Defining Quality, a Food Blogger’s Equation

lexicon of food blogging
*a typographic representation of a simple equation

Though I hate algebra and loathe the fact that I still can’t quite recall the entirety of my multiplications table, equations are my way of making sense of incredibly complex situations. It all started when I was a kid trying to make sense of a chaotic childhood. Equations like mom + dad + siblings = family worked for me. The simplicity of equations helped me skip the confusing parts (arguments, lack of money, bills not getting paid, neglect).

They say that the adult human mind naturally organizes knowledge of the world into systems—or, in my case, basic equations—in order to understand life’s lexicon. Equation-based thinking can be a good thing—until you stop being mindful of the true value of things.

Take for example, this equation:

Food Woolf = Food Blog

Food Blogs ≠ Food Woolf

(Food Woolf is a food blog.  Not every food blog is Food Woolf.)

Yeah, I know. That equation is obvious. But you’ll have to be patient with me on this. Because what I’m about to talk about does get a little complicated.

I know that all food blogs are not built to be the same. Yet, there are times when I think we all forget that other blogs aren’t built like ours. We get frustrated. We might even get petty. And sometimes, we can even take other people’s words and acts personally because they don’t share our point of view.

I am a writer and a restaurant professional. I view the world with a very particular point of view. So when I read other people’s blogs, I perceive the work from the perspective of a writer and a restaurant professional. I’m aware that there are plenty of blogs out there that aren’t looking to win any literary awards. And yet, sometimes—when I’m not at my best–I forget that not everyone has the same goals as I do.

Rather than enjoy a blog for what it is, I can get lost in my internal editor mode. I get irritated by things like ALL CAPS rants, two paragraph posts, and words like yummy, drool, and delicious. Thin stories, laundry list posts, and paragraphs filled with empty descriptions can leave me feeling more than unsatisfied. On bad days, I can get judgmental and angry.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Food Woolf  ≠ Your Blog

My focus should be on what the blog is, rather than what it isn’t. Not every food photographer has a great vocabulary. Not every recipe-developer wants to tell the history behind an ingredient. The savvy business blogger doesn’t necessarily want to sculpt a story with their words—they want to optimize their post with the words they pick.

Bloggers do things differently from each other because they are different.  Not everyone shares the same opinion about blogging as I do. Lots of successful food bloggers post for business, others for art, and some do it as a kind of open-cookbook to share with friends and family. What’s important is to consider the source and keep those values in mind before embarking on handing out any judgments of the content.

I say all this because it’s by breaking things down into simple equations and getting clear on what the value of things are, I realize it’s unfair it can be to take how other people do things personally. Doing so would be like getting upset with cat for not being more dog-like.

And honestly, what’s the point of that?

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of examples of food bloggers venting their frustrations about other bloggers. I’ve written or said things I’ve later regretted. I’ve witnessed negativity spread in the form of gossip, bad mouthing, snarky comments, whispers, and eye rolling. I’ve even heard the words mommy blogger used in food blogging circles like it’s a slur. But why? Surely a blog (popular or otherwise) shouldn’t be up for attack because it doesn’t jive with your personal style/aesthetic/voice.

Food Woolf may be a food blog, but all food blogs are not Food Woolf.

I’ll be the first one to say thank goodness for that.

I’m not a recipe developer, world traveler, programmer, professional eater, restaurant critic, step-by-step food photographer, or a branding genius. There’s no point in taking any other person’s work or words personally because they don’t share my point of view. Even the best of us get small minded sometimes. Maybe it’s better to take a deep breath, check our motives, and re-evaluate the true value of things.

Because honestly, isn’t it better to give back than to tear each other down?

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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.

35 Comments

  1. Brooke, once again, thank you for your honesty. You’re right, it’s much better to give back than tear each other down. I’m glad that you brought to our attention the importance of celebrating the differences in each food blog. Each one of us is created unique in our own way and our blogs are a simple extension of that.

    • Food Woolf
      February 15
      Reply

      Carrie,
      it’s the simple uniqueness of each of us that’s important, right? There’s so much competition, fear, and ego out there. Sometimes it’s hard to get humble, get ourselves out of the way of all the good stuff. Thanks for your words of support.
      xoxo,
      Brooke

  2. Great post…I hate to say this [and might take flak for it] but I think a lot of these stereotypes are perpetuated from the top. The same politics exist in ANY industry or workplace its just that with blogging the internet is basically your workplace and everything is out in the open. At blogging conferences, I’ve witnessed the most venting, the most “segregation” if you will, among some of the “big” and “popular” food bloggers, not the newbies or the inexperienced. Most of us are here because we are doing something we love; I think its when business/money becomes a factor that people become ultra-competitive and willing to snark other people.

    • Food Woolf
      February 15
      Reply

      Maris,
      It’s hard when all you can see is all the bad behavior out there, especially when you see bad behavior in people you feel should be role models. We’re all flawed humans, it’s true. Though it’s easy to see the flaws in others, the only ones we can truly change are our own. Maybe by being better people we can create an environment where other people–even popular people–feel it’s better to be nice than to be judgmental. But honestly, the first to change the problem is ourselves. We can’t wait for others to lead the way. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  3. February 15
    Reply

    Brooke, thanks for sharing this! I have so enjoyed getting to meet the diversity of people in the food blogging world.

  4. Thanks so much for saying so eloquently what I’ve long thought:

    It’s talking about food. On the internet. Relax.

    • Food Woolf
      February 15
      Reply

      Shauna,
      And here I was spending hours trying to get a succinct post…You just nailed the theme in three sentences! Thanks!

  5. February 15
    Reply

    Once again, thank you for your words!

  6. February 15
    Reply

    Agreed! I’ve been trying to make peace with the fact that my blog is just different from most people’s blogs, yet it’s still mine. If everyone’s voice, expertise or content was exactly the same it would be a pretty boring blogsphere.

  7. February 15
    Reply

    Thank you so much for not only sharing your thoughts, but for organizing them in a way that is digestible and understandable. I’ve been wrestling quite a bit recently with the state of food blogging as it becomes more stratified and in some cases formulaic. People look at successful food blogs and assume that their approach is the only way to be successful. And while there is much to learn from the top tier bloggers who are so graciously willing to share their experiences and expertise, in the end, each blog is like a snowflake and we are better for it. We each bring our personal passions, our audience’s needs, our subject matter, our motivations for blogging, and blogging best practices together in a unique way. I appreciate that you’ve reminded us today to celebrate the diversity this creates in our little corner of the blogosphere.

  8. I am so glad that you posted this Brooke!!! It is the differences among blogs that makes them interesting – for me that is why I read and enjoy a number of different blogs – each has something different to offer!!!
    As for the negativity, I ‘ve seen it and don’t quite grasp it – I suppose it’s comes from people’s own insecurities to some extent. I read things on blogs that I know are factually wrong but it’s not my job to point that out – unless it’s something that is seriously dangerous – and even then, it should be a private note to the author and should be in the form of a “heads up” and not a bat over the head!!!

  9. Well said, Brooke! My RSS reader would be rather boring if every item read exactly the same way. I think it’s important for each of us to find our own voice…and to appreciate each other’s uniqueness.

  10. Very well said! Less comparing, less tearing down and more building up of other people. Thankfully, so far I’ve only had good experiences in the blogging world. I know not everyone is kind and gracious, but the people I’ve interacted with so far have been and after reading your post I’m more grateful for it than before :)

  11. February 15
    Reply

    Well-said. Although I have to agree with Maris that there *does* appear to be some form of stratification, ‘us vs them’, ‘cool kids vs not-so-cool kids’ vibe going on at these food blogger conferences. As annoying as it is, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on my work and the satisfaction it brings to me and my readers. Above all, the blog has given me a load of highly-treasured friendships, and that in itself is more valuable than any SEO tool can get you.

    Out of curiosity, did anything in particular happen to inspire this post?

    • Food Woolf
      February 15
      Reply

      Danielle,
      Yes! I realized that I had judged a situation incorrectly because I had forgotten the basic equation. When I realized that not all food bloggers are food writers and therefore I shouldn’t judge others for saying things that don’t align with my point of view, I realized I had some re-thinking to do. This blog post came from that lesson.

  12. A very well written and thoughtful post. As a long time blogger but a very new food blogger, I’ve found the differences in the two communities I participate in to be quite eye opening. Both have their good and bad points.

    I think it’s important to remember to treat everyone with the same respect you would like to receive, in blogging or life. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

  13. February 15
    Reply

    Love your thoughtful post. I agree with Kathy- my Google Reader is filled with a variety of different voices, etc. Some blogs I follow because those people have the ability to create mouthwatering recipes, and I follow some because of their outstanding food photography, and I enjoy those who put more thought into their writing too. I don’t like the cliques at the food conferences- aren’t we all there to interact and learn from each other? And the gossip too… oy! Best to stay away from that sort of thing and respect food blogs for what they are, expressions of one’s self- all unique in their own way (and that’s a good thing).

  14. February 15
    Reply

    I think that the beauty of blogs is that they are all different, or at least should be! It’s like a bunch of individual reality shows where we can get to know different people that often have similar tastes.

  15. The whole of the food blogging world often makes me shake my head in disbelief, first over how diverse and unique the genre is, and then how mean and snarky and competitive it feels. I love the variations that I find; I hate the ‘high school clique’ feel that I get. I love the voices, the photos and the abilities; I hate the hierarchy, and the pretentious-ness that comes across. I love the few communities I’ve found that are so welcoming and accepting yet at the same time, the sense of ‘celebrity worship’ is insane. I was in the unfortunate position of being targeted with excessive negative comments and feedback several years ago by two very big name food bloggers that left an incredibly sour taste in my mouth, both for them as people – especially being bloggers that many others admire and frequent- and at the entire food bloggers community. I avoid conferences like the plague, mostly because I don’t need anyone else’s approval or feedback on what I do, and when I hear of a fellow bloggers negative conference experience, it’s like a black eye on blogging as a whole. This isn’t a club that caters only to the mighty and well-known. It’s a huge group of people doing what they love- talking about food and recipes- each in their own unique way. I’ve found a great deal of acrimony from the general public regarding food bloggers, and it only takes a small handful of high and mighty individuals to ruin it for everyone.

  16. Brooke, my life changed when I started my blog…..for the better. I am grateful for it and our beautiful community of bloggers – not matter what their focus is. I look forward each day to knocking on virtual doors to take a peek and to say hello. I will be everyone’s biggest fan and cheerleader, if they want me :) xo

  17. February 16
    Reply

    as a former english major and lover of almost all literature (sans Milton + Byron), I have always appreciated really, really, really good pros. you my dear, write really, really, really good pros! i look forwrad to reading your novel one day. it will be a piece of literature i place at the front of my bookcase!

  18. February 17
    Reply

    That’s what I come to food woolf for…well-written and thought-provoking commentaries. I needed this reminder.

    • Food Woolf
      February 17
      Reply

      Joan,
      glad I could be of service to you and your process. That’s what it’s all about.
      xoxo,
      Brooke

  19. February 17
    Reply

    I found the link on Food News today and I just want to say, I love your blog! It’s a breath of fresh air.

    • Food Woolf
      February 17
      Reply

      Thanks Judi! Welcome to my blog. Glad you enjoyed reading. I hope you come back soon.

      Best,
      Brooke

  20. February 20
    Reply

    Well said. I quite like your use of equations to get your thoughts across concisely.

    • Food Woolf
      February 21
      Reply

      Thanks Dana! I’m glad my equations worked for you. They certainly do it for me!

  21. February 21
    Reply

    great post, completely resonated with me. Way to keep it real Brooke. Just a small editorial comment…ahem…this photographer does have a relatively comprehensive vocabulary.

    • Food Woolf
      February 21
      Reply

      Girl, I KNOW you do. I hope you didn’t think I was saying that all photographers aren’t writers. Not at all! Some of my favorite websites for writing are also photographers–which makes them double/triple threats! Like you!
      xoxoxo,
      Brooke

  22. February 23
    Reply

    LOVELY. Because we all ARE different. Just not fascinating. xo.

  23. Brooke: the beauty is in our differences. We can certainly look at the neighbor’s grass and be tempted to say its greener or more lush… but our grass is ours and we tend it and it’s where our feet are comfortable. I look at others for inspiration, for pleasure, for growth opportunities. I don’t always agree or like what I see…but that’s ok. Blogging is a wonderful form of journaling (each one in their own voice)… no judging attached. Most times we just do it it for ourselves! BTW, you touched a cord on something that I have been thinking about a lot: tahnks again for ‘reading’ our minds!!!

  24. April 2
    Reply

    I’m new to the food blogging world. This means I’m unscathed and unjaded, in general about the subject. I’ve never even considered the possibility that somebody might judge me for writing a food blog. I am a “mommy blogger”, though I don’t see that as a bad thing. In fact, I never even considered the possibility of that being a bad thing. How could something as innocent as writing recipes and taking pictures be hated? I don’t understand the concept, honestly. But, I guess it makes no difference, honestly. Blogging is just a hobby. I like to cook, it grew from there. I enjoy it. I get better at it. I ignore all negativity. It is what it is. *shrug*

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