Gather ’Round the Computer: Foodies come together in the blogosphere

On the surface, food blogs look much like other food sites, magazines and cookbooks. But look closer, they stand apart. Food blogs are extraordinarily personal, even when produced with knowledge and professionalism. They radiate curiosity, excitement and creativity. They often exude rich humor, sweet charm and unedited spontaneity.

Food blogs are like memoirs with recipes. Every recipe comes with a backstory woven from family, culture and personal experience. Tales abound of early lessons from mothers and grandmothers, first experiences with fresh figs, strategies for Thanksgiving turkeys, and frustration with breads that fall and tomatoes that char. If there’s a rant, it’s Reggiano versus Kraft or lard versus butter, not the left versus right of politics.

Food bloggers may start blogging with some notion of organizing favorite recipes, but they keep blogging because of connection and community. They covet comments from readers and go lengths to lure ‘lurkers’ into conversation. (See sidebar on blog lingo.) They watch for online food events to cook together. When they bring new babies into the world, they celebrate. When they lose a parent or a job, they console. When they struggle with illness or decision, they encourage. When they meet in person for the first time, they’re already friends.

Are food blogs journalism?

The short answer is no, as blogs are not held to the objectivity and accuracy standards required of traditional journalistic outlets.

But a more thoughtful answer is, “sometimes.” Because the best food blogs feature magazine-quality writing, styling and photography, some conjecture that food blogging rivals traditional food magazines and cookbooks. Certainly some food bloggers are wannabe food writers who would happily ditch day jobs to write about food. But others realize that the passion expressed in their blogs exists only because the blog isn’t work and blogging isn’t a job. For most, the consensus is that blogging is fun, but it will remain so only so long as it remains a hobby.

Still, traditional publishers are increasingly impressed by blogs. Last summer, Time Magazine picked its 50 coolest Web sites; in food, Delicious Days and Simply Recipes got the nod. Each week, Food & Wine magazine’s Web site highlights favorite posts from food bloggers. And a handful of bloggers have earned cookbook deals.

Professional food writers are also turning to blogs. After writing critically of political blogs cloaked in anonymity and agenda, longtime journalist Joe Pollack and his wife, writer Ann Lemons Pollack, thought long and hard before launching a food blog in 2006. The temptation to experiment with a new publishing venue was strong, so the pair decided to explore the new medium “partly for fun, partly for ego,” Joe Pollack said. St. Louis Eats and Drinks features restaurant reviews, wine recommendations and occasional recipes in the professional Pollack style St. Louisans know to expect.

St. Louis represents

The world of food blogging is a tight community inhabited by food enthusiasts, both writers and readers, from across the world who speak the universal language of food. Still, like seasonal fruits and vegetables, food blogs are inherently local, too.

St. Louis is home to a small cadre of food bloggers. I write a blog called A Veggie Venture that’s packed with everyday vegetable inspiration. At FamilyStyle, Karen shares recipes, tips and tales from her experiences entering recipe contests and cooking for family in Webster Groves; One Hot Stove’s Nupur, who hails from India, lives in New York but will soon move to St. Louis, shares her passion for Indian cuisine. (For security, many bloggers reveal only their first names.)

Zinfully Delicious is written by Bruno and Duane, a pair whose friendship dates back to University City schools and is now cemented by food, wine and a blog. When Duane suggested starting a blog, Bruno was uncertain. “I didn’t know what it would entail and sure didn’t know about all the great food blogs.” Software makes blogging easy, even for those like Bruno with limited technical experience. “It’s just fun,” he said. “I really love it.” Duane is adventurous about technology and food. “My Dad taught me to say ‘Sure, I’ll try it’ to anything new,” said Duane, who recently moved with his wife from Webster Groves to central Texas. “The blog helps demystify food and wine.”

While most blogs are published by individuals, blog publishing concepts are increasingly being adopted by companies. An example is Kirk’s Traveling Kitchen, the new personal chef business of Kirk Warner, the former executive chef at King Louie’s and Savor. Warner said, “The Web designer suggested the blog. It’s an easy way to keep the site fresh.” Warner also appreciates having a forum in which to explore his ideas about food and culture. “I hope my blog becomes a sounding board.”

Even more nearby

Farther afield, Susan of Farmgirl Fare provides readers with a daily snapshot of life on a small farm in rural Missouri. Susan is a Californian turned Missouri farm girl who started her blog to break writer’s block and create a record of the farm. With photos depicting the simple beauty of the countryside and tales of laugh-out-loud animal antics, farm life appears idyllic. “People visit Farmgirl as a daily stress reducer,” Susan said..

Still, Farmgirl portrays farm reality, too. Despite all precautions, last spring Susan lived a shepherd’s nightmare, losing lambs to an unidentified predator. With each night’s flock reduction, Susan expressed her grief and frustration on the blog. And in a way, the missing lambs were as much her visitors’ loss as Susan’s because Farmgirl readers connect to the farm, to the animals and to Susan herself with an authentic sense of community.

Lisa of Champaign, Ill., writes Champaign Taste. Like many food bloggers, she discovered food blogs by accident, but decided right away that she wanted one. Her blog creates a “wonderful outlet,” Lisa said, but like other bloggers, she finds blogging addictive. “Sometimes all I want to do is work on the blog. It’s so great when someone from Champaign says, ‘I read your blog.’”

A Fridge Full of Food is written by former cake maker and caterer Glenna Anderson Muse of Springfield, Mo. Vyanjanaa is written by a mother-daughter team: one in Delhi, India, the other an assistant professor at Mizzou. Annie from Bon Appegeek writes with style and humor from east central Illinois.