All aboard the gravy train

There is enough beef waste in the US to fuel trains. Via The Guardian:

US rail operator Amtrak may have given the term “cattle car” a whole new meaning with the first test of a biodiesel train that runs on beef byproducts.

Operating on a $274,000 (£178,000) grant from the Federal Railroad Administration, the state-owned rail company has begun operating its daily Heartland Flyer train, travelling between Oklahoma City and Forth Worth, using B20 biodiesel fuel.

The fuel, which mixes 80 per cent diesel with 20 per cent biofuel, cuts both hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions by 10 per cent, according to the company, which said that the fuel also reduces particulates by 15 per cent and sulphates by 20 per cent compared to standard diesel fuels.

According to DirectFuels, makers of meat biodiesel, they’re “using blends of animal fats, but will be able to handle a range of feedstocks”.

Trolling as the food writing

Terry Durack over at the Age manages to both pit Sydney against Melbourne and suburb versus suburb by attempting to pick the worst suburb for eating in each city. There is good food to be found everywhere in Australia – it may be behind closed doors or in people’s backyards rather than in restaurants or takeaway joints, but I have no doubt that it can be found in every postcode.

You just need to care enough about finding it.

This is the sort of food article that you should probably expect to be coming more often from The Age and finding its way onto the front page of the website: the article that trolls for comment in the guise of “engagement”. As it becomes incumbent on journalists to generate both website page views and comment, it is a much more lucrative path to chase the cheap arguments that generate knee-jerk reactions than it is to write challenging or thoughtful content.

Food blogger tip: How to block the worst diet ads from Adsense on your blog.

I both earn money from AdSense and pay Google for ad space – so seeing a terrible looking ad on my blogs and getting exposure hurts. If you do visit a couple of Australian food blogs, eventually you’ll be served up with this diet ad – as Simon mentions over at his site:

You might build a beautiful, minimalist site and advertisers ruin it with an ad that may well have been drawn by their own child. If you’re a food blogger, you generally get served bad ads from Adsense because the price that advertisers pay is based on (amongst other things) the competition for the keywords that you use on your site. In Australia, there is virtually no competition for food-related keywords and so food-related sites tend to attract the bottomfeeders who will pay 5 cents a click for any traffic that they can hoover up.

If you don’t want to see that ad on your site, login to Adsense, go to Adsense setup > Competitive Ad Filter and block them. It’s that easy.

Then sign up for the AdSense Ad Review Centre and filter out the entire categories of Cosmetic Procedures & Body Modification, Drugs & Supplements, Get Rich Quick, Weight Loss; and any of the other spammy categories that you choose. You’ll probably take a hit to your revenue and it won’t stop everything but it will serve up a better experience to your audience.

Getting my focus back.

The Australian food bloggers’ conference (which I’ve also written about over at SBS) seems to have had the effect of lighting a gigantic fire under the collective arses of Australia’s food bloggers. I feel like I’m back on the blogging bandwagon and have a decent reason to post again. The conference gave me real chance to assess why I do this.

My own focus has been away from Last Appetite over the past year, as you’ll probably notice from the volume of posts. This is not a mea culpa. I’m still writing, albeit 600 words a week for SBS. I chalked up my hundredth post for them a few weeks ago, which means that I’ve written the equivalent of a novel on SBS’ dime. Last Appetite fell by the wayside because I put most of my quality work elsewhere. I work hard at it and they pay me.

My focus has also changed over the last two years in Australia. Where in Cambodia, I’d wake up in the morning and point my camera at whatever happened to ride past my house, I’ve stopped doing so in Australia and this is to the detriment of writing blog posts. I’ve started to care more about the quality of my images instead of the value of a story even though I know that the words alone can carry it. This is because of a concern with how many people read my blog posts. Images sell food online and very few people want to read a thousand word post like this one. Those few people however, are the ones that I respect and want as readers; the people who are demanding, critical and taste the rising bile every time that they see a Donna Hay recipe book.

The weirdness of living back in the First World has started to wear off. I still get that strange sensation of disconnection in the supermarket and feel overwhelmed by the pointless choices but it doesn’t happen on every visit. I can even buy milk without reading the label of every variety and make choices using brand alone, like regular people must do. I spend much more of my time tending to my garden and cooking at home than interacting with the outside world. I began to think that my inner suburban pastoral life had no blog value in terms of cash or audience.

When I started blogging, I didn’t care if anyone read my work apart from a small group of people that I know in person. The idea that anything that I wrote had any monetary value was not a consideration that I made. Over the past two years, I got waylaid by making money with my blogs but have since realised that starting blogs or websites with low quality content in high value industries is much more lucrative than good writing about food. The fall of Gourmet magazine is testament to this.

As another example, this site which I own and use to test Google Ads is one page long, has virtually no content, but earns more than my few years of work at Phnomenon. If you click the ads, I’ll get somewhere in the vicinity of one to five dollars a click. Yes, it’s a travesty but a lucrative one. In a few years, I’ll be able to sell it for a few thousand dollars. I would not be able to make the same cold-hearted decision about a food blog that I’ve written because the sites are worth more to me than I could imagine a sane person paying.

For making money, quality content online is of little benefit. It’ll help you get a job providing content for someone else and be respected by your peers but won’t necessarily pull in a valuable enough audience to make advertising a viable option (yet). By viable, I mean making a minimum wage. Currently, the most valuable audiences online are those which are about to make a high value purchase online. This is why newspapers are spiralling the online drain – the valuable crowd is somewhere else.

So I’m going to stop giving a fuck about making money or building a larger audience on Last Appetite and get my focus back to where it once was: covering food stories in a way that nobody else writes about for the small group of people that I care about. I’m making good money elsewhere, online and in my day job, and my friends don’t want to see ads and don’t click them in any event.

Also, related to the conference, I’ve decided to go postal on any food bloggers accepting free shit from public relations folk.

I don’t mind if you attend press events or restaurant launches – the line between journalist and blogger has ceased to be meaningful and attending such events comes with the territory. But you don’t need to write about it. The bloggers whom I value most are the ones that set their own agenda.

As soon as you start talking about the awesomeness of the goodie bag or whore out your blog for a meal or an overpriced bottle of pomegranate extract, then when I link to you, you get a nofollow tag, forever. If you’re on my list of Australian food blogs, I’ll also mark that you have accepted cash or other incentives in exchange for comment in the past. If I wanted to read someone’s reworking of a press release, I’d buy a newspaper because at least that keeps a young journalist employed.

Pancakes at Fandango

Pancakes, Fandango

This is my favourite breakfast in Melbourne. Ricotta whipped with honey, maple syrup, strawberries, banana and pancakes with . You wouldn’t want to eat it often but your life is incomplete without it. It hits the perfect savoury/sweet balance; that urge that can only be sated by true American barbecue, slow-roasted vegetables or a caramelised meat from a claypot. This is one of the only places that meat and fruit work well together. Not counting tomatoes, pedants.

It’s from Fandango in North Melbourne. While neighbouring café Auction Rooms soaks up the Melbourne hype, Fandango has been running solidly for four years with a tiny shopfront and narrow courtyard only accessible through the kitchen. The only thing that has really changed since 2006 is the queue to get in on the weekends.

Location: Fandango, 97 Errol St, North Melbourne. Tues-Fri 7.30am-3pm, Sat-Sun 8am-3pm, closed Mondays.

Sensory Lab, Melbourne

Sensory Lab 1, Melbourne

I don’t take coffee too seriously. I’m aware that there are more aromatic compounds in your java than in a glass of wine but I don’t personally seek them out even though I draw a good part of my income from describing tastes to other people. Call it a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy wherein I pretend not to care just in case I’m wrong.

Sensory Lab (1) is another coffee vendor in the “third wave” of Melbourne coffee; the wave where people started riding fixed gear bicycles and eschewing milk and sugar in favour of flavour alone, thus swapping calories for the ability to fit into ever tightening jeans. It’s owned by Melbourne coffee god, Salvatore Malatesta, a man whom I used to see on the days when I could afford a coffee at university at his first(?) cafe, Plush Fish. In the mean time, he’s gone on to own at least 30 cafes. I’ve gone on to start a string of poorly-paying food blogs. Maybe I should have started taking coffee seriously earlier in my life.

Apart from the caffeinated beverages, the most entertaining part of Sensory Lab is watching people approach the counter trying to work out what the hell is going on. Is it art or commerce? What senses do they test? The high school science lab schtick seems to be a psychological barrier to the average punter ordering a coffee.

Sensory Lab 1, siphonSiphon coffee (S2 blend)

As for the brew, I’m starting to develop an appreciation for siphon filter coffee (above). Compared to their other methods of production (espresso, pour over and cold drip), the flavours in the coffee come out clean and bright, and intensify as you get to the bottom of the cup. There’s acidity rather than straight bitterness. And there is nowhere for it to hide.

It doesn’t tempt me to forgo my morning latte habit but it does draw me that one step closer to seriousness and a tighter pair of pants.

Location: At the back of David Jones department store (ground floor), 297 Little Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000.

Maybe people aren’t drinking it because it tastes like shit

There’s a short article over at The Age mapping the decline of the big Australian beers as a failure of their marketing. Their reason for the fall from grace of VB and Carlton:

Image is also one of the reasons why there has been strong growth in mainstream craft beers such as James Squire, Little Creatures and Matilda Bay.

”Boutique beers tend to be more expensive because it reflects the cost of production, and that tends to be associated with people with higher disposable income. So it’s a badge of wealth, status,” says Kirkegaard. ”But like a niche wine, it also shows a higher level of discernment.”

For The Age, how a beer tastes doesn’t seem to come into it. The failure of big beers in Australia may have less to do with them presenting a credible image of themselves than them presenting a product which does not taste good. Substituting in a faux import like Carlsberg or Heineken for a local trash pilsener because the former has a more positive image does not seem like a long term marketing strategy.

Matt Kirkegaard (quoted above) also blogs over at BeerMatt and even the most cursory read of his work will point out that he knows that there is more to beer than image alone.