I realise, as I write this, the irony of a food blogger asking whether food bloggers opinions matter. My food blog was started as an entirely selfish endeavour, born out of my passion for eating and a change of job role which left me needing an outlet for my writing. Three years on I still love writing about food, but does anybody love reading it?
There is a lot of buzz around so-called micro-influencers like local food bloggers (frozen food titans Iceland have shunned celebrity endorsed campaigns in favour of microbloggers recently) but do our passion projects service readers? Do our audiences trust and respect our opinions?
What got me thinking about this was a blog post I read recently about a restaurant I was soon to review. The blogger clearly meant no harm in their criticism of their dish, they were genuinely disappointed. But had they known, done a cursory Google search, or just asked the waiter or waitress before ordering, they wouldn’t have had such different expectations to what they were served, or posted a criticism in their review for a mistake the chef didn’t make.
I find it a shame that a restaurant reviewer can have no awareness of a common restaurant cooking technique. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you need to be a trained chef to know about food. Nor do I think you need to have formal training to be a good writer. I do think, however, that people who position themselves as food writers, bloggers or influencers should be knowledgeable about the field in which they write.
I have no formal training or qualifications in food, and aside from working in a sandwich shop for 2 years and a bar for a little under 18 months, I also have no experience working in that sector. That said, I’m a professional writer by trade, and I live and breathe food. I cook. I bake. I read. I watch programmes about food. I listen to food podcasts. I buy cookbooks, write recipes, eat out at as many restaurants as my salary will allow. I always try things I’ve never eaten before (like that time I ate jellyfish at Chung Ying Central. It wasn’t my favourite). What I don’t know about the food I’m eating, I make it my mission to learn.
So when I’m reading a restaurant review on a blog by a self-professed foodie, I expect them to know their stuff too. Like the difference between a velouté and a consommé. They should understand how the dishes they’re eating are made, and if they don’t, ask. It may be that my own self-imposed standards are too high, but that’s just what I expect.
It seems I’m not alone in these feelings either. I had the pleasure of interviewing various food writers and bloggers earlier this year for a project I was working on. Luis Hara, AKA The London Foodie, believes that knowledge is the key. Like me, he doesn’t necessarily think formal qualifications are a must have (though he has undergone Cordon Bleu training since the launch of his supper club and blog), but they certainly add credibility.
Ms Marmite Lover, one of the earliest, and most outspoken food bloggers, believes that blogging democratised the world of food, taking it out of the hands of stuffy, middle aged white men in newspapers, and put it into the hands of the people. However, she also acknowledges that this isn’t without its problems, when people don’t know what they’re talking about.
It’s the same for recipes. Whether you’re an expert or not, if you’re a blogger sharing a recipe, I expect it to work well if I make it. I know a lot of bloggers who share their recipes, and I love that, but at times it’s woefully obvious when trying to recreate their dishes, that this is something they’ve chucked together once and luckily, it worked out.
Being in the midst of writing a recipe book myself, nobody can stress enough how important it is that the recipes work consistently. Being Instagrammable is one thing, but being effective is what gets people trusting you and coming back for more. I haven’t shared nearly enough of my own recipes because of them not being robustly tested enough and the fear of losing respect if they don’t work.
Then there’s the PR angle. Bloggers are an integral part of food PR. From restaurant and product launches, to menu tastings and events, to brand partnerships and product placement, it’s clear that brands and PR’s believe that even micro-influencers can and do have an impact. Whether it’s to get their name out there, create a social media buzz or to gather genuine reviews, I can’t be sure.
For the bloggers that work with PR companies and brands, it’s a fine line to tread between maintaining your credibility and authenticity, and accepting the freebies that get sent your way gratefully. Same goes for brand collaborations. The bloggers I know won’t sacrifice their own principles in order to make a quick buck, but there’s always someone who will. Does that damage the perception of bloggers for all of us?
From my own personal experience, my friends, acquaintances, social media followers and colleagues tell me they seek out places they’ve seen on my blog. I’ve had people I haven’t seen for years message me out of the blue to ask for a restaurant recommendation or a recipe. The popularity of the few recipes I have shared also indicates that people are using them, which makes me feel like I’m doing something useful. It also gives me a sense of duty to make sure my content is honest and representative of real life experiences.
These days, anybody with a keyboard and access to the Internet can write about anything they want, that’s just how it is. While there are plenty of passionate, smart people out there whose content I love and trust, I can’t shake the feeling that knowledge and expertise is often overlooked in favour of pretty bloggers with highly filtered Instagram feeds.
For me, I just can’t put my faith in the opinions of a food blogger that clearly doesn’t know as much about food as they think they do.
What do you think?