Archive for the ‘Food politics’ Category

Blogging on Blogging



In the wake of the 2nd Annual Wine Bloggers’ Conference (or WBC 2.0 for the congnoscenti) and seeing “Julie and Julia” in the theatre, I pose this question; are bloggers writers? As I compile my thoughts and impressions, reduce them to words on a page, then read and edit for content and relevance; is this writing or blogging, or perhaps both?
The stream-of-consciousness style of Julie Powell’s blog, both in the movie and after subsequent readings is somehow just “TMI,” or “Too Much Information,” in the abbreviated lingo of the blog. Is anyone really interested in my unedited musings and late night insecurities? Or is it all part of that self-absorbed stream of daily details that characterizes this generation of writers? One of my friend’s comments (on facebook, none the less) was that at WBC 2.0, there were murmurs that food bloggers were merely riding on the reputation and coat tails of wine bloggers. It seems like such a chicken vs. egg discussion, hardly worthy of the paper (or screen) on which it is written. Is it the medium or is it the message? Is this really a new invention or merely the continued evolution of writing itself?
Writing is writing, be it scratching on cave walls or tweeting from your I-Phone or Blackberry. It is the delivery methods that are in flux. Back in the day, printed books were considered cheap imitations of scribes and scholars, often discounted by the truly learned of the times. Then the same book authors came to look down their respective noses at periodicals; magazines and newspapers. The writers featured in such ad-hoc publications must be of a lesser genre than those elite who spent their days, weeks and months writing books. Imagine the outrage at the thought of writing with a specific topic in mind, and to meet a deadline on top of that! Bloggers, due to the self-published and often unedited nature of their craft, are the new scapegoats, the non-conformists that drive the leading edge of change. 
What is writing, except creating or invoking a sensory experience via the printed word? Whether it is in a book, magazine, newspaper or blog, writers are painting pictures with language to elicit a response, even an affiliation, from the reader. One of the most wonderful aspects of blogging for me is the inclusion of images. Now, I have been known to make a reader hungry for a particular dish by just a few choice descriptors, but a full color image seals the deal instantly. As a chef, I have learned over the years that we “eat” with all of our senses. The auditory, textural, visual and olfactory aspects of food enhance the enjoyment above and beyond the simple sensation of taste. Think of curried chicken salad without the crunch of butter toasted almonds, without the golden hue derived from the complex spice blend, and without those characteristic earthy and tangy aromas reminiscent of an Indian bazaar. Many of our most pleasant memories are linked to sensory cues. Adding imagery to a written piece is often the tease that brings the reader close enough to capture their attention and draw them into the scene you are depicting. The proliferation of cookbooks as coffee table books, replete with dazzling photographs and the multitude of glossy food and lifestyle magazines attest to this reality.
Storytellers over the millennia have connected specific rituals to the practice of their craft. Sparking the creative process often requires achieving a meditative, receptive state, usually through the mechanism of repetitive tasks or surroundings. One of the unique aspects of blogging is that it is often more spontaneous. Mobile devices such as smart phones, net books or laptops enable the almost instantaneous capture of an inspiration, taking a moment in time and developing it as an expression of the writer’s perspective. Anything, from a memorable meal to an encounter with nature can be replicated for the reader, within moments of the experience, often complete with audio and pictures. Many writers struggle with the transition, as time tested but slower rituals must be cast aside.
What is the downside to all of this spontaneity? The virtual world is flooded with chatter. How then, to parse the true gems from all the background noise? New delivery methods allow the receiver to set up a complex set of parameters that screen the information delivered to them. Writers can also utilize these technologies to deliver a personalized message to a specific reader. We are on the threshold of a communications breakthrough that will change forever how we search for and receive information. Exciting, yet frightening, as the task of editing all of this content falls to the readers themselves. I saw a headline on a blog post the other day, “Sex Not a Prerequisite for Winemaking;” a title reminiscent of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.” Upon reading the article itself, I realized that the proper object of the sentence was actually “gender” not “sex;” something that, in the days of newspapers or magazines, an editor would have caught and likely corrected. Editors also functioned as fact-checkers, validating the basic soundness of the information presented. Who will perform that role today? Are we left to find some new truth in the tired old adage, “You can’t always believe what you read?”
Change only becomes cemented in our way of life when it leaves the fringes and becomes the new mainstream. Already, some bloggers are finding themselves left behind as newer, faster, and more abbreviated forms such as Twitter and video become the stock in trade of the early adopters. It is ironic to hear someone who has been blogging since “the nineties” complain about these new and annoying mechanisms for delivering content. “Back in my day….” Any one of us can fill in the blank. When it gets right down to it, words are words; and unless there is a reader, no matter how prolific you are, you are not a writer. The challenge lies in finding context in your daily life that remains appealing to those who wish to peer through the frame of your written words into picture that you paint with them. 
Post by Julia Conway on August 17th, 2009

Food Network Star?


One of the last things that my former mentor told me when I left the electronics industry over ten years ago was that she would “see you (me) on the Food Network someday.” That phrase came to mind recently while my husband and I were flipping through the channels and he saw an ad for “The Next Food Network Star.” Of course, many of us here in wine country are acquainted with Guy Fieri, a local restaurateur that was the first to win his own Food Network show in this manner. Jokingly, my husband suggested that I enter this year’s competition. We had just seen “Julie and Julia” at our local theatre, and I was commenting specifically on the lack of real cooking shows on television today. Now I am sure that the Food Network spends quite a bit of money on market research, and that their programming decisions are far from arbitrary; but it seems like there is a need for a show that combines the current focus on healthy, economical home cooking with the national trend for local and sustainable foods in a way that could be packaged as a concept for a travel-related cooking show that would appeal to current and future advertisers. We joked that, as a Slow Food leader, caterer, instructor and food writer, I was just the personality to develop and host such a show.
With my curiosity piqued, I visited the website the next day. After a fair amount of poking around, I ascertained that (1) I had missed both west coast open casting calls, and (2) was quickly approaching the September 14th deadline for video application submissions. An upcoming catering job appeared to present the perfect video opportunity, so I downloaded the application and the associated Rules and Eligibility Requirements. Almost twenty printed pages later, I assembled the packet and set it aside to read that evening. 
With a glass of wine in hand, I returned to task after dinner. At first, things seemed straightforward and simple; the usual prohibitions regarding relatives of employees, citizenship and age. Then along came section 7 and the first warning sign. This provision stated that an applicant could not have “…any type of contract for talent representation…that would prohibit applicant from entering into a talent contract, management contract, and/or merchandising contract with the Food Network.” Now, I do understand that the network would require a qualifying applicant to sign talent agreements with them, but why the prohibition on talent representation? Delving deeper into the Rules, section 13 asked the prospective contestant to “submit five original recipes to the Food Network for evaluation.” Again, not problematic until I read on in section 15, “All applications (including all materials submitted in connection with each application or submitted as supplemental materials…will become the property of Food Network, which shall have sole and exclusive right to use the application in any manner throughout the universe in perpetuity…” Sole and exclusive? Universe? Perpetuity? Now wait a doggone minute. Even if I am not selected, my original recipes are no longer mine? 
Reading eagerly onward, I find in section 18 that I must “…authorize Food Network to conduct civil, family court, criminal, financial, driver history and any other type of background check deemed necessary by Food Network.” And of course, in section 22, “Each applicant acknowledges, understands and agrees…(he or she) may be audio and/or video taped twenty-four (24) hours a day, seven (7) days a week while participating in the Program by means of open and hidden cameras, whether or not he or she is then aware that he or she is being videotaped or recorded…and that such Recordings may be disseminated on television and/or all media now known or hereafter devised, in any and all manner throughout the Universe in perpetuity.” Now this was getting more interesting by the moment. Section 24 entails such juicy bits as “…Food Network may disclose any information contained within or derived from his or her application…and the application process about the applicant’s private, personal and public life, relationships with third persons, confidences and secrets with family, friends, significant others, including without limitation: physical appearance; personal characteristics/habits (both physical and mental); medical treatment/history (both physical and mental); educational and employment history; military history; criminal investigations, charges and records; personal views and opinions about life, food, cooking, television, the media and the like (collectively, ‘Personal Information’).”   As well as “…Food Network may reveal such Personal Information to third parties…” and “…that Applicant releases, discharges, and holds harmless the Released Parties…from any and all claims and damages arising from such compilation or disclosure of Personal Information.”
If this were not enough, section 25 goes on to note that this release applies even when the information disclosed may be “…embarrassing, unfavorable, humiliating, and/or derogatory and/or may portray him or her in a false light…” and “Each applicant agrees to release…from any and all claims (including, without limitation, claims for slander, libel, defamation, violation of rights of privacy, publicity, personality and/or civil rights, depiction in a false light, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, copyright infringement, and/or any other tort and/or damages arising from or in any way relating to the submission of a Participant Application, participation in the selection process, participation in the Program, the use of Personal Information or Recordings and/or the use of the applicant’s name, voice, and/or likeness in connection with the Program, or the promotion thereof in all media now known or hereafter devised.)” Of course, “Applicants are required to sign Releases to this effect.” Is this even legal? “…in all media now known or hereafter devised?” that is one interesting concept to wrap your head around. All of this verbiage leads me to believe that they literally would have the right to videotape me in the bathroom and someday broadcast this throughout the Universe via some yet unknown future version of YouTube. No thank you, Food Network.
And, if, by a stroke of luck, I were chosen as a finalist, I would be required, as noted in section 28 to sign and return a General Exclusivity Agreement as a part of the so noted “Finalist Package.” This fact finally added context to the requirement that applicants cannot be under talent contract with any other party. In other words, if you want to play, you have to pay. All they are asking is that you give up your Constitutional rights, your civil rights, and all other rights afforded to you as a citizen of the United States and a member of our society. Give up the rights to your ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions. I thought it was illegal to enslave or indenture in this manner? Evidently, all it takes is a desire to be on the Food Network and a willingness to sign the correct set of contractual releases.
Did I continue with the application process? I absolutely did not. It is difficult to fathom that anyone would be willing to go to such lengths in order to “be on television,” yet I am sure there are legions of would-be stars signing away their lives and livelihoods for that one chance in a million. I doubt sincerely that any of their regular “talent” such as Mario Batali, Rachael Ray, or Giada DeLaurentis had to sign such a punitive contract. No, this process is reserved for those of us in the general public that aspire to fame and fortune, via the Food Network. Curious? Check it out yourself at
And as far as my ideas for a food and travel show; I think I will take a more conventional route. I can draft a business plan, hire an agent and a publicist, and prepare a pilot and a script proposal with the help of an intellectual property attorney. Then and only then, the Food Network may find me knocking at their door.
Post by Julia Conway on August 15th, 2009