Food Blog Ethics: a personal manifesto that went viral

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To be honest, Leah and I had no idea what we would be getting ourselves into when we wrote our manifesto. We had no idea just how many people were going to read this thing.

Monday of last week I called my friend Leah of Spicy Salty Sweet to suggest we write a post about food blogging ethics. The subject was at the forefront of my mind after weeks of heated discussions with fellow food bloggers across the state. Leah and I got up early on Tuesday and met for breakfast to discuss the topic. When the plates were cleared from the table of our local breakfast joint, we had written down five major points of what we thought our blogs should stand for. When we finished we looked at the scribbled page and saw it for what it was: a manifesto.

Like Jerry Maguire in the opening scene of the Cameron Crowe film of the same name, I was excited by the sharing this food blogging mission statement. I wanted to share this co-authored document but I didn’t know what would be the best format. Post simultaneously on our separate blogs? Share the same post title?

Before I left for work that night I called some sage food bloggers for advice. I asked how they would recommend two independent food bloggers simultaneously weigh in on the same subject.

“Maybe you should start a separate blog together,” one blogger suggested.

By Wednesday—between our jobs and maintaining our blogs–Leah and I had fleshed out our five-point manifesto (it reminded me of the code created by a handful of pragmatic, Danish filmmakers). We looked for a title for our document. We wanted a name that was obvious and easy to find in a Google search if someone happened to be looking for such a topic. We decided on The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

We posted the blog for the first time on Thursday afternoon, before I went to work. A Twitter-inspired discussion started and many bloggers began re-tweeting about The Code. While I was busy waiting tables, people all over the Internet started arguing about the responsibility and freedoms of online publishers. By the time I got home at 2 AM, more than a thousand people had visited our site. Comments poured in. Many asked to join. Some said they were interested by the discussion. Others were angry and fearful at the words we had just posted.

Overheard on the street

The online discussions had gotten so loud that someone at The New York Times overheard. By Friday morning, I awoke to a phone call from Leah. I slept through the first call. The second one got me from bed.

“We’re in the New York Times!” she screamed.

In less than 48 hours—thanks to the power of the Internet and Twitter–The Food Blog Code of Ethics went from a personal statement of two people to a nationally distributed document.

It’s been less than a week and already our lives have been changed by the publication of document. We have been given the opportunity to discuss the politics of blogging with people we have never met before. We are engaging with others on these electronic pages and responding to our supporters and detractors. We are facing personal attacks and vitriolic remarks while we encourage discussion. We are taking part in a fast paced discussion about accountability, civility and fairness.

Though our code was written for ourselves (and for anyone else that shared our views on the need for personal accountability in the food blogging world) the fact remains that this document went viral. Within hours our personal statement became Something Bigger. This experience only highlights the need to understand just how powerful the Internet can be to make a personal statement a public document.

A few days ago we were two people talking ethics. A few days later we were an organization against freedom.

This is not what we are.

Keep clear

We are two people making statement that we personally believe in. For us personal accountability and truth in self-publishing is an important credo that we feel strongly enough about to express to others that are willing to listen. Personal accountability is a choice. Not everyone believes in accountability or a personal code of conduct. In the US, there are no laws that insist we have “good manners” or even etiquette for that matter. No one is going to get in trouble for cutting someone in line, skipping church or being rude to a bank teller. But I do hold myself to a higher code of ethic and personal accountability. That’s my choice and I’m not telling any one to do things my way. I do, however, feel the need to express what I believe in. If you don’t agree with me, don’t read it, and for goodness sakes, don’t feel any pressure to do it! .

In the discussion of free speech, it’s been interesting to hear people raise a fist against to the notion of personal accountability and self-imposed standards while at the same time those very same people are calling for us to shut up, rescind our statements, delete the Food Ethics Blog and go away. As US citizens, we are lucky to have the right to freedom of speech. It applies to all of us, regardless if we agree with one another.

Please know that we, the original authors of the code, are just two individuals that came together to write a document that defined the values we believe in. There will be no charges to be part of us, no branding of those blogs that are “good” or “bad”. There is no master scheme here. We just wanted to stand up and say what we believe in.

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

6 Comments

  1. matt wright
    May 5
    Reply

    My view is that this has nothing to do with being against freedom, and certainly nothing against blogging anonymously.

    When you talk to someone face-to-face, you have accountability for your words and actions. You could either please or offend that person, and you have to deal with the repercussions of what you say. The same should be true with the written word.

    To me a blog is far more engaging and “real” when you can tell the writer is both passionate and fully committed to what they are writing. This code certainly doesn’t mean a restriction of freedom of speech, in fact used correctly I think it gives your words even more power, because it shows you have thought about what you are writing, and are passionate enough to post it on your blog.

    Hats off to you guys for opening such a large can of worms, and announcing the standards by which you follow, and invite others to do the same. Its a brave step, and in my mind one that has been incredibly well taken.

  2. matt
    May 5
    Reply

    Because the bloke above stole my name (expect to hear my legal team shortly) I second what he has to say!

    Like I told Leah, kudos for getting us to speak, think, engage and respond. This has been such an amazing thing and I respect you both for letting us know how you feel.

  3. MyLastBite
    May 5
    Reply

    On my “About Page” I have the following:

    “MyLastBite shares just the positive and never the negative. If I like it, I share it… If I don’t, I don’t!”

    It’s that simple quote our parents (hopefully) taught us as children…

    “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

    That’s my personal motto for life, and for my blog… AND I absolutely agree with your Food Blog Code of Ethics.

    Congrats on stirring up the pot!

  4. Diana
    May 6
    Reply

    Bravo to both of you!

    Funny that you liken the manifesto to Jerry Maguire’s “mission statement” — I actually said the same thing in my post about it yesterday!

  5. Jen
    May 6
    Reply

    These topics fueled our food blogger meet & greet at WBUR, and I agree that the discussion needs to continue. Kudos to you both!

  6. Elizabeth
    May 7
    Reply

    Brooke,

    When I saw the Food Ethics Blog come up I did think that a huge storm was off the horizon…

    What I really love is that this has inspired you to write some really passionate things… and I love that. This post is well put together and a pleasure to read!

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