nearly beat over the head with a bag of chips. Apparently I broke some guacamole rule. *Sigh*”
— Source: The Food Whore
See how easy it is to get sucked in? Working as a partner in a restaurant and catering business, Kris (who prefers to be known on a first-name basis due to privacy), The Food Whore, reports, “I average about 3,000 hits per day, and that number grows each day. I’ve been referenced in a few magazines and online publications. I’ve been approached by a book publisher who’s interested in my work.”
In the world of food blogs, no food issue is left behind, whether it’s chronicling the details of living an organic life in a junk food world, as does the blogger of Organic Oasis (http://organicoasisblogspot.com), or exploring a local slow food movement in Bay Area Bites (www.kqed.org/weblog/food/2006/01/review-slow-food-guide-to-san.jsp). The Food Museum Blog (http://foodmuseum.typepad.com/food_museum_blog) is a melting pot of food issues and serves as a forum for news, views, and discussions about food history, growing, marketing, cooking, food safety, school lunch reform, genetically modified organism foods, diet, and nutrition.
Even mighty organizations such as the National Restaurant association (NRA) have ventured into blogging. The NRA show blog was a huge success, as attendees were able to search for real-time updates during the show. During the week of the NRA show (May 21-24, 2005), the blog received more than 10,000 page views and was the most heavily visited news section on the Web site.
Blogs Go on a Diet
When it comes to diet and nutrition, it seems like everyone has something to blog about. These blogs seem to be growing in popularity, as they comment on everything from a personal battle with the scale to nutritional supplements. “Interest in blogs of all sorts is increasing, and diet blogs are no exception. There is only so much information and commentary about narrow, special interest topics in the mainstream media, and blogs are one way that people can satisfy their thirst for daily information about their own specialized interests. In the case of diet blogs, people on a diet can use them for daily motivation and inspiration as they try to eat healthfully,” says Mark Schrimsher of Calorie Lab, Inc (www.calorielab.com). CalorieLab Calorie Counter News is a blog offshoot of the Web site’s main function of providing basic calorie and macronutrient data to people on a weight-loss diet.
At Nutritionguides.net, a network of nutrition and diet information and articles is at the reader’s fingertips. In Health Diaries (www.healthdiaries.com), readers can view the latest nutrition news, nutrition tips, and personal health stories—finding reliable statistics on obesity right next to an article promoting colon cleansing to resolve issues such as protruding bellies and frequent colds. The Health Blog (www.thehealthblog.com) provides a variety of nutrition information on the edge—from stories of coloring additives in foods made of crushed cochineal beetles to alkaline food charts.
Weight loss tribulations are exploited in blogs as well. At Lose the Buddha (www.ejshea.com/buddha.htm), the blogger claims to be “still fat, still pissed off, still using the wrong deity since 2002.” As the name implies, Carbwire (www.carbwire.com) covers all low-carb diet issues, while Big Fat Blog (www.bigfatblog.com) hashes over a variety of weighty issues—from weight-loss programs to fat acceptance.
“Most diet blogs are personal journals of an individual weight-loss journey. Other sites, such as Diet-Blog.com, tend to provide an ongoing commentary on everything about weight loss and diet. The idea is to keep people informed and thoughtful about these issues and hopefully provide some answers along the way,” says Jim Foster of Diet-Blog.
Some blogs, such as GreenBarley.com (www.greenbarley.com), cash in on supplements. Other blogs highlight bodybuilding and fitness, such as Faith Sloan Bodybuilding and Fitness Blog (www.frsa.com/bodybuildingblog).
Even dietitians are getting in on the blogging act, adding the title of blogger to their resumes. Cheryl Koch, RD, is featured in a health expert blog provided by John Hopkins Medicine. Koch serves as director for the food and nutrition program at John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center but also posts comments for discussion on the health blog, Eat Right, Stay Fit. Recent posts by Koch include effective ways to make a New Year’s resolution for weight loss. CalorieLab also features articles written by RDs, including a recently posted article on understanding trans fat labeling written by Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN.
Lisa Tracy, MS, RD, a dietitian at an outpatient medical facility in central California, started her own blog, A Dietitian’s View (www.roadtonutrition.com), just for the fun of it. “I started to write little blurbs on various topics, but they sat in ‘My Documents’ folder on my computer. Friends and family would ask me about things they had read on the Internet, and I knew there was a lot of misinformation out there. I felt like I had a lot of useful knowledge in my head to share, but I just wasn’t sure how to present it to the public.” Eventually, Tracy designed a Web site to provide nutrition and fitness information to the misinformed.
Elaine Magee, RD, hosts the blog Healthy Recipe Doctor on WebMDBlog (http://blogs.webmd.com/healthy-recipe-doctor), with timely topics such as “French Women Do Get Fat,” which reviews the best-selling book, French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guilliano. WebMD asked Magee to be a part of their health professional blog team. “I think the purpose is to entertain readers while giving them quality health information,” says Magee.
Some dietitians are really thinking out of the lab jacket by putting out blogs such as Fat Dietitian (http://fatdietitian.b-logging.com) that asks the question, “What’s a dietitian to do when she’s fat?” Fat Dietitian provides a diary of a dietitian struggling with her weight, complete with a link to the American Dietetic association. Crazy Dietitian (www.crazydietitian.b-logging.com) provides a diary of a nutrition student struggling with issues such as inferiority.
A Lot to Learn
“I don’t think many dietitians know much about blogs,” says Tracy. “More and more people are turning to the Internet as their main source of information. Many of my patients come in to see me with printouts from the Internet on their medical problem.”
With a public information overload, there’s no doubt that dietitians need to stay in tune with the latest diet trends on the Internet.
Schrimsher says the search terms readers use to find his blog indicate what they are interested in. Did you know that the public has a fascination with topics such as the Shangri-La Diet, Proana (the pro-anorexia movement), and famously obese people?
We all know that not everything on the Internet rings true, and blogs are certainly no exception. Tracy cautions that many blogs have information written by nonprofessionals that are merely stating their opinions. “People need to understand that most blogs are simply a way for someone to voice their opinion or start a conversation about a specific topic. Look for ‘about’ pages or disclaimers on the Web site to learn more about the writer. Blogs allow anyone to become a journalist. If you can figure out how to create a blog site, your words and opinions can be seen by the whole world. Some people use blogs to make money from advertising that is placed on their Web site,” says Tracy.
“Diet and nutrition blogs often perpetuate misinformation, contrarian medical theories, and even conspiracy theories about food and nutrition topics, and these blogs can become an echo chamber, self-reinforcing each other,” warns Schrimsher.
But blogs can also offer positive rewards for dietitians. Magee reports, “This is an opportunity to get casual and personal with the public. It’s a way to communicate on a plethora of timely topics. I think it works for dietitians who are comfortable doing this, but not all are. As a nutrition writer who is trying to get the word out about my books so they can reach and help as many people as possible, getting traffic and reaching people is the bottom line. Blogs are one way to do this.”
Even though The Food Whore has shied away from advertisements to keep the site as uncluttered as possible, Kris admits that there is plenty of revenue to be made from advertisements in popular blogs. “Estimates show that revenues range from $300 a month up to $4,000 and way beyond, depending on the popularity of your site.”
Many view blogs as an untapped opportunity to better inform the public. “Blogs provide readers with a timely information source that is outside mainstream media and is combined with a personal application. There is also an opportunity to use humor and to even build a sense of community,” says Foster.
But there is also much room for improvement. “Bloggers need to be concerned about accuracy because there is nothing to prevent an aggrieved company or individual from suing a blogger who has said something to harm them,” says Schrimsher, who suggests that the “Briefing on Media Law” in the appendix of the associated Press Stylebook should be required reading for bloggers. Schrimsher claims that he has had incidents such as a publicist complaining about unfair portrayal of a client’s product and a reporter who believed her article was depicted as unfair and inaccurate. Schrimsher predicts, “The Wild West era of blogging will give way to more professionalism.”
Let’s hope dietitians are the nutrition professionals ready and waiting to ride the next wave of information technology.
— Sharon Palmer, RD, is a freelance food and nutrition writer in southern California.
What Is a Blog?
A blog is a Web site in which items are posted on a regular basis and displayed in reverse chronological order. The term blog is a shortened form of weblog or web log. Authoring a blog, maintaining a blog, or adding an article to an existing blog is called blogging. Individual articles on a blog are called blog posts, posts, or entries. A person who posts these entries is called a blogger.
— Source: Wikipedia
And the Winner Is…
The 2005 Food Blog Award Winners
• Best Blog Covering the Food Industry: The Food Whore, www.thefoodwhore.com
• Best Blog Covering Wine, Beer, or Spirits: Vinography, www.vinography.com
• Best Chef’s Blog: Eggbeater, http://eggbeater.typepad.com
• Best City Blog: David Lebovitz, www.davidlebovitz.com
• Best Food Blog Humor: The Food Whore, www.thefoodwhore.com
• Best Food Blog Photography: Nordljus, www.nordljus.co.uk/en/index.php
• Best Food Blog Recipes: Chocolate & Zucchini, http://chocolateandzucchini.com
• Best Food Blog Restaurant Reviews: Becks & Posh, http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com
• Best Food Blog Theme: Gluten Free Girl, http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com
• Best Food Blog Writing: Chocolate & Zucchini, http://chocolateandzucchini.com
• Best Group Food Blog: Too Many Chefs, www.toomanychefs.com
• Best New Blog: Delicious Days, www.deliciousdays.com
• Best Non Blogging Food Site: Epicurious, www.epicurious.com
• Best Overall Food Blog: Orangette, www.orangette.blogspot.com
• Best Post: Meat Comes From Animals, Deal with It or Eat Vegetables, www.tigersandstrawberries.com/?p=96