Nov 012011
 

How often do you think about farm workers when you choose your food, cook it, or write about food? Yeah, I thought so. Me too.

Last week I went to a talk about agriculture and social justice by writer Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation; Greg Asbed, co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW); and Lucas Benitez, co-director of the coalition.

Schlosser spoke plainly about how conditions for farm workers have not improved since he took a year to write about the servitude of strawberry pickers for the Atlantic in 1995. In fact, he said, it’s worse now. Minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is now one-third less than pay in the 1960s and 1970s. And on top of poor working conditions and pay, some states have passed draconian anti-immigration bills that have terrorized farm workers and cost farmers money.

What struck me most about what Schlosser said is how the food movement does not seem to care. As food writers, we’re part of the food movement too. We write about food, farmers, even animals, but we don’t write about who supplies our food. Yet we should be grateful to farm workers for making it possible for us to eat healthy food every single day, he argued, and help them earn a living wage, with decent working conditions.

So as food writers, how likely are we to cover this topic, and how does it fit in with the writing we already do? Granted, most of us aren’t going to choose a career as Continue reading »

 Posted by on November 1, 2011 at 1:39 pm
Sep 202011
 

Does opinion still matter? Yes. (Photo by Stuart Miles.)

Now that the New York Times’ latest restaurant critic, Sam Sifton, has moved on, the hand wringing begins anew about whether career food critics are doomed because of Yelp and food bloggers.

Let’s ask a different question. How have food bloggers changed restaurant reviewing? Here’s what I see as the biggest shifts:

1. Food bloggers don’t wait to review. In the old days, reviewers waited a month or so for the restaurant to get its groove. Bloggers figure that if they’re open for business, they’re fair game.

I like this approach. It implies there’s no cozy relationship between the two. Except that sometimes, there is. See No. 2.

2. Restaurants have opening events for bloggers. Print reviewers go to restaurants undercover and hope not to be recognized. They have expense accounts or get reimbursed as freelancers, whereas most bloggers write for free, as a hobby. So restaurants pay for them to come sample a meal. The cozy relationship is back.

3. Bloggers are more likely to cover an event than to review the food. Cover means “I went there and this is what I had,” versus. reviewing, which requires opinions Continue reading »

Jul 192011
 

Strawberry Rhubarb Smoothie. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Strohmeyer of Virtually Vegan Mama.

What do you do when another blogger copies your recipes, ideas, and even gets the same freelance gig? That’s the situation food blogger Jennifer Strohmeyer of Virtually Vegan Mama found herself in recently, when another blogger took Strohmeyer’s recipe ideas for her own blog, and even got the same freelancing gig at the same website where Strohmeyer contributes.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. We’ve had lots of discussions here about adapting recipes. Everyone modifies everyone else’s recipes, it seems. Maybe Strohmeyer was imagining things?

I think not. Let me tell you what happened.

But first, a little background on Strohmeyer. She started her blog in mid-January (full discloser: Strohmeyer is a former client), sending photos to Food Buzz and Continue reading »

Jun 282011
 

Earlier this year, former Gourmet Editor-in-Chief Ruth Reichl began her consulting gig (rumored to be worth $250,000 annually) at Gilt Taste, a high end web food store that’s paying her to advise on food writing on its website.

Gilt Taste is a new kind of media for Reichl, one that blurs the line between advertising and editorial. That’s a sea change from her days at Gourmet, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. To my surprise, she welcomed the switch.

“The notion of the wall between advertising and editorial,” she begins in an interview with Eater, “If you’re dependent on sales and you only have things you are really proud of, there’s no need for that wall and there’s no reason to be embarrassed by saying a product is great and this is why it’s great.”

Really? My eyes widened. So she’s assigning advertorial now, where a company pays to get an enthusiastic article that looks and smells like regular journalism? And her big name freelancers are going for this? The former magazine editor in me got ready to protest.

No, no, and no. It’s so much tamer than that. Some of the stories have links to products Gilt Taste sells. That’s it. Links.

(Here are two examples. For a recipe by New York Times regular freelancer Melissa Clark on steak and potatoes, the words “boneless ribeye steaks” are hot, and they link to a catalog item for $127.95 for four Continue reading »

Dec 222010
 

An urgent email from a p.r. person offered me payment of $50 per post if I would write 9 to 15 posts about a bakery chain over the next three months.

Obviously, she had never looked at my blog, because I don’t qualify. And anyway, I wouldn’t do it.

The question remained, however: Should food bloggers write sponsored posts, and under what circumstances?

In the email, the p.r. person took it upon herself to suggest what I might post about:

  1. Sharing recipes from the bakery
  2. Talking about what breaking bread means to you
  3. Sharing your thoughts on going to the bakery
  4. Linking to video assets of cooking /baking lessons.

(And if I wrote the maximum of 5 posts per month, that would be 15 posts @$50 each = $750.)

The p.r. person also wanted me to drive traffic to the bakery’s website on Facebook and participate in a Twitter party. I’d get a few free meals from the bakery. I’d also get a guaranteed minimum payment of Continue reading »

Nov 012010
 

While at a doctor’s office last week, I read  an editor’s letter in Conde Nast Traveler, about the importance of telling readers the truth. I tore it out (sorry) and brought it to my desk to ponder.

I started out thinking her credo was noble, but then lost out to cynicism.

Editor Klara Glowczewska invoked the words of the founder in her editorial: “We are wholly independent. We pay our way. We have no hidden obligations. We have no higher obligation than the one to you: to provide truth in travel.”

This philosophy, she wrote, is even more relevant now, “with the proliferation on the Web and in other digital formats of travel advice from thousands of unexamined sources, a tide of unfiltered bits of data masquerading as reliable guidance and clamoring for our attention.” Translation: she doesn’t respect web writers.

She’s tough on freelancers. They can’t even fly at a “discounted rate.” “If we discover that a reporter has accepted favors while on assignment,” she writes, “…that person can no longer work for this magazine.” Traveler correspondents must always be anonymous, too. “If we were to accept favors, our views and recommendations would lack authority — and we pride ourselves on Continue reading »

Sep 302010
 

Food blogger Amy Sherman of Cooking With Amy

First I just Tweeted about this offer because it was so outrageous. Then I decided no, it’s worth sharing with you.

Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy sent me an unsolicited email she received from a company that wants her to feature its product on her blog. That’s not unusual, right? But read on, and you’ll find some crazy requests. Here’s how the email begins:

“The event is at a culinary trade show in Italy. You would be picked up at the airport  for the event, lasting two days. We would put you up in a hotel and cover all meal expenses for the 2 days of the show. “

Sounds reasonable so far.

The Request

But now it gets suspicious Continue reading »