Spring blogging doldrums

Spring scared the hell out of me this year. It is so much more radiant and incredible after living in the tropics for a while. Trees aren’t supposed to change colour and regrow. In the tropics, most trees that look as if they are dead are in fact dead with invariable certainty. I’m blaming this existential botanical terror on my lack of updates of late. I have no good reason.

The pour

I’m eating great food and not telling anybody at all about it, just like regular people.

And I’m busy: over at SBS, I’ve been rolling out an article on “world food” per week on Wednesdays for the Mouthful blog and my very first article on Melbourne for Wall Street Journal Asia appears soonish.

Also: if you happen to be in Bangkok, be sure to check out food blogger Austin Bush’s exhibition, The Last Chinatown at Kathmandu Gallery, 87 Pan road (near Indian Temple off Silom road) Bangrak, near the Surasak or Chong Nonsi skytrain stations from 6 December. It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of him trawling the back streets of BKK’s Chinatown.

What makes a good food blog?

A few months ago someone asked me what makes a good food blog; a question that begs to find a common thread through the hundred or so food blogs that clog my feed reader with other people’s meals. As somebody that spends plenty of their working life measuring user behaviour on the web, I know that people’s actions are a much better measure of “goodness” than people’s intentions. If people say that they think the NY Times website is their favorite site but then spend 8 hours a day on Facebook which is the better website?

For instance, I love Converse’s This Is The Index Page campaign. It’s exactly what I wish more web marketers were doing: taking their brands less seriously and playing with the web in new and foolish ways.

I’ve been there a total of three times, once for the purpose of checking the above link. I average between eight and sixteen hours a day logged into Google. If someone asked me to name a “good” website, the Google sites wouldn’t be the ones that came to mind. Given that goodness is entirely subjective and what I say is good will be definitely the wrong answer, at the very least my online reading behaviour suggest which food blogs are good.

What I read is diverse.

There are the obvious choices. Firstly the kindred folk whom I’ve met, shared meals within their slices of Asia and whom frequently comment here. Austin Bush Photography, a few members from the crew behind Gut Feelings (where I also contribute far too sporadically), EatingAsia, Tomatom, Abstract Gourmet, Rambling Spoon. The food blogs that got me started on this crazy game like Noodlepie (currently not blogging about food) and Stickyrice (currently MIA).

The local Australian blogs that I read all have a bent towards either academe, taking the piss, or preferably both like Progressive Dinner Party or the sublimely-named Thus Bakes Zarathustra. I like The Old Foodie, if only because it is 100% history and no photos. Otherwise, I’m very slack at keeping in touch with my local blog scene. When I get a chance, I flick through whomever local has linked to me and comment at random.

I’ve got a vague side interest in the molecular which comes from Ideas in Food, and have been reading back issues of marginal academic journals like Meat Science.

From the mainstream press, the newspapers are getting more blog-like with social sharing, user commenting, or just straight down the line blogging. I read Ruhlman, Observer Food Monthly and the associated Word Of Mouth blog, Jay Rayner, AA Gill, Robert Sietsema. Anything in the New Yorker that I can get my hands on. I read glossy food magazines at random, generally whenever I’m going to pitch an article at them rather than through loyalty or habit.

What I don’t read is multitude and what seems to run through all of those blogs is a sense of myopia. The pictures emulate the short depth of field, blurred macro shots that place food in the centre of the photograph and blur the background into deep bokeh territory. The context where the food sits fades into a characterless void. It is a seductive form of food photography because it ignores the rest of the world. The chaos of culture and politics that produce food is left in that hazy background.

The writing does the same. If you solely focus upon the plate or recipe in front of you, I don’t read your blog. There is a pantheon of well-edited, professionally photographed recipe books that fill that niche for me.

A sense of context seems to be what sets apart the blogs that I read from the ones that I don’t. Good food blogging contextualizes food. It makes it feel as messy and imperfect as the world from whence it comes and not like it appeared spontaneously, teleported in fresh from Planet Donna Hay. For me the hazy background is the interesting part of a food blog’s photography and writing; it just happens to have a plate of food in it.