You’re Boring

I’ve always really enjoyed The Piglet, the tournament of cookbooks that Food52 hosts each year. In it, cookbooks are pitted against each other using a bracket system until a winner is crowned (it’s like sports!). Though the quality of the reviews varies , I appreciate that there is a venue for criticism of popular cookbooks, something that I think is sorely lacking. This year, Adam Roberts wrote a review of Mimi Thorisson’s cookbook that has created some controversy, and Food52 proved to everyone that they can’t actually handle criticism.

Roberts’ review, which was presented in the form of a comic strip, took issue with the numerous photos of Thorisson in her book. He interpreted their meaning to be “my life is better than yours”—isn’t that the subtext of most food/lifestyle blogs? He used it as an opportunity to poke fun at her and her life. Fair enough, I guess. Though I agree with Thorisson that it seemed kind of cheap and easy. Thorisson wrote a mostly good-humored and earnest, though oddly lengthy and not particularly well-argued, response to his criticisms on her blog. In it, she wondered (Perhaps half-heartedly? I can’t tell. ) if Roberts’ critique of her was rooted in any type of sexism or gender expectations. I thought it was an interesting enough response to the review, and certainly justified. I had also found myself wondering what role gender played in the whole thing, as these sorts of critiques are almost always directed at women. It seemed like a totally normal and healthy exchange of ideas.

Then things got weird. Roberts wrote a sort of pointless and needlessly defensive response to Thorisson and then Kenzi Wilbur at Food52 followed up with a bizarrely passive-aggressive and overly simple essay on cookbook design. I really disliked this essay by Wilbur. She was completely dismissive (“cry sexism”) and condescending (“from her château in Médoc”) to Thorisson and had nothing useful to say other than “book design matters!”, which wasn’t really anyone’s argument. She also dismisses Thorisson’s concerns about gender and sexism in a way that made me uncomfortable. Even if she and Roberts were comfortable with their own conduct, the concerns should not be dismissed so flippantly. Gender is always an issue, whether we want it to be or not. Wilbur’s essay seemed like a thinly veiled attempt to support Roberts, clearly a friend of the Food52 crew, and defend The Piglet, which up until that essay didn’t require defending. Roberts’ review and Thorisson’s response had both felt appropriate and like they should exist within a critical discourse. The follow-up writing has all felt bizarrely defensive and hypocritical. Encouraging Thorisson to be comfortable with criticism while proving that you are very uncomfortable with criticism doesn’t make any sense. Basically, everyone doth protest too much.

It points to a bigger problem in food media: it is fucking boring. Of course #notallfoodmedia, but I’m willing to say most. Your magazine is boring, your blog is boring, your podcast is boring. You’re boring. It’s okay, I am too. But we never hear it. We lack criticism. And that lack of criticism leads to a sameness that is suffocatingly boring.

Food media mostly exists as a circle of white, liberal arts grads with enough financial security to have interned for free during college, live in Brooklyn, and eat out every night. Everyone is friends, it’s how you get jobs. (Full disclosure: I benefit from these circles of privilege, and am a part of some of them. It isn’t fair. The best, most talented, hardest-working person does not always get the job, though the person who gets the job may also be talented and hard-working. I know to some extent, the whole world operates this way. Still.) These sort of closed ecosystems lead to a lot of problems. They lead to staffs full of people who are more similar than different. Everyone has worked together, or might someday work together, so nobody can criticize anyone else. Everyone is too busy congratulating each other or promoting each other’s work (often while talking about how shitty the work is behind their back). Every time a cookbook is mentioned, it is with praise, or at worst, with neutrality. Don’t get me wrong, professional camaraderie and friendships are great. But they shouldn’t exclude formal criticism.

The results of this culture are far more serious than just the armies of whiteness staring back at us from mastheads. It is creating an insular, homogenous, and out-of-touch world that does not reflect our actual world and excludes many people.

I want to clarify a confusion that is often a part of these discussions. I don’t call for diversification to satisfy some sort of politically correct standard. Diversity (in all its forms) should be embraced because diversity is what makes the world interesting. Didn’t we all learn that while watching Sesame Street? It sounds impossibly trite but it is one of the only true things. The world of food is so much more interesting than any mainstream media (and most independent media) would have us believe. The view is so narrow. I’m happy to hear what a bunch of 20-something white women are cooking, but where is everyone else?

It all comes down to money, or at least that is what is often used to end these arguments. Tough decisions must be made. I get it, you want to stay in business. But so does everyone in every industry. It’s everyone’s concern. How you respond to it is the question and the opportunity. You have data proving that audiences want to read about white celebrities and kale, great. But instead of giving them what they want, why aren’t you also trying to make them want something else? When did it become cool to do whatever was popular?  Why aren’t you selling diversity? Why aren’t you leading instead of following? Why can’t you find a non-white photographer for that story? Why can’t you write about a chef in Little Rock? Why is nobody writing about grandmas? We’re not friends with any, is not an acceptable answer.

Because, I’ll be honest, this isn’t working out. And nobody wants to tell you. Changes are needed if you want to outlive the currently over-inflated food moment. Sure, you’re gaining some readers who just want to prove they know food is (#)trending. But you’re alienating all of the people who actually care about food and have subscribed to your magazines for decades.

Part of making changes is being comfortable with criticism and understanding that criticism is an important part of the creative process. My education all took place in art and design programs. The fundamental teaching tool of art school is the critique in which you present your work and everyone tells you why it sucks. You listen. Sometimes you agree and sometimes you disagree but either way it makes you a better artist. It makes you question what you are presenting. Confidence is the enemy of creativity. When I have the idea to do anything the first line in my interior monologue is always: That’s a stupid idea. From there I try to convince myself otherwise. If I can convince myself that the idea is okay, then usually it is. I rarely convince myself, I have mostly dumb ideas. But I have embodied the critique process, I think it works.

Part of constructive criticism is not making it personal, which I am guessing is part of what made Thorisson uncomfortable with Roberts’ review. It was no longer about the work, and became about her and her life. Roberts could have done a better job of explaining why her book was alienating some readers and Thorisson could have done a better job of explaining why this criticism felt gendered to her. But regardless of all of that, Food52 had no business getting involved in this argument. Instead of encouraging the discourse they tried to shut it down. They clearly took sides, our friend not that woman. They revealed that they weren’t as interested in honest discourse as they had lead us to believe. It undermines the spirit of the Piglet and it reflects this general problem.

My criticism is selfish. I want to have better stuff to read and look at and cook. Food is awesome. I want to feel awesome about it. I want to see photographs that have a point-of-view not already represented in mainstream media. I want to read stories about people who eat differently from me. I have plenty of friends with blogs and some friends and people I admire are working at the magazines and websites that I am complaining about. I’m rooting for them. I want to love their work. I want them to want to do better and include more people and ideas. I want to expand the audience and allow more people to pull up a seat at this table.

We can do better. It starts with questioning ourselves. Why are all food blogs still following basically the same format (including mine!)? Why do some print magazines read like desperate fashion blogs? Why have you never had a non-white guest on your podcast? But in order to answer the questions honestly, we need to be willing to be uncomfortable. We need to remember that when everyone is telling us we’re doing great, we’re probably doing something wrong. Challenging ourselves, and others, doesn’t always feel good. But imagine where it could get us.

We’re probably not as boring as we seem.

148 comments to “You’re Boring”

  1. It does feel as if food media is talking to itself sometimes. Which is why it’s always good to get perspective from people who aren’t wrapped up in it. I asked my brother what his favorite restaurant is. The answer is a place that doesn’t employ a chef but instead brings in people via the International Rescue Committee and trains them. Now that’s a story.

  2. I don’t know what this says about me but I had to stop following Ms. Thorisson’s blog because it made me feel so bad about my life. It sounds dumb but I couldn’t help looking at her beautiful-looking life and feeling really bummed out that I was sitting in a cube, unmarried and childless, and not gathering mushrooms in France. I’m a little ashamed to admit this but there it is.
    Anyways, yes to more diversity, to more voices. It’s gotta happen.

  3. Aaaaaah I love this so fucking much. You’re boring, we’re all boring. Let’s be different!

  4. This is the opposite of boring, and thank you for saying it. Part of what works about the Piglet is that critics are forced to BE OPINIONATED in their writing. It’s lively and personal and, at its best, vivid in a way that another well-curated homage to homemade baguettes tied up with twine will never be. They have to make a choice, and explain it. It’s useful and interesting to me as a reader. Every day we have to make decisions. What to make for dinner? Which cookbook to buy? How to invest our time in consuming content online. I can’t count how many blogs and columns I’ve been initially drawn to by stunning visuals, only to give up on halfway through a post by vapid gushing and “gahs” and “because: cookies!”. I am instead compelled by stories that ring true, or make me laugh or have me heading to the store to get ingredients. Food is emotional and, you are right, awesome. Writing about food should be the same. And writers should understand that their audience does not all look or live like them. The food world exists outside of Brooklyn and Portland and France, and it’s damn interesting out here, too.

  5. Donna- I just spent an unreasonable amount of time on your site trying to determine if it was a marijuana cooking blog (evidence: Pot and Pantry, Taste Buds). I’m still not sure, but I also love The Great British Bake-Off.

  6. YES! Thank you for starting this dialogue and for putting these issues in a wider context.

    As the food industry has grown, so has a certain standard and uniformity, which is sad since food is the most democratic medium that we have. Everyone has to eat, and so you would hope that talk of eating would include a wider segment of that everyone. But because it doesn’t, we, the consumers and producers of these blogs, websites, articles, and publications, have to raise the bar.

  7. You are so right on. I follow quite a few food blogs because occasionally one of the authors comes up with (or enlightens me to) a new food combination or concept worth trying. A lot of the time the posts just run into each other though, and I have to look twice to see who posted what because for the most part I can’t tell the difference based on style alone.

    I follow a few food bloggers on Twitter but over time I’ve dropped many of them because their sycophantic, fawning “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” (deliberately public) messages to each other and generic announcements of new content #OnTheBlog is just so tedious.

    Most food blogging just doesn’t feel genuine anymore; it’s all DSLRs and food props. I’d love to see some specialised food blogs cooking local cuisine, for example. I’d also love to see a move away from the personality/lifestyle of the bloggers themselves, and less of a pursuit of perfection and aspirationalism.

  8. Thanks for writing this. I think it’s an interesting moment in food culture. I agree that the relentless positivity (“Everything is Awesome”…) grows tedious, though I’ll admit I prefer it to the cynical-everything-sucks opposite. I like Food52, but I haven’t been following this year’s Piglet and was completely unaware of this review and the responses to it.

    I do think we need to grapple more seriously with gender, class, race and privilege within the food community. Part of the problem is that individual bloggers/internet-creatives are walking a fine line between hobby and job, which can muddle how professionally we approach hard problems. (If it’s a hobby, why do any of the stuff that isn’t fun or of personal interest? If it’s a job, well, that’s a different story.) It also means lots of people in the community don’t have any formal journalism training and have more or less learned their craft (writing about food, photographing food, reviewing cookbooks) on their own or by watching the most successful people do it, which means we don’t necessarily learn much about criticism and handling it gracefully or professionally. I think the way that information moves on the internet in the current social iteration of the internet (i.e. “sharing” within communities like Facebook) cultivates a sanitized, inoffensive sameness (as well as the hyperbolic, click-baity titles, which have their own samey-ness).

    (P.S. Have you watched any of The Katering Show? I find it to be an entertaining response to our present food culture…)

  9. Felt compelled to comment here because YESSSS you have said exactly what I wish I were articulate enough to say. I commented on Thorisson’s blog when I felt things were getting a liiiittle too knee-jerk defensive (more by her commenters than she herself), but seriously. I think you have touched on diversity in food writing before and it has really rung true. Like other commenters here, I’ve stopped reading some of the blogs that feel too click-baity and commercial…maybe once it becomes a job, we usually lose that genuine voice that readers were drawn to in the first place? Definitely a fuzzy line on diversity, because those who can afford nice cameras and the time to cook and blog are (probably) not low-income single parents of color and we as readers probably should take more responsibility in demanding different and diverse content.

    Sorry. This is meandering and I didn’t really mean for it to. But thank you for writing this. I think we could all take criticism a little better and more gracefully, but some of us could also be more tactful in dishing it out.

  10. I follow Mimi Thorrisen, Adam Roberts, and you, of course! It’s been fascinating watching this tiny controversy blossom, and the dialogue it’s caused. You bring up some great points as far as the food industry, and food blog industry, working in a vaccuum. To be fair, though, I have often caught myself rolling my eyes at the well-styled and self-portrait peppered pages of Manger, Thorrisen’s blog. On the other hand, I’ve certainly wished for The Amateur Gourmet’s photos to be a little less blurry, a little more styled.
    Ultimately, I come to each of those blogs FOR the diversity they offer. Mimi provides a bit of wanderlust and French technique. Adam provides a more “amateur” look, a far more approachable way to cook and involve food in your life. You’re right that the food world is often insular, but the irony of this situation is that if you were to ask me about the most diverse of food blogs in my reader? I’d probably point to Manger and The Amateur Gourmet.

  11. As of yet, I’m a total newbie in my local food community, but I must that this highly intelligent rant is one of the most inspiring bits of writing I’ve come across lately. I’m so glad that as I become more acquainted with food issues & “foodie” media I’ll have with me this fresh perspective and courageous (self)analysis of popular food culture. So thank you!

  12. Thank you for this. You’re so right on.

  13. I’ve never heard of any of these people, are they important?

  14. Now that I’ve read this twice, while I don’t agree with everything (except for the fact that I’m a total bore), I’m glad you’ve written it. It’s not just food criticism that’s suffered from agreeability. I read a great old takedown of celebrity writing several years ago (wish I could find the link), saying it fell apart when publications started feeling threatened by PR teams not approving of the pieces, that we’d never get another Frank Sinatra Has a Cold. In the earliest days, blogs were about individual viewpoints, about obsessions. Nothing is stopping those interested from getting that back.

  15. BRAVO! About time someone said it.

  16. Busy baking says:

    March 5th, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    The thing about food blogs: they’re usually not about food. They’re diaries about “me.” It’s the blogger’s right, it’s his/her blog. But it’s true – you’re boring. Food isn’t. Stick to the food. If it’s good, readers will learn about you through your take on the food, whoever you are. It will come through. If you’re more interested in writing about yourself than you are in the food, well, some people’s eyes are going to glaze over. Because you’re boring. Deal.

  17. Bec- No.
    Deb- Twice?!
    Busy Baking- I’m not even sure who you’re arguing with, but I like your bossiness!

  18. Hey Tim, I really appreciate what you had to say about diversity. I’m a Brooklyn-based blogger with everything that means (brownstone street, yorkie, liberal arts degree I’ll never use). I’m also Cuban and focus on Latin America and the Caribbean in my writing. My first cookbook was well received so I don’t really have any complaints. I’ve even been the off-white guest on some bk podcasts. When it comes to the aspirational food media clique you described, however, I sometimes feel like the foreign exchange student who happened to be born here. There are diverse voices – we just have to become as comfortable speaking to them as we are speaking about them. #noesfacil #guavapastryinaplatefulofonionrolls

  19. Ana Sofia! I remember meeting you and your sweet sister. Your book is great. Thanks for taking the time to comment. xo

  20. Hear, hear…

  21. i really like this. on one hand i do really like a lot of food blogs that are similar to each other. maybe i do not need another “veggies in a bowl + grains” recipe but at the same time there are ways to make the old new and make it exciting. on the other hand when i do find something different – whether it is a different style of photography, different food or my favorite, superb writing – it really does feel like a breath of fresh air. in other words you need your weird and offbeat but at the same time i don’t mind looking through yet another variation on avocado toast.

  22. This is so good and true. Seriously, where are the grandmas?

  23. Initially, and as with all of his comics, I liked Adam’s review. It was a quick and funny piece to read over breakfast. And then I woke up properly and forgot about it.

    Reading through your post, though, has made me realize that I want what you want. I’m constantly wishing that the food (and lifestyle) magazines pushed themselves further. I don’t want to look at photos of attractive people eating brunch; I want to know how they all met. Maybe I’m just nosy, but I want more stories from different voices, and less low-saturation photos of apple pie variations. I can only think of two publications that fulfill this for me: Lucky Peach (the Chinatown issue is gold) and Remedy Quarterly.

    I used to love reading cookbooks and food blogs because they were always so apolitical, rarely cynical, and never offensive–it was escapism, and it still is, and I appreciate it. But like you said, and as with all media: more diversity, please.

  24. The comments to this post definitely are not boring. TIM: “Donna- I just spent an unreasonable amount of time on your site trying to determine if it was a marijuana cooking blog (evidence: Pot and Pantry, Taste Buds). I’m still not sure, but I also love The Great British Bake-Off.”

    Thanks for that.

  25. This is LONG AND BORING!!!

  26. Sometimes what we like about a blog is the whole package– the food, the kitchen, the home, the lifestyle. The we sort of get tired of the lifestyle, the home, the kitchen, and then the food and we stop reading. How fast that happens? Who knows.
    But this argument is less about the blogger but about the book. He didn’t like the look of one and liked the style of the other. Personal preference with a slightly snarky vibe. if I was Mimi I would be tres upset.but reviews are expected when you write a book. Get over it.

  27. What? I like to read things twice before commenting. I’m soo old-fashioned.

  28. Deb, you’re the best. xo

  29. Christina says:

    March 6th, 2015 at 9:10 am

    This is the best thing I have read in a while, which in part means it is awesome and in part means I need to read better things. (Blame it on all the food blogs.) Your point is spot on about so much: Let’s have a dialogue. Not just about food, but about everything. Criticism isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, catty, snarky or (heaven forbid) bitchy, it’s about pushing you to be your highest self. Ideas are important, not “lifestyles.”

  30. Yeah, Christina…I think we gotta find you better stuff to read. Viva ideas!

  31. I am an avid consumer of food blogs for the recipes and beautiful photos, but I often skip over the stories and background for many of the reasons you mention here. They are often repetitive and come from an audience of similarly privileged people. I was also really surprised by Kenzi’s dismissal of gender issues; just because the reviewers are good people who are looking at the food and the books doesn’t mean they aren’t tinged with whatever prejudices and baggage they carry with them–we all have some of that. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and questioning.

  32. Yes! Thank you for posting this! I find the insular ‘let’s see how far we can crawl up our own backsides’ nature of the (popular) food blogosphere aggravating in the extreme. The diversity issue bothers me – as does when blogging becomes more of a business and less of a passion project. I’ve seen many a blogger (especially those focused on a niche, like paleo) tamp down their unique voices in favor of posting to get more page views (desserts! junk food! paleo-ifying comfort foods!) and it drives me absolutely up the wall. I understand why, but it’s still disheartening and reduces the number of voices in the conversation.

  33. Tim, thank you for writing this. I’ve been feeling the same way for a while now, and it only seems to be getting worse. I do think the good, substantive, diverse stuff is out there, it is just not often the click-baity, slick, trending stuff that gets loads of followers, and there needs to be more of it.

    Blogs/sites/writers I enjoy are American Food Roots, Michael Twitty, The Southern Foodways Alliance, Nancie McDermott, Bonny Wolf, Ronny Lundy, Marcie Cohen Ferris, Molly O’Neill. I find that a lot of what we find missing in the current food world actually exists in that old guard of excellent food writers– they just don’t have the flash and PR teams behind them.

    It’s funny you mention “grandmas”– in my world (folklore) EVERYONE talks about their grandmas– it’s such a trope.”My grandma’s soup, my grandma’s cookies, my grandma taught me this, etc.” In a discussion on new food media at Molly O’Neill’s LongHouse a few years ago, a Food Network rep stood up and said “I AM SO SICK OF HEARING ABOUT YOUR GRANDMA!”
    At the same time, I understand your point. In general, I don’t think we/new food media values our elders enough–whether that’s a grandma, or the women and men who have been putting in the time and hard work in the field for years.

    I could go on, but I’ll stop there for now. Thanks again for opening up this discussion.

    Emily

  34. You need to be a judge for the Piglet next year!!!

  35. Tim,

    I follow you, Adam and Mimi (both on my sidebar).

    I find there are so many MEAN spirited people out there on social media that want to knock you down.
    I commented on Food52’s site defending both Adam and Mimi, and some nasty gal left a negative comment to me! in defense of Adam. It got ugly, and I think you have to have thick skin, and always know there is going to be jealousy and envy when you put yourself out there.

    I started my blog 7 years ago (still on the boring blogger format, why should I pay for site design? I barely make any $ on it)………I started it to keep a collection of my recipes and found that I met a lot of great people all over the country, all connected by food. It’s the best thing I have ever done (and not for financial gain, I have a day job).

    I feel a bit bored lately in the blogisphere and am tired of all the overstyled photos w/ ribbons around jars and polka dot napkins and all the Brooklyn 20 somethings (hey, my family REALLY IS from Bklyn!)……blah blah.
    Truth be told, I would like to start a blog cooking in my underwear, but my father says I will alienate readers (I am 50, who needs to see that?)……my husband says go for it!

    Thanks for always being so honest, so damn smart and never boring. Love your blog.
    Stacey (Snacks)

  36. Thanks for writing this! I hadn’t even been following the Piglet, so had no idea this back and forth was happening. I used to be pretty active on Food52 but sort of got tired of seeing the same 8 blogs show up in the “food blog links we like” section every week, and seeing the guest articles by the same top bloggers we see everywhere else. It’s not just F52, but everywhere, lots of backscratching. Yawn.

  37. That’s the spirit, Petra!

  38. I’ll definitely be sharing this post with the What’s Cooking cookbook discussion group at the Oak Park Public Library – Maze Branch. I’m sure it will strike a chord. Thanks, Tim!

  39. Well said…Bravo Tim!

  40. Thank you for writing about this. I agree in general with your views. I don’t ever agree with attacking some one personally. This should always be constructive and on point to criticize one’s work. I don’t care about reading any nastiness. I want to be entertained and learn about all aspects of food . Everyone has a choice to read what they want to or not. I don’t have time to waste reading dribble. I will not be reading Adam Roberts nor will I view Food 52 the same for allowing such crap.

  41. Wow, this is wonderful. I’ve been feeling the same way for a while without knowing how to put it into words. You said everything perfectly.

  42. Thank you for this…I follow quite a few food blogs and when I find their interests or passions, ie a weekly review of The Batchelor, Quotes from the Bible or the neverending progress of their progeny I stop following its as easy as that. I don’t criticize them for what they are passionate about, it just not for me…I love Lottie and Doof for your point of view and your thoughtful posts…keep them coming

  43. I think this was so very well written, despite the fact that its a bit ironic to praise an essay that begs the world (or blogosphere) to allow for more criticism. The fact that you saw this feud as a chance to discuss diversity, food, creativity, and the relatively new mode of expression that is the blog is impressive and thought-provoking and not in the slightest bit boring.

  44. Bravo! So well said and badly needed in this world of food writing and lack of criticism. Thank you!

  45. WOW! I really loved reading this post. I’m still catching up on the whole Piglet back and forth, and processing how your points relate to what I’ve been thinking about the food blogs and food related materials that I read. While I’m not sure what I think about the specifics of the situation, I would like to say that I appreciated your comments on the importance of criticism, and would like to say a few words on this.
    I’m a scientist, and in science as well as art, the process of criticism is always crucial in producing a better final product. I know it’s hard to take (since we are often personally invested in our efforts), but outside (as well as internal) criticism ideally should help us to reassess our art or science to see if we are conveying our ideas effectively to those who must interpret what we have put into the world. Are we saying what we think we are saying, are we making the point we set out to make?
    And of course, while it is important to take criticism thoughtfully and decide if and how to incorporate changes in order to improve a work, it is equally important to dole out criticism in a constructive fashion. Ideally, criticism will be given with the intent of identifying strengths as well as perceived shortcomings in an effort to improve the final product, and not in a mean-spirited attempt to destroy someone’s work.
    I hope that, as you suggest, honest and well intentioned questioning and criticism will lead to more creative endeavors in the food community. Since we all at some point will be on both sides of criticism, let’s keep it civil, constructive and creative!

  46. Tim,
    I love this! I struggle with this every issue of Remedy Quarterly. I want it to be beautiful and interesting, but I don’t want it to be the same as every other food magazine out there (because there are a ton of them!). And just for the record, we have stories about grandmas! Thanks for writing this, I needed it.

  47. I think we should start embracing Southern food. Jump on the southern foodways alliance train and come along. Lots of diversity throughout the south in terms of regional, ethnic, cultural cuisine as well as an array of chefs. Not so many bloggers, though. But I mean, there is some good stuff coming outta the south.

  48. I want to drive to Chicago to high five you. I don’t agree with all points on blogging, but I agree with everything about what went down on Food52. I’m still shocked. The deeply ingrained sexism among the women at Food52 that lead them to feel it was ok to publish something that so obviously decided to make the review personal and about her life (too-white pages vs. I think my life is better than yours”- a very different criticism, Adam) and her looks makes me so sad. Brooks’ “I’m a punk rock badass” image is just as much of an aesthetic and lifestyle vision he’s selling to wannabe badass guys.

  49. Umm…I can’t believe you’re the first person to point this out to me. Pot + Pantry used to be my little kitchen shop in SF! It was great, you’d’ve loved it. (I think. I mean, what do I know?) Not a marijuana cooking blog, not really a food blog even. Just a “me” blog.

    I think what’s making everything boring is that everyone’s trying too goddamn hard. Real talk, real food, real cooking = winner. This post is a hit!

  50. i love this. bravo!

  51. There’s not much I can add to this except for saying that this is the first food blog post I’ve fullty read in a very long time, including every single comment. Thanks for spelling out my frustration with the food world in such an eloquent way. Here’s to daring to be different.

  52. I know you can’t RT comments, but I’d like to RT Nora.

  53. Thanks for this post, Tim. I think your writing is really insightful. I’ve read each comment too and am glad that it was appreciated. I personally find Food52 boring.

  54. tim, i fucking love you. loud and proud and bold as hell.

  55. i, too, wish I could RT Nora. Thanks, Nora. And Tim.

  56. Yay, thank you for this. “Confidence is the enemy of creativity. ” and “Part of making changes is being comfortable with criticism and understanding that criticism is an important part of the creative process” Luckily I work for an editor who doesn’t pull any punches and always brings me down to earth. I’m with you–what a very thoughtful post. It’s not easy to buck the trends, be different, have your own vision and stick with it, but more of that would be really great!!

  57. Bravo for this Tim!

  58. Hey Tim,

    really cool post. Although I agree a lot with it I have to admit I was already dreading the comments that I knew would follow that cheered you on (go you! be opinionated!). But you’re right—the whole “community” thing gets really trite and boring when we’re all the same and passing on the same vibes and revelations about food, life, etc etc.

    BUT I feel like food blogs (at least more so than the fashion blogs I follow?) tend to be really personal — I mean, how insane it is once a food blog makes it the author comes out with a personal memoir “with recipes”? Food memoirs are effing weird things. But they’re really personal reflections of the lives all the white-female-liberal arts grad bloggers have and any attack on those types of books I think inherently turns into a personal attack. Obviously it’s different w cookbooks — like, those are professional works and can/should be judged as such. I just think food blogs and the snapshots of them that the memoirs embody have immunized themselves. I don’t like personal attacks and don’t want to make any, but how do food blogs evolve when they all originate as creative and personal outlets for their writers?

  59. Hi Amy! Thanks for the comment, and for the record I appreciate the irony of the supportive comments (but also appreciate the comments). Everything originates as a personal outlet for the writer (or whatever kind of creator). I guess I don’t see much of a difference between a food blog/memoir and a work of fiction (or a painting or a song). Criticism of any of them will be taken personally. I don’t think that because people have chosen to write about their own life, they should be immune from criticism. In fact, I even wonder that that line of thought has gender problems—that writing about personal things (love, domestic life, etc) is somehow less important (? not right word) or should be treated less seriously seems to part of the philosophy/tradition that historically makes women’s work under-valued. I think those works should be held to the same standards as everything else (if they were we’d have better food memoirs). You can still be a shitty writer, or have a boring story, or be sexist, or whatever other problems there might be with your work. I wouldn’t describe that kind of criticism as a personal attack, though I understand that it could be taken personally by the creator. If someone is running a personal food blog for their friends and family and doesn’t care about any of this, I don’t think they need to be a part of this critical discourse. But if they are writing a blog that is generating profit and that leads to books deals and an income, they should be looked at critically. A personal attack to me would be: “she’s an idiot and I hate her hair”. But writing about why her writing is bad, or the flaws in her storytelling, or why she had nothing new to say…that all seems like fair game. Once you purposefully make that stuff public, you’re opening yourself up to it. You got paid! You are a paid writer at that point. We all have the option to not start a blog and keep our lives private. Oui? What do you think? It’s been a long day and I am not articulating well, but my two cents…

  60. Jeffrey C says:

    March 6th, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    You’ve got a great platform here. Can’t wait to see you lead by example.

  61. Hey everyone- I’m thankful for all of the comments and for all of the discussion here and elsewhere online. It has felt mostly productive and that feels good. I’ve always been really grateful for those of you who stop by and comment on posts like this (and for the patience of the people who are just waiting for another recipe). I’m grateful for the lurkers, too. Someday I’ll get you to comment. TGIF. xo

  62. As always late to comment, but. You’re a great writer, and I like the things you think about then share on your blog. I was very interested in all this, only after you wrote about it though. Hm.
    I never quite got into your rabbit-hole on norm core.
    But this rabbit hole, so interesting. People are fun.

  63. Tim:

    I appreciate what you wrote here. We all need to be challenged to be better at our craft. Thank you for the reminder that it’s about doing our best, offering something of value to our readers, rather than fitting into a mold of the ideal food blogger.

    I don’t know the Thorisson book. Having not seen it, I can only wish her success.

    I do know Food52. And while I wish them success, too, I closed my account with them ’cause it felt like they were the in-crowd and I was not.

    I’m going to take up your challenge and work hard at doing better.

    D

  64. Excellent! Thank you thank you thank you for this wonderful post!

  65. Though I’m a fairly avid reader of food blogs, I’m not deep in the food world like most of the rest of the commenters. Nevertheless, I’ve not only noticed the trends/problems you discuss here, but I was also interested to see the parallels to the children’s/YA publishing world (where I work). It’s the same dynamic: the back-scratching, the everyone-is-friends syndrome, the cycles of promoting/sniping, the crazy insularity. We are not writing or publishing for our readers; we are writing and publishing for our colleagues. (Generalization, but it sure feels that way a lot of the time.) And that has led to a lot of books that no kid or teenager actually wants to read, and a screaming lack of diversity among the titles that actually take off with their intended audience. There are some exceptions, of course. (There always are.) But a few exceptions are not enough to combat the problem that you articulated so well: “It is creating an insular, homogenous, and out-of-touch world that does not reflect our actual world and excludes many people.”

    All by way of saying that I don’t like it in my world, and I don’t like it in yours. But I wonder if it’s more common among privileged, arts-centric ecosystems than any of us might imagine. Not a comforting thought, although perhaps we can find some solidarity in the dysfunction?

  66. Thank you.

  67. THIS? THANK YOU.

  68. I loved what you wrote, I feel it’s on point and a good addition to the echo chamber that can be food writing.

    Having said that, your comment, “Didn’t we all learn that while watching Sesame Street?” could be, in it’s own way, a bit ageist.

    Those of us in late 40’s and older didn’t actually watch much Sesame Street as kids. Diversity also includes folks from other age groups, even those in your parent’s generation!

  69. touché…if we all can think beyond our little bubble world…what a difference we could make. Happy nesting to all.

  70. Hi Annie- I think you might be confused (and making assumptions) about my age, and I was using Sesame Street as a sort of generic cultural icon of basic life-lesson teaching. I also addressed the importance of listening to other ages in the post, so it is definitely something I think is important. But sorry if I offended you. I don’t intend to exclude anyone. Though I am sure I do. (I also excluded anyone without the financial resources to own a television, and those who live in other countries without access to Sesame Street. And all of this excludes people without access to the internet. Etc..)

  71. Jenny- Those are great points. I agree it is a bigger problem than just food media, and I do appreciate the solidarity. It does feel particularly disappointing that these worlds are run by people who had access to education and probably sat through classes in gender/race/economics and consider themselves to be liberal people. But, I also do think there are lots of examples on the other end of this argument where people are doing inclusive, interesting things. It’s possible. (right?!)

  72. Best thing I’ve read this year. Look, I don’t care that blog formats are similar (I don’t have time to be interactive, which seems to be the buzzwork of today– I just was to look, think, and go out and make it.) But I do care that the food is overwrought and over-similar.

  73. Tim: yeah good call, think you’re right on this one. I naively confuse my personal half-hearted ambitions for my own blog with those of the big ones. I am also now realizing that maybe I would to some extent see those attacks as personal because I myself identify so much with the stereotype that would be getting criticized…whoops.

    Also I now completely agree with you about the whole origin of all our boringness — after writing my previous comment I was reading some posts on one of my favorite blogs, Man Repeller (fashion/beauty), and I realized how much more intriguing and fast-moving the discourses that get started on that blog are than almost every food blog I follow. And I think it’s because the pool of diversity (race/sexuality/age) that participates in that world is so much bigger. Which is pretty ironic — it’s funny how high fashion, money-wise, is much more exclusive than food is, and yet the food world is the one being defined and ruled by yuppie Kinfolk while fashion is really riding the democratic involve-the-masses blog wave.

  74. PS not sure if you’ve checked out “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking” but I started it today and it is so so good. Definitely the best food-related writing I’ve read in a long time. You know, just in case you want to restore your faith in food memoirs…

  75. I loved every single word you wrote. Diversity. Yes, but most people are not like you and aren’t really interested in diversity. If you’re not making something with whole grains or a pie or a cupcake and making Afghan aubergine borani instead, you’re (I am) a “niche blogger” who is never really going to make it in the mainstream food media. Am I bitter? No. Disillusioned? Yes. It’s like the mean girls in school. We have to sit on different tables during lunchtime. Thank you for writing a beautiful and honest piece.

  76. I love this Tim! In the spirit of asking more of food media: http://www.eater.com/2015/3/5/8155773/heres-your-new-favorite-food-magazine-gout

  77. Amy- Thanks for the rec, I will check it out (both the book and the blog).
    Caitlin- Isn’t that great?! It sounds like they are going to make that regular feature. Can’t wait for future covers.

  78. June Opper Goldenblatt says:

    March 8th, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Hi Tim. I love your website. But I rarely read it. Because I have so many other things to do that i don’t even have time to cook. So my meals are simple and we add in some interesting spices or ideas that come seasoal sometimes. I rarely use a cookbook. I cook according to what seems right or has the correct texture. One of the reasons I have lost interest in cookig is something else I have been obsessed with both on a personal level and otherwise which is medical issues and that leads into food issues and allergies. The current fad of course now is Gluten and GMO additives etc. Anyway I mention this to make a suggestion theat you could possibly address the issues of food allergies and how to still enjoy food by getting around the denied in so many ways that there are if only one knew about them. It is hard to be allergic to foods and it makes shopping eating out and cooking difficult and even Boring. I am tired of standing in grocery stores reading labels. Anyone else out there? So Perhaps you could do some gluten free recipes for example. And how to spice up foods avoiding salt. Now I realize it is hard to make the very best example of your very best recipes by having to substitute but it is the way of the world these days. Maybe someone already posted something like this. Anyway did i mention i love your blog? J

  79. June! Thanks! I’ll send you some suggestions. There is some good stuff out there. xo

  80. Mary Anne says:

    March 8th, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    This was so good. I am so glad you took this essay where you did! I thought I was gonna have to get all rant-y about whether that Piglet guy was sexist or not, but you really upped the level of the discourse and took this somewhere that feels productive. I hope the food world people are reading… Also, Petra is cool. Also, this is funny: http://thekinspiracy.tumblr.com/

  81. I could not agree with this more. Blogs grew in importance as people could take risks, write opinions, publish inspite of people’s agendas. But all that seems to have happened is a sea of copycat, insipid, dry people banging on about coconut oil and how pearl barley is the new quinoa.
    I began trying to be a foodie-inspired blogger but discovered I had nothing original to say, so now i just write about life and thoughts and my dog a lot. Its of no interest to anyone, but its at least honest and original and has some personality to it. Too often its just “I love chocolate, and I love oranges. So I thought, why not a chocolate orange cupcake”. If I could insert a GIF here of Meryl in Devil Wears Prada sarcastically saying “florals. in spring. Groundbreaking” I totally would, but im a luddite.
    Diversification remains something we have to push forward as there seems an unspoken barrier against it. Publishers and TV companies think Black chefs only make sense when making soul food or BBQ- why is this the case? Gay chefs on television are rarely seen with their partners- is this a fear they have about exposure and violence as a repercussion? Whatever the reason, I for one dont accept the status quo, and am glad someone more articulate than I has spoken against it. Fantastic post.

  82. A very interesting take on the state of food writing today. Assuming it was not a rhetorical question, here’s an answer to the question, “Where is everyone else?” If readers want to find people of color writing about food,a great place to start is Kwanzaa Culinarians [kwanzaaculinarians.com/].It’s not just about Kwanzaa, but it was a way for those of us who write about food, who happen to be of African descent to find each other, gather together in single space and write about what we love. For those who are serious about finding diverse voices, there are many of us who have shared our writing and you can find our personal blogs through the site as well. Come on over!

  83. Lisa- Thanks. It was only rhetorical in the sense that I was asking the gatekeepers of big food media the question. I like that you answered the way you did because, yes- obviously there are many talented people out there from a variety of backgrounds who all could help make this “mainstream”(?) food world more interesting. I hope they take the time to seek them out. (and I hope I didn’t make it seem like diverse (in whatever way) voices didn’t exist, I was just questioning why they weren’t being included in the dominant food culture)

  84. Well written article. Those “different” blogs are already out there, but due to the fact that the masses (and friend circles) tend to all go to the same blogs these “different” blogs go virtually unnoticed. The bigger blogs are also part of the masses that do nothing to help promote the “different” blogs (not that this is their responsibility) but just adds to the problem you bring up.

  85. My sentiments echo those of Ana Sofia. I think that whenever a post incites dialogue it is a good thing and I believe you raise a lot of important points. At the same time, as a non-white blogger who is also working on her first cookbook and has contributed to sites like Food52 in the past, I feel that this post is not entirely representative of my experience. I get you though with how Kinfolk-esque, aspirational looking blogs, many of which are selling style or photography over substance are lauded in the food media world, but there’s a lot more out there. I think that’s what is so great about this day and age. When I was in high school I would seek out alternative viewpoints by finding zines, but today it’s actually much easier since we have more blogs and points of view at our fingertips. In my mind, it’s not the job of food media to tell us what to read, it’s on us to find it to some extent. And if we’re lucky, food media will realize how cool our discoveries are and follow our lead:)

  86. Hi Chitra- Thanks for the comment, and I appreciate your optimism, though I don’t share it. To clarify, when I call for diversity, it is more than just racial/ethnic diversity–points of view (outside of NY, LA, SF, different aesthetics), and relationships to food (different values, incomes, etc) that are not already represented are important to me. I agree that there are places to find this stuff online, and I am grateful for them. But I am tired of not seeing it reflecting in the mainstream media (as a consumer of mainstream media).

  87. Also, Chitra and Ana Sofia (and others)- I hope I didnt make it sound like I was trying to speak for you in the essay. I was just speaking for myself as a consumer of the culture who felt bored by the lack of representation of many kinds of diverse points of view.

  88. CatChicago says:

    March 9th, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Tim-
    This is a proverbial pot that definitely needed stirring.
    Thanks for being one of those blogs that makes a difference!

  89. I think what’s sorely lacking these days (in everything except perhaps cable news, where it has taken over everything) is point of view. I am a white, (30) something woman living in the burbs and I write what I know. I happen to live in pretty ethnically diverse burbs, which does influence my writing, but my blog is my POV, and I’m OK with that. My blog isn’t trying to be a wide-ranging food media site, either. But it’s easy, even with a piddly little podunk blog, to get sucked into what’s popular, what’s pinnable, what people are looking for (Oreos!) and I have to struggle to make it about what I’m eating, thinking, reading. That said, I also have to dismiss it if people say my blog is boring. Don’t read it. That’s fine. (which isn’t actually a criticism of this post).
    I think Adam’s review had a point of view (and one thing I generally like about Adam is that he has a POV)), I think Mimi is being disingenuous if she doesn’t admit that she’s selling a lifestyle as much as or more than she’s selling the food, I think we all can admit that Mimi’s lifestyle is an aspirational one for many, and I think Adam is fair to criticize that in a critical arena like the Piglet. I also think that Mimi has a right to respond (it’s her blog!) and Adam has a right to respond to Mimi’s response (it’s his blog!) and Food52, which isn’t a personal site, should have stayed out of it. I agree that more diversity would be nice, and the food blog world does feel like a giant circle jerk, but I’m also not sure that that is what this particular catfight is about. Mimi is an insider, too.

  90. i am shaken. thank you.

  91. Kate- Thanks for those thoughts, I enjoyed reading and I agree with you. I also admire your use of the term “circle jerk”. But, and I don’t know how much I actually care about the argument between Thorisson and Roberts, Roberts’ blog seems just as aspirational as Thorisson’s to me. He writes about eating in fancy restaurants and movie premiers with his partner and all of this other stuff. It isn’t packaged as slickly, but I don’t see much difference. I also think that you can say a lot about Thorisson but it seems hard to deny she has a POV. But what I really want to question, for the joy of argument, is if either of them really has a “personal blog”? They both have made plenty of money off of their blogs, Roberts has corporate sponsorship, etc.. How is that different than Food52? (other than the size of staff?). I like your philosophy that that they have the right to do what they want on their sites, but I think it gets complicated when readers are supporting their business. Yes? No? I don’t know. I do think that “blog” has lost meaning.

  92. Thank you for this thoughtful article. It intersects with my thoughts this morning about how the majority of my Facebook feed is comprised of my food friends promoting their work (blogs and books). I am a blogger and my second book is coming out in the fall–and I was just thinking about how boring we all are, constantly promoting our work to each other. And how similar all of the food magazines have become–mostly about beautiful people eating the same thing over and over again. Also, I have been following the he said-she said essays about the Piglet review, the author’s response, F52’s response to the response, etc. etc., and I think your analysis of all of it is spot on. Thank you!

  93. WOW. Thanks for sharing this. I’m floored that Adam would post such a mean-spirited review about Mimi Thorisson’s cookbook. It’s absolutely beautiful, and yes, sometime when I look at it I get a tinge of envy for her life in France, but good for her that she is able to live a beautiful life with her husband and kids and cook beautiful food that is also beautifully photographed and presented.

    I also agree that food media is TOTALLY getting boring and stale these days. I started reading a few food blogs back in 2007 when i started cooking classes at ICE in New York and decided to create my own food blog in 2010 as a journal to express my creativity and recipes and stories. It was not something I originally wanted to do for a living but I eventually found myself quitting my full time job in advertising in 2011 to explore a career in food media and that is exactly what i did. I don’t make money on my blog at all. I make money as a freelance food stylist and photographer for tons of clients who allow me to live in New York and explore food and write about it.

    I’m so over all the food blogs out there that look the same, read the same and all have the same recipes just done a different way — if I see one more recipe for Kale and Quinoa bowls I just might throw up.

    We all need to express ourselves as creative people that love food and want to share their ideas on it. But I agree it’s time to start shaking things up a bit with more original and interesting content that is unique and doesn’t just blend in with the rest of the world out there. And as far as Adam’s review goes – shame on him. Not cool. I like his recipes but his photos are down right awful. And he seems to recreate all the recipes that are already out there himself. At least Mimi as a unique perspective, and style and point of view. Too bad if he’s jealous of her success. Good for her and I’m loving her gracious and non-offensive response to his criticism.

    Let’s all try to support each other more. It’s jealousy and pettiness that makes this business go downhill ALL TOO FAST.

    Great post. And I LOVE your blog. :)

    Cheers
    Kristen

  94. Tim – when I say it’s a “personal blog” I mean that the conceit of the blog is that it describes their personal experiences – “this is a chronicle of my life, mostly food-related” while Food52 (and Serious Eats, Eater, and also Lucky Peach, etc.) are trying to be more of a magazine format – a variety of points of view, coverage of a subject matter, rather than a person. Maybe that’s what makes them boring, but I think that blogs sprang from a chronicle of personal experiences, and most of the blogs I care to read are still that – personal. (Though I love Serious Eats and Food52 – I just think they fulfill a different role in my reading life.)

    So I would expect Roberts and Thorisson to take sides, but not Food52. I get that Roberts blog is also aspirational, perhaps, but not equally – I live in LA – I’m not eating dinner at a movie premiere with Kristin Wiig, but I can go to a restaurant and photograph it, or make some pasta at home with stuff I buy from the farmer’s market. I can’t live in a farmhouse in France. And I don’t think Roberts is explicitly selling a lifestyle in the way that Thorisson is.

  95. Really interesting read Tim. It was tough for me to follow all of the Piglet craziness. It seems like Adam is really trying to rile feathers these days… one of his most recent blog posts also called out anyone who makes money online in ways other than he does as complete shills. That doesn’t have much to do with this series of back-and-forths, or maybe it does…

  96. Sing it! And: you are the very best. I think aspiration is a-ok and I want to get better, live better, cook better which is why I buy cookbook’s like Mimi’s… they both got a little snarky with each other, but honestly, it was a reason for me to bother with the Piglet this year… sometimes, it’s the same books all of the time. Anyhoo, you’re pretty awesome.

  97. Tim,

    Thank you so much for this post. This debate is raging in the SF/F lit crit world recently(on diversity and sexism), and what you wrote here so eloquently is a perfect response. Thank you again for writing this post, and especially for pointing out that actively looking for diversity does not mean shutting out any particular viewpoint.

  98. “Why have you never had a non-white guest on your podcast?” Tim, I love you. It’s interesting that Food 52 would post that review when they cater to (in my opinion) the same type of lifestyle. I could write a very long rant about the lack of diversity in the food blog/world scene, especially when it comes to African Americans. I truly appreciate you for mentioning that.

  99. A-fucking-men to this. Brilliant, Tim.

    <3
    A boring ass food blogger

  100. Sala-mander says:

    March 9th, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Wow. Perfect timing. Just today I was looking through one of the free food magazines that come out of St. Louis. While I thumbed through it and I got this sudden urge to throw it out of my car window. Most of the same old restaurants and breweries were featured. The photography looked more like beautiful still life paintings rather than anything I’ve ever ate and drank. I love cooking and baking and I used to have a long list of blogs I followed but that list has become shorter and shorter. Your blog is one of the few I still follow and I’m so glad because this article, at least for me, is incredibly inspiring. I’ve wanted to start a blog for so long or something like a blog, but held myself back because I didn’t want to create something pretty with flowing words and pictures that seem too good to be real. There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s just not me. You’ve inspired me to start something for myself that is real. Thank you Tim and I hope your post inspires others as well.

  101. I must admit I also fall into the boring food blogger category, and can sometimes shy away from criticism – both giving and receiving. I spent some time thinking about criticism in general this afternoon after reading your post, wondering why no one wants to engage and shake things up in food blogging land. I think for the most part bloggers receive much of their critique from anonymous comments that basically state ‘You suck and your recipe does, too’, and so we learn to get defensive or tune out anything that isn’t complimentary. But we forget that a different opinion or an honest response doesn’t have to be an attack, but an avenue for growth and conversation.

    I always really, really appreciate your posts and view point. Even when I don’t totally agree, you give so much food for thought, and always encourage me to think, think, think.

  102. This is great. Much needed. Everyone needs a good slap in the face sometimes. I love hearing about your critique process, I’m totally trying that!

  103. @Kate “I think Adam’s review had a point of view (and one thing I generally like about Adam is that he has a POV)), I think Mimi is being disingenuous if she doesn’t admit that she’s selling a lifestyle as much as or more than she’s selling the food, I think we all can admit that Mimi’s lifestyle is an aspirational one for many, and I think Adam is fair to criticize that in a critical arena like the Piglet”

    What bothers me about Adam’s criticism is that it goes beyond the content and presentation of the book, to ascribe intentions to the author that he then mocks and belittles. A Kitchen In France documents a tradition of rustic, family cooking that relies on seasonal, local produce. So the shots of foraging mushrooms, picking berries, visiting local markets, children and dogs in tow, provides a context for the food. That’s what people do in rural France (albeit less chicly attired, more often than not). It’s disappointing that Adam could not see beyond that. I would have expected a judge with his ‘foodie’ credentials to demonstrate some appreciation of cultural nuances rather than the petulant knee jerk reaction that we were treated to, which didn’t do either of the books justice.

  104. Which is my longwinded way of saying that Adam Robert’s review betrays this very lack of diversity! French recipes are fine, but don’t show me photos of families gathering the ingredients, where the produce comes from, or families eating it!

  105. Thank you for writing this. It really needed to be said and you did so beautifully.

  106. I basically want to bathe in this essay I feel that supportive of its assertions. First, about the two books – Helen Rosner at Eater had it right when she pointed out that Fancy Desserts is no less aspirational and stylized than the French cookbook. For Roberts to miss that is myopic. And for Food52 to miss that point while trying to say that gender doesn’t enter the conversation is like trying to say we live in a post-racial society. Just incorrect. Elegantly written, but incorrect.

    Second, I’ve been thinking a lot about the current food zeitgeist and how it really does seem to reflect a narrow slice of life – the aspirations and desires of white women in their 20’s, living in urban settings, usually without children. It’s all so neat and clean and clever and sexy – what about the rest of us, in our messy what’s-for-dinner lives?

    For food media to be more interesting, I think 1) it has to reflect more broadly, as you point out here; 2) it has to straddle practical and aspirational; and 3) it should be really personal. Not what dinner looks like when I plate it and clean off the counters and get the lighting just right, but what I make for dinner, night after night. Why I make it. Who taught me. Why that matters.

  107. Tim, I really love you for writing this. It’s so spot on and so representative of conversations that need to happen inside this insular food world. I have been thinking this week about how annoyed I have been to open all of my most recent Food & Wine magazines to find travel+food features where a white person/non-native of that country “teaches” us about the food of that place. It’s not that there isn’t something interesting and useful about the insider-outsider view, but every.freaking.time?

    and the insular goes to even a more micro-level; even little things, like the fact that a magazine suggested using one’s back patio or garage as an “extra cooler/refrigerator” at Thanksgiving was laughable to those of us who live in states (there are a lot of them!) where it’s, like, 70 degrees on Thanksgiving Day.

    I appreciate you calling out the glossy, slick lifestyle stuff for what it is. I have been wondering for a while how far it all could go before it simply became a caricature of itself, and I think we’re there.

  108. @Niishta. Thank you for your comment. I ofen get the impression that many food bloggers don’t actually cook much. Fads and trends seem to dominate, style over substance. Mimi Thorisson’s is one of the rare ones that seems to genuinely document cooking for a hungry family, day in, day out.

  109. Hi Zelda- I don’t think it is rare for food bloggers to cook, that seems like a difficult conclusion to arrive at. But I am glad you are such a huge fan of Mimi, I am sure she appreciates the support.

  110. Thank you for writing this–it’s given me all of the Feels and Thinks today because finally, FINALLY someone acknowledged the giant elephant in the room that is the food blogging world. It’s refreshing to read said acknowledgement from someone who has seen some benefit from the system as-is, because hopefully that means we can move beyond the “just jealous/haters” retort and instead push the community at large to, you know, be more interesting and meaningful again.

  111. Mrs Beryl Patmore says:

    March 10th, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Well, I just can’t help chuckling at the fact that the person embodying the trend of narcissism and me-me-me-ness in food blogging and blog-book publication is named Mimi, and the person defending the Piglet is named Wilbur.
    Seriously though it’s nice to see some thoughtful dialog here. Cheers.

  112. Mrs Beryl Patmore- Those are hilarious observations. THANK YOU.

  113. I am less concerned with diversity behind the camera and in front of the computer (or taking notes in a notebook, or whatever) than I am about diversity in subject matter.

    “I’m happy to hear what a bunch of 20-something white women are cooking, but where is everyone else?”
    Everyone else is all over the world and, speaking as a (white middle-class female — so sue me) food writer whose focus is NOT on food in the USA it’s damned hard to make a living unless you ARE writing about what a bunch of 20-something white women — or Dude Chefs! — are cooking.
    Because, with the demise of the old Saveur (love it or hate it), there really is no publication (other than Art of Eating) that wants (to pay for), or will even consider running a story about grandmas anywhere in the world ….. or the traditional foods of a non-hipsterized neighbourhood in Istanbul … or palm sugar and how it’s traditionally made all over south east Asia … or eating in Taiwan, for crissakes, because (in the words of one editor to me) “it’s hard enough to get people to read about Shanghai! I can’t run a food story about Taiwan”!
    Food and travel magazine editors have been underrating their readers and dumbing down their publications for so long I don’t think they know how to do anything else.
    I know that there are ‘timid’ readers out there. But I am also sure that there are people who want to read about real food all over the world, whether the writer’s ‘experience’ can be ‘replicated’ by the reader or not (more editorial quotes). I think the problem is that markets are segmented by region and country. People outside the USA read American publications, but Americans rarely read foreign publications such as the now-defunct Australian magazine SBS Feast — which did run the sort of stories you’re talking about. It’s (mostly Australian) audience was dedicated, but it was simply too small to sustain the pub.

  114. This is beautifully written: whip-smart, dead-on, and very very brave. Thank you for putting it all under a much-needed microscope.

  115. I really just want to respond to Stacey Snacks and say I’d read a blog about cooking in your underwear. GO FOR IT!

  116. Yay! Well said and thanks a million for it.

  117. garneteyes says:

    March 11th, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    +++1!! So sick of hearing white liberal people write shit about kale and fetishize expensive shit while there is so little written about all the amazing other types of food around the globe. very well written and thought out response to the whole controversy.

  118. This was a fun, invigorating read! Can’t wait to see more diversity in this space.
    We’ve been trying to do that in our own little way here in India. We write about great food from all the different states of India. There is so much delicious diversity within the country but there isn’t a whole lot of focus on it right now. The 20 and 30 somethings here end up cooking their own regional cuisine or move on to international food when they want diversity. We’re trying to get recipes from all over the country and make Indian regional food have it’s moment. Make a Bihari Chicken Curry as exciting to cook and eat as bacon jam.

  119. I read several food blogs, but come away feeling sad. I’m old, poor, and on foodstamps. I cannot afford most of the ingredients in the featured recipes, or much in the way of new equipment. I have a shelf of cookbooks, from richer days, and my usual repertoire is as much Asian (South, East, and Central) as Western. It’s a restricted repertoire, because I have to use the cheapest (but still healthy) ingredients and I cook in big batches, to save time and money. The only cookbook that speaks directly to my current experience is Good and Cheap, by Leanne Brown.

  120. Hi Zora- Thanks for writing. It is unfortunate that so much of western culture reflects abundance and privilege when it is, in reality, so rare. The ridiculousness of me being able to spend extra time and income on my blog is not lost on me. Leanne Brown is great, and I’ve been impressed with both the work she is doing and her delicious recipes. And I am happy for the success of that cookbook. Hopefully there will be more.

  121. This is the best thing I’ve read on the internet in a very long time. Thank you for writing this and for having the courage to publish it.

  122. Tim!

    Thank you for this charged, thoughtful post. I agree wholeheartedly and am, myself, hungry for edgy, surprising, overlooked and independent perspectives in food media. Hopefully, your post – and the enthusiastic choir response that followed – will translate to some degree of change in the conversation. Nothing worse than the scenario of: someone points out the problem, everyone cheers…and things continue as they were. Be brave, people!

    While reading your post, I was reminded of this quote by the venerable Ruth Reich, from a NYT interview last year:

    NYT: You edited Gourmet for a decade, until it closed, while Condé Nast’s other food magazine, Bon Appétit, continued to publish. Have you checked it out?
    RR: I don’t know if they do Bon Appétit by focus group or not, but that’s what it feels like. You don’t want to give people what they want. Give them something that they didn’t know that they wanted.

    Finally, I don’t want to further analyze the Piglet conflict, but I do want to say loud and clear that I feel sexism (and other isms!) are a serious, pervasive problem in the cookbook world. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on Helen Rosner’s eater.com piece, which I thought was so accurate and so eloquent.

    ps. I agree with Amelia – you should be a Piglet judge! Amelia should too.
    pps. Someone should give give Roberts and Thorisson a book deal: Fancy Macho Desserts From A Kitchen in France.

  123. Wowee! I read this twice to digest the awesomeness that it is. Your observations are searing, spot-on, and gentle at the same time. Thank you. You remain one of the few bloggers I follow who continues to *write*, and not just curate. See also: Manhattan Nest, Door Sixteen, Sweet Fine Day for examples of striking a great balance of words, wisdom, delicious food/design, and being a human being. Thank you.

  124. Tim, thank you for writing this. As a non-white twenty something, I adore ‘the other’ and I definitely celebrate diversity in food writing. Truth is there is lot of passionate ‘other’ food writing out there hiding in small press and little league blogs. As audiences we need to seek it out and support it so it can be shared. The food world is insular and repetitive because we haven’t demanded to see different. ENOUGH KALE IS ENOUGH.

    I’d like to add that I found this piece through Robyn Eckhardt (who I see has commented above) and Pamela Timms, two white older-than-20-something women who do a fabulous job exploring and revealing the ‘other’ in their food writing. As Robyn mentions it’s not the whiteness of the person behind the words or photos, it’s the diversity of the subject matter.

    And to anybody who thinks Mimi Thorisson’s life looks over styled or manufactured, you need to spend some time in Europe. This is what any lifestyle of cooking with unprocessed foods in a quaint village and spending time with your family looks like, and really anybody can do it.

    Lastly, I love Zora’s comment and your response to her. I live in India with my grandmother, and she is the ultimate cook (we eat well but she’s able to whip up a dream meal even with cheap, pantry foods). I too would love to see more egalitarian cooking. Privilege can often be the death of creativity.

  125. Hi Sheena (and Robyn)- Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I do think that the person behind the camera (or keyboard) also matters—matters a great deal, in fact. But I appreciate your perspectives and hope that lots of people can be represented on both sides of the camera/keyboard.

    JAM- I didn’t see that Ruth Reichl interview, but will look it up….she sounds smart. ; )

  126. @Zora. I’m sorry to hear that. Jack Monroe’s blog documents cooking for herself and young child on a limited budget:
    http://agirlcalledjack.com
    This one also has some tasty, thrifty ideas:
    http://www.theskintfoodie.com/recipes.html
    It would be good to see more blogs that document frugal (but delicious) family cooking, and how the use of seasonal, local produce support that, how one meal can morph into another, how to make the most of cheaper cuts, offal, leftovers. Context is so relevant to this. Even a vegetarian curry could be costly if you don’t have a variety of spices already in the pantry, whereas in rural France, foie gras, a treat for high days and holidays, is still enjoyed by all with no class connotations. I wish you well.

  127. I really appreciate your argument here regarding what happened to Mimi Thorisson. It’s disappointing how Food52 reacted. And you also bring up diversity which I am constantly searching for myself, and also trying to portray. Sometimes I feel exhausted looking at all these photos of everyone creating the same thing over and over again. I wonder, when will I have a voice that people will want to hear.

    I really like your blog. I make the carrot dip with dukkah quite often, thanks for that!

  128. I was stuck while reading your post by many things, but the section about how the foodie circles are populated by the privileged and connected, that everyone knows each other, and that’s just how the biz is (clearly this is my paraphrase). I recently read an article about the lack of diversity on nonprofit boards of directors (“Ninety percent of board chairs, 80 percent of boards, and 89 percent of CEOs are of a single race—White.” –Tivoni Devor, Nonprofit Quarterly, 3-4-15, http://tinyurl.com/mx6ou6u ) and that the problem is networks. Just like foodie circles are by their very nature, insular, if board recruitment relies on the networks of current board members (largely white people with white networks) then diversity will NEVER increase. It’s going to take much more intentional action and white people getting outside their comfort zones to improve those stark statistics above, and perhaps the same applies to the food blog issue at hand. This may be totally obvious but it was so interesting to have read that article so recently and then read your post and see the similarities from very different sectors. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful and not-boring writing. Love your blog!

  129. Tim, I must admit – I stopped readying your blog about two years ago because, well, I found it boring.

    Mainly because the type of food shown, pictures and text are so very similar to my own life.

    You hit in on the head – what I look for now in online material is generally stuff that’s vastly different from my own (happy but familiar) life. Which includes Mimi Thorrisson’s blog, which I find fantastical and enchanting in the way I find Martha Stewart fantastical and enchanting.

    But I found this post via the link on Design Sponge, and this is by far the best commentary I have read about the whole thing, and is so refreshingly honest. Please write more like this. You have interesting stuff to say!

  130. Thank you, obrigada! :)

  131. You are truly awesome for writing this. I hope food52 is reading.

  132. Hi Tim,

    I just discovered your blog through this whole hullabaloo and I love it. I actually want to read it. I agree with your points and am still pondering how this whole idea of boring and sameness feeds into the mass culture at large. Under Ruth Recihl’s stewardship, Gourmet magazine was not boring. She regularly delved into food politics and even ran David Foster Wallace’s lengthy treatise on the lobster. Yet the publication was axed for its “low” subscription rates (1 million), while Conde Nast kept Bon Appetit. It seems like most people just want their recipes. If you want to stay in business, you have give people what they value. Maybe our values as a culture is part of a larger issue here.

    I’ve been blogging for six years and I have been thinking about how I contribute to the boredom a lot lately. I’m a trained writer and photographer and think I do good work, but my traffic is not any different than it was three years ago. Or four. Or even five. I’ve spent hours upon hours reading about SEO, the pros and cons of advertising and sponsored posts, wringing my hands trying to figure out what people want only to throw them up and decide that I’m not going to figure it out. And you shouldn’t have to. All you can really do is show up and be yourself, which may mean getting personal about your life or just focusing on the food itself. It’s really about cultivating your own voice, which may be boring for a whole lot of people but will resonate with some. At this point, that handful of people is all I really care about. That and approaching my blog as a mindful practice rather than a means to an end. It’s so easy to focus on the how that we often forget the why.

    Thank you for such an engaging post. This is the first time a food blog has made me think in a long time.

  133. Hi Darina,

    Thanks for reading and responding. I nodded my head a lot while reading. Yeah, I mostly have questions and few answers. I think the blogger problems are slightly different than the magazine/website/cookbook problems, but they are all connected. I do agree that the only thing that matters much for blogs is POV, it is kind of the only thing they have going for them. And yes, not everyone will like every blog…you’re going to gravitate toward the people you find interesting for whatever reasons. I think the bigger websites and magazines have different (and greater) responsibility to readers and to pursuing some sort of objective quality.

    But hey, thanks for sharing your thoughts (your blog looks great, I am looking forward to checking it out).

  134. I know I’m so late to the party.. I’ve been out in Tofino on spring break, but just wanted to let you know I’ve had my laptop open to this page and read it almost three times, plus all the comments.. it’s something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately too. All the sameness. And funnily enough, I’ve had the idea (and the domain) for an all-grandma food blog/webcast for years, and it’s one of the many projects I just never got around to doing. And now I wonder if like one commenter said, everyone’s tired of hearing about your grandma. I spend too much time trying to decide which ideas to spend my time and energy on, and then wind up not doing any of it.

  135. Love this, especially the bit about criticism. If there’s anything anyone needs to learn or know is that criticism of your work isn’t criticism of who you are. Criticism (constructive that is) helps us get better.

    I’m pretty new in all of this, don’t roll in any circles, come from a country most don’t know so I can’t even share much experiences, but I love discussions that come from this type of posts and think we all need to just talk about stuff.

  136. Julie- This is the least fun party ever. ; ) Jealous of your trip to Tofino, and thanks for contributing to the discussion. I would probably write another impassioned essay about how we should ignore criticism and do all sorts of bad ideas. But we need to avoid paralysis (easier said than done).

    Alice- I’d love to visit Ljubljana! It’s been on my list for years, hopefully someday. I think we all just need to talk about stuff too.

  137. This post has stuck with me and I’ve been giving it lost of thought, which I wrote about here: http://gathering-flavors.com/2015/03/24/cozy-strawberry-jam-cake/ . I’ve paused to consider why I blog. Thanks for the inspiration. D

  138. Well, somehow you just nailed all of the random (maybe not as irrational as I think) feelings I have around food blogging. On most days, I’m not being as real as my soul begs me to be. Those who know me would say I’m opinionated (and most love me for that…I think). I have a story to tell (former fat girl turned a bit of a health nut, but not in a super-annoying kid of way. I think). But I’m so sick of myself. I’m not doing a very good job at saying ‘fuck you’ to the (sometimes) overwhelming pull that tells me I have to tone down the colors on my blog. I have to refine the appearance to be more, well, boring (not that it isn’t boring in it’s own unrefined way). I have to take a photography class to create photo essays that make my readers wish they had my life. Frankly, I find it all so…suffocating. Thanks for putting words to the real dilemma that is food media. The monster kind of created itself….it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of it.

  139. Fascinating exchange. I live and write from France, and love reading what everyone across the Atlantic is saying and feeling about food media. Congratulations on opening up the conversation.

  140. I heartily agree with you – the roberts review was a little mean ( beautiful people often get that), the thorrison post defensive (who isnt after being attacked) but the kenzi wilber response was a disgrace. Book design?! Totally not the point. An absolute embarrassment to her, to food52.

  141. I was led here from another website that referenced your bold stand. I wish more of the world had your courage. Variety is indeed the spice of life. Having travelled and lived in at least three continents I can attest to the excitement of venturing outside your comfort zone and dipping your toes into other cultures. Great post!

  142. I read robert and mimi’s post and felt he was mean spirited. I read the comments on each post till I couldn’t stand it anymore. What robert failed to realize in his pea green envy was that chateau would be called a fixer upper in the US. I don’t envy the expense of remodeling that place. I enjoyed your point of view in this post it was a refreshing change and was sorely needed in these vapid pastel cupcake blogs posts and with their bloggers eyes cast bashfully downward jean clad with requisite thigh gap. I once enjoyed food blogs but few keep my interest nowadays. I know this is late in response but i just came across this post today and felt I had to respond.

  143. Being different doesn’t sell, on pinterest or anywhere else. The sellouts are the ones rolling in the cash. yay for diversity! Yay for saying “fuck” and talking about the gritty street life and presenting an imperfect life. but readers don’t want that…most people don’t even read the blog post, the actual words, anyway. Plus we’re so obsessed with “haters” that a single negative comment merits an entire melodramatic post followed by a deluge of ass kissing comments.

    You’re being too optimistic. There…criticism.

  144. Hello Tim, thank you for writing this article – it’s beautifully written, intelligent, perceptive and spot on in how the world (i.e. food blogging) works. I love you for stating this clearly and not be afraid of the consequences. It’s equally the quality of your recipes and your writing that draws me to your blog on a regular basis. Signed, long time fan.

  145. I just found this while searching for a recipe in your archives, and I wanted to say thanks for a such a thoughtful, important, well executed post. I imagine it felt like a bit of a risk to write it, and I’m grateful you did. I was on an open conference call last fall for Ferguson BLM where an organizer said something that stuck with me ever since: the only way we can make change is by accepting an increased level of personal risk, whether big (putting your body on the line) or small (speaking up in conversations with your friends and family). I wish I remembered his name to cite him because I really do think about it all the time.

    I think your thought about diversity is so important. Food is so personal and human, and ignoring the inner lives of people who aren’t well off and white is not ok. And food is also so political—who’s making it? what access to ingredients do they have? Have you had a chance to look at The Gaza Kitchen? I think it’s really successful in both of these respects.

    I’m so tired of reading food media that comments disdainfully about the rise of open-and-combine 20 minute meals without any regard to the social factors. Women are working. People have to work more and more hours to support themselves and their families as inflation outstrips minimum wage increases and social supports are gutted. This stuff is so important and so reflected in the food we eat, and the closest food media normally gets to addressing it is a comment about well off workaholics. Food media is too focused on food as lifestyle aspiration and not on food as culture.

    I do think the Roberts review is sexist. He’s reviewing two books that BOTH bring in the author’s personal lives. Thorrison’s presents her as living a rural dream, Headley’s presents him as a cool punk rocker. Thorrison’s recipes are surrounded by photos of her picturesque domestic life, Headley’s are surrounded by flyers for his old bands’ gigs. So there’s a problem with Roberts presenting Thorrison’s book as “not a thoughtful cookbook” because of the lifestyle imagery while all he says about Headley’s is “Though it’s a little heavy-handed with its punk-rock aesthetic, Headley is a real-life punk rock drummer, so it’s earned.”

    There’s plenty to criticize with Thorrison’s life-as-lifestyle porn—I think it’s actually pretty problematic. But the superficiality of Roberts’s “this man earned the right to present himself as cool and hardcore, that woman is narcissistic” critique does just seem sexist.

  146. This is the third time I’ve read through this, and it is just as spot on as the first time. You really articulated something that I have had in the back of my mind for so long, and feel is so true. I am definitely guilty of falling into the same-ness of the current food blogger scene, and am CERTAIN that I am boring more than I am not. Then I just try to remind myself why I started in the first place, put my head down, quite comparing or trying to be like anyone, and just do me.

    Thanks for writing so perfectly what so needed to be said!

  147. I needed to read this today for many reasons. Thanks for being brave and honest and saying what needed to be said – with humour.

  148. As can be seen, I am really late to this party. However, I appreciated your take. You reminded me of that Bob Dylan quote, when he got hammered for playing an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival (because he was trying something different), “They really can kill you with kindness.” He welcomed the criticism. He shares your belief that criticism makes us think, it makes us question, it can make us better.

What do you think?