What We Talk About When We Talk About Food

There’s been an ocean of indignant digital ink spilled already about Paula Deen’s disgraceful deal flogging diabetes drugs after making herself sick eating the ghastly “food” she has become very wealthy advocating for years. As I mentioned on the Twitter, it’s like having unprotected sex with lots of junkies and hookers and then scoring a fat endorsement deal for STD meds. I’m not going to spend any more time on it, since it’s boring as well as depressing. But it did get me thinking, since it happened around same time I was reading about a few other equally distasteful subjects, all the while thinking about what it is that I want for this blog in the future.

I have always hated advertisements; back in the days when we had TV I was lightning fast with the mute button. I think they look tacky and ugly on websites, too, and the more they move around or occlude what I’m looking at the quicker I leave the site. I’m clearly not anybody’s target audience: I believe that voting with our eyeballs (and wallets) is as important as voting in elections these days, and I find commercials to be ugly. So while I ponder and slowly lurch towards several possible futures as a food writer, I can offer a few examples of what I absolutely do not want this happy second career to become.

Bow and Scrape

When I began paying attention to other food blogs, I started to notice some interesting patterns, especially in the comments. A hefty percentage of comments were the useless, generic compliments and emoticons that always felt like de rigeur “I read yours, so come read mine” scorekeeping. One dude in particular would always cut and paste the title of someone’s post into his comment so that it said “That [title of post] looks great!” or some variation thereof, every single time. On hundreds and hundreds of blogs, like a tireless little spambot. He never left me a comment, but then my post titles are always witty, witty puns or obscure song lyric references so he couldn’t do the cut and paste trick for me. Some friends were in on the joke, and we laughed and laughed about how lame he was. His work is lackluster, written at an eighth grade level, and his content is all but scraped from other blogs, so I never paid it any attention.

The thing is, he now has like 12,000 followers on Google and Facebook, and gets tons of comments on his posts. That transparent, shamelessly impersonal, nearly mechanized pandering in the service of utterly lackluster content worked. And therein lies a lesson about popularity on the web: people like attention, even if it’s from near-bots and trolls. Everyone who is not famous cherishes everyone who makes the effort to leave a message after the post.  And there’s a tendency to lean into that attention, to do more of what conjured it out of Internetular ether. And when there is potential ad revenue at stake, the incentive is tangible. The problem is that the urge to pander ruins credibility and makes for weak content. And it’s a slippery slope, since the traffic and compensation can seduce.

Redundant Blogger is Redundant

Someone even crankier than I wrote a rant recently about a particularly dumb piece of whining that I dutifully clicked over and read because watching the defectives in the GOP primaries clearly isn’t enough fail for me.

The “author” contends–with lots of bold type for people in a hurry–that the label “Food Blogger” plays into negative stereotypes of lazy, basement-dwelling, cheeto-munching hobbyists who get no respect from the people one bumps into at the Beverly Hills farmers’ market. Thus, in over 1300 words of painfully adolescent prose, she determines that “Internet content producer in the culinary sector” best conveys the gravitas and legitimacy of her job. Seriously. Apart from the plodding stupidity of the whole damn thing–and the two identical author portraits helpfully placed at the top and bottom of the post–what struck me most was the abject horror of somebody so desperate to be co-opted by corporatism that she invented a tortured mouthful of jargon that could make an HR manager at Cargill pump his fist in the air so vigorously that his polo shirt would come untucked from his pleated chinos and obscure his phone holster.

The palpable aspiration to mutilate language into verbose yet vapid constructs that manage to be simultaneously self-aggrandizing and totally humiliating speaks volumes, but not at all in the way she wants it to. And when it’s couched within a blog that is a cluttered visual train wreck of advertising and obviously sponsored posts that are not labeled as such, the overwhelming meta-message is a clear and blaring “I’m for sale!”

With buyers aplenty, it would appear. She has 80,000 fans, the person who wrote this: “A ‘blog’ is really just a series of posts written from someone about some topic.”

Dear diary!

It Rhymes With “Whore”

This article does a pretty good job of describing the degree to which Marco Pierre White has debased himself from influential wunderkind to corporate shill. For those of you dying to know exactly how much money it would take to get a chef with three Michelin stars to repeatedly tell lies in public about his love for Knorr stock cubes–which are, like all such bouillon products, complete garbage–the answer is 1.9 million dollars. That’s a lot of money; the man clearly has a talent for self-promotion as well as cooking. But after this complete and total sellout, nobody serious will ever take him seriously again. Maybe that won’t matter; he can be famous for being famous and make lots of commercials. But to people who know and love good food he’ll just be another insufferable douche who went over to the dark side.

The credibility one accrues through cooking or writing or doing anything else well over time is a fragile commodity; it is not easily regained if squandered. And since most of us do not have reputations with street values in the millions, it is up to us to determine what they are worth. I replied to a friend’s tweet recently, and only realized later that it was part of a PR campaign s/he had joined. So the sponsor’s subsequent retweet of mine was free advertising and momentum for them (however tiny) and it made me feel a little dirty and annoyed that I’d been suckered. Disclosure matters. A lot. If you take money to write about something and don’t say so right up front, you’re a shill. My aversion to good old American fee-for-service content might seem quaint, but if I don’t trust you, I won’t read you. And I expect my readers to hold me to the same standard.

The Land That Belongs To You Is Grand

Recently, I was talking in real life to a couple of other food bloggers and someone mentioned the Pioneer Woman. I was only vaguely aware of her, but I was surprised to hear that she’d made a million bucks last year off her site. So I went and took a look. It’s awful. The food is barely cooking; dumbed-down dump-and-stir “recipes” where there’s photo illustrating every single step, practically down to opening the jar of Kraft mayonnaise. There’s a picture of how to rinse your grape tomatoes–still in their plastic clamshell container, shipped from Ecuador or somewhere–before cutting them in half. There’s a picture of that too. One post has–I shit you not–two consecutive pictures showing salt and then pepper being added to a pot.

She even has a grammar section where twice in one month the “lesson” was the difference between “your” and “you’re.” Now as a knee-jerk grammar fascist, I suppose I should applaud her efforts to educate the less lettered among her audience, and yet this part of the site is so dismally depressing that she or her designated minion for this page has stopped writing new posts for it. This section of the site is a blatant admission that her readers are not fluent in their first language, which might be why it seems to have been discontinued.

But besides these side shows, the “pioneer” aspect is fraudulent on its face, reminiscent of nothing so much as George W. Bush’s “ranch” which was really just an estate that he bought because Karl Rove told him to so he could be elected Governor and then President. It’s not to say that they don’t live on a ranch; they do, it seems, in Oklahoma. It’s just that there aren’t any pioneers any more; the frontier ceased to exist 100 years ago. So they’re ranchers, but they’re not farmers. If they eat food that they grow and/or raise, the recipes she offers don’t show it; she appears to mostly buy processed stuff from the nearest supermarket and make lousy meals with it.

I spent a meaningful and car-crash fascinating period of time scrolling back through her cooking posts and besides some arugula on a pizza could hardly find a green vegetable in anything, let alone much talk of growing, producing, or preserving her own food, which is of course what actual Pioneer Women did every day of their difficult, dangerous, non-millionaire lives. There are occasional gardening posts, but they contain no actual information, just a picture of some dirty potatoes or the like accompanied by a very few lines of trademark bubbly pride at having grown them.

She is a pioneer of nothing except making lots of money writing a blog that peddles a fantasy lifestyle. What’s really American about this site, though, and the key to its massive popularity, is the safety of it all. She regularly implores her readers “don’t be like me,” as she describes using a whole stick of butter (OMG!!!) to make her French toast topping, but of course that admonition is intended to be taken ironically because it’s nothing but her version of Emeril’s “Bam!”: It’s a catchphrase that she uses constantly to underscore how she’s just like her readers, even though she’s very wealthy and thus not at all like her readers, who she acknowledges are sub-literate and who line up in desperation for her handouts: a recent giveaway for a Target gift card got over 47,000 comments.

She also says “Amen” a lot, usually when talking about butter, just like the Bible does. This, combined with the home schooling page on the site, would seem to indicate that there’s some faith at work in her ethos, and yet there’s hardly a mention of it on the site anywhere, probably because religion is too divisive when it comes to making millions of dollars from something that is not expressly about God in the first place, like the 700 Club. And don’t for a minute think that I have some liberal coastal elitist problem with sites that view food through a faith-informed worldview; I recently wrote a guest post on a wonderful blog where the author’s faith features prominently. But the Pioneer Woman traffics only in the trappings of faith, at least as far as her glib writing is concerned.

There’s lots of lite, sassy sarcasm, but it’s the brand talking; she never breaks the tone of breezy, insubstantial banter that reassures constantly, even when the task set before the reader is as simple as dipping bread in beaten eggs. “It’s all going to be OK,” she says, “I live out on the prairie and my husband (whom she calls Marlboro Man) wears a cowboy hat.” Besides maybe an account of going to a football game, she doesn’t deal with autobiographical specifics, just appealing generalities that her readers can color in with the crayons of their imaginations.

She’s like the hideous offspring of Martha Stewart, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Rachael Ray. Recently she posted picture of a gallon jar with a spigot near the bottom for dispensing iced tea and the like, encouraging readers to buy one. “I die,” she wrote beneath a picture of a glass jar, without disclosing whether the link was a paid endorsement or not. “I die.” It’s another of her catchphrases. She goes out of her way to say when her various giveaways and endorsements are not paid for, but neglects to ever mention when they are. That sin of omission reeks of old-fashioned frontier shilling so brazen that it would make Al Swearengen blush. And this sort of Chatty Cathy hyperbolic pitch is the entirety of her tone and content, so when the cheerful veneer is thus punctured by meta-awareness, the entire edifice collapses under the weight of its abject money-grubbing. Her whole site is an infomercial.

But that semiotic Snuggie of safety and validation, that coddling embrace of encouraging approval is still seductive, evidently, even when the bar for receiving the Pavlovian pats of approbation is set so low. Hell, you don’t even have to make anything she describes; you can just read about it and imagine being married to a cowboy and making butter-drenched pancakes in a consequence-free environment. Her prose reads like some New Country lyrics where every line is a cliché and there’s not an original phrase in the entire song. And that content, as with the music, is obviously enough for very many people to be content with.

And there’s the rub. To have your food blog become famous and lucrative on this scale, you pretty much have to dumb it down to this level. Like insipid pop music or reality shows, her site isn’t really malicious; it’s just peddling a fantasy lifestyle that’s unmoored from reality, particularly for people who don’t have a staff working for them. It’s escapist, aspirational lifestyle porn for stupid people who can’t cook.

Now I know nothing about her as a person. I’m sure she’s very nice, and a good mother. She’s clearly a good businesswoman. But her content is crap. I know I’m very far from her target audience, but beyond self-enrichment where is the justification for what she does? She’s maybe teaching some deeply inept people to cook very basic things, sure, but only with packaged goods from the store. She eschews vegetables and spends zero time talking the way a real farmer would about where food comes from and what that means and entails. She’s a floating signifier, begging to be filled with her readers’ longings for some mythic, archetypal way of life, but she’s not offering her actual life as an example. She’s doing shtick for money.

Besides the millions in revenue from the website, she has a book deal and just shot episodes of a TV show on (of course) the Food Network. Her internet acumen may ultimately bump up against the harsher, even shallower standards of television: she’s not beautiful, her husband appears to be a real dick, and hundreds of thousands of readers don’t necessarily equal squat when it comes to ratings. Whether or not the TV show succeeds, the website remains an outsize part of the landscape, and something that influences many people who should know better.

Don’t be like her.

But Wait, There’s More!

In the last couple of years, the Internet has expanded and professionalized to a degree where as a medium it is no longer a scrappy upstart any more. Sure, there are infinite backwaters of unread content, like this blog, but the widely familiar terrain is slick, well produced, and bristling with SEO savvy. Popularity doesn’t equal quality, though; I for one enjoy the nooks and crannies of uncensored self-expression. My most-read posts are usually the ones where I say exactly what I think and feel, not the polite version of it.

Too many people are not comfortable cooking for themselves or others. Those of us who are–and who enjoy communicating–can explain how much joy and pleasure making and sharing real food can be for cook and eater alike in ways that can demystify and entice. Our rivals in this struggle to connect our fellow citizens more deeply with their food are all the many monied interests at every stage of the vast and rapacious industrial food system. When we give them money, we help enrich them. When we take their money, we give them purchase in our own identities. This is why our politics are so wretched: most elected officials owe whole or partial fealty to their contributors, not their constituents.

If you write about growing food, or making things from scratch, or advocate actively or by example for not using processed and industrial foods and you have an ad for Miracle Whip in your sidebar, you’re undercutting your own argument before you type a single word. Your message becomes polluted and diluted by the tacit admission that you still need the industrial system to supplement your income. It reminds me of Reason magazine; that most strident advocate for the free market is not profitable, and would not exist without subsidies from the Koch brothers, which means they’re bought and paid for and thus have vastly diminished credibility. If you advocate for a lifestyle of minimal corporate contamination, why would you give them a garishly visible toehold right in the middle of your own platform? If you agree with the Occupy movement, start by occupying your own damn blog.

This site could easily pay for its hosting and much more if I put an ad up on it, but I hate ads so I don’t. I designed this site to be a clean, well-lighted place, and that’s how I like it. I hope you do too. Having said that, lots of people are struggling and I do not begrudge anybody making an honest living. I don’t think you’re a sellout if you put a banner ad on your site, but I’d rather you didn’t, because they are ugly. If you really need the $20 or $100 a month that your ad gets you, I’m not going to tell you to take it down. If you get enough traffic that you can pay for your health insurance with ad revenue, zei gesunt. But if you don’t need their money, don’t take it.

This is all easy for me to say; I am allergic to advertising and am lucky enough to make a little money writing for magazines. But in this age of weaponized bullshit, the truth has never been more important. I like telling the truth, and I aim to keep doing it.

If you doubt that, send me 1.9 million dollars and I’ll take it all back.

119 comments to What We Talk About When We Talk About Food

  • El

    Most food blogs make me itch, frankly; perhaps it’s merely the hives that precede an allergic reaction.

    There should be more people like you out in foodville, though. You’re like Benadryl without the sleepiness.

  • Carver and Hemingway references – my kind of post.

    I can’t describe how disturbed I was to discover that every local blogger I met had ads on their sites, but you’ve done a perfect job of articulating that.

    If you simply enlarged your author photo, you could be “Pioneer Man.”

  • “That [title of post] looks great!”

    J.

  • Pat

    Funny, I just wrote about Pioneer Woman’s show today too. I found it so blah. The food is beyond simple. Is this how far down the rabbit hole we have gone? That people need a cooking show to show how to sprinkle salt or put butter on french toast? Ive seen her blog around. A few times I went to see what was new. While she does have lots of clear photos to show how, I just have a hard time believing so many are needed for such simple food.

    I too have found on my own food blog that folks prefer lots of photos. They have told me so. So I try to do that too. But what I do is all over the place. I write about food, not just do recipes. I write about herbs and things I do to save and lots of ideas. I was a home cook so I get that moms dont always have time. But Ive been a professional chef too and know how to streamline stuff if I have to. And yet my page has its fans but not as many as hers and I wonder why.

    I refuse to put ads on my pages too and in fact I hate going to pages that have so many banners and things on it. Its slows down loading time on my computer and frankly all those flashing blinking things are annoying. Sure I could use the extra cash, who couldn’t? And maybe one day Ill change my mind but I really dont get it. Isn’t there enough junk mail in the world? Do we really need more on our blogs? So for now I agree with you there. I wont put any on my pages if I can help it.

    Heck, I could be Pioneer woman only better. I am qualified. I can, garden, dehydrate and more. I moved from sunny CA. to the PNW to be more country again, like when I was younger. So how come she gets the gig and not me? lol

    • Peter

      Self-promotion is a talent in and of itself. A heaping helping of incandescent ambition also seems to help.

    • JennNY

      Pat, she had A LOT of money to start with to pour into her blog. If you had money to pay a PR you could do it too! Voce Communications is her PR and they plaster her face everywhere, it is sickening!

  • Thank you for articulating so beautifully (and using grown-up words)what I was reaching for in my rant. I tend to just fire it off and this really went in depth and is my favorite fucking blog post of the year.

  • Lorraine

    @MrBelm I think he would need a cowboy hat.
    Excellent post (bit of a generic compliment but meant well) … another thing that steers me away from a variety of food blogs (besides pictures of kittens and puppies) is bad bad bad grammar and spelling. What a breath of fresh air for a copyeditor taking a break from work

  • Word. I love when you get angry! There’s so much good stuff here, but my favorite is: “…semiotic Snuggie of safety and validation…”

    Brilliant work. I can’t see the point in having ads; seems pointless. My biggest pet peeve, though, is billions of photos.

  • Amen, I die. Too funny,
    except it’s really sad.

  • The general public would rather read about and look at pretty pictures of cake balls, boring cherry tomato salads, and new chocolate chip cookie recipes. They don’t care about new and original content. I hate to be so snobby, but making Camembert at home or smoking beef tongues is a little too esoteric for most food blog readers.

  • I read the original whiny post (or at least as far as I could muster, which wasn’t that far because I missed the gem of the new “title”) and felt that it was so many words with so little actually being said. This, on the other hand, is fantastic, and I can’t decide which dressing-down I like more.

    I hate the arbitrary bolding of text and sandwiching single sentences between endless enormous photographs.

  • You’re beautiful when you’re angry.

  • Peter,

    The Redundant Blogger is Redundant paragraph put me in mind of Martin Amis. And that is that best praise I can offer to an ‘internet content producer in the culinary sector.’ Or anyone, really.

    Stay cranky: someone needs to rail against the cute & fuzzy bunnies.

  • Andrew

    Thank you, Peter. Your talent with food, cooking, photography, and writing is what keeps me coming back to your page. There is another side to this that you could have mentioned. Perhaps you would self-deprecatingly ascribe it to writer’s fatigue or laziness, but I admire the fact that you don’t feel the compulsion to post daily just to generate web traffic. You write when you have something interesting or meaningful to say or demonstrate. You don’t waste anyone’s time with: “Hey, check out this omelet I made for breakfast today!” That’s important to me. I don’t have the luxury of hours a day to pore over all the food blog nonsense out there. When I see you’ve got a new post, I know it will be worth the visit. You may inspire me to cook something new or differently. You might make me say that whatever you just made is too fussy or that I’d never prepare anything like that. You may give me a good laugh. You might just make me think that you’re freakin’ nuts. But you NEVER bore me. So if you decide to run a banner to help pay the bills, I’ll have to call you a hypocrite after this excellent post, but I’ll still keep coming back for more.

    • Peter

      It’s nice to have you as a reader. But it has been a combination of business and laziness lately; the studio has been consuming most of my time. I made dinner tonight for what might be the first time in two weeks.

  • meg

    This was awesome! Yes! That over the top cheery-we-can-do-it-bullshit sends me over the edge—”this sort of Chatty Cathy hyperbolic pitch is the entirety of her tone and content, so when the cheerful veneer is thus punctured by meta-awareness, the entire edifice collapses under the weight of its abject money-grubbing”
    I never trust it. In anyone. Agh.
    Great rant and spot on!

  • [...] from it?  With Drummond’s retro, artery clogging fare becoming the stuff of long-running jokes, more and more people are having “a ha” moments questioning the sources of what she claims to be her own [...]

  • Annie

    Pioneer Woman! Ha! I die.

    Thank you for writing what I’ve always thought. Particularly her lack of pioneering. I die.

  • Marvelously, articulately written, Peter, and an issue with which I of course have struggled at great length — not least because I have worked in the very belly of the beast.

    My favorite part, though? “Popularity doesn’t equal quality, though … My most-read posts are usually the ones where I say exactly what I think and feel, not the polite version of it.” So are you saying that the posts where you speak your mind plainly are not the ones of highest quality? ;-)

    • Peter

      I confess that while some parts of this underwent a fair amount of revision, other parts were banged out this morning in an effort to get it out so I could go paint.

      I still think the idea we talked about at lunch could work with the right approach.

  • Philip

    Holy cow- what a rant! Nice work!!

  • Tech

    I think that ads are more than aesthetically ugly. What they represent is ugly.

    Thank you Peter.

  • Michael Pardus

    Peter – You know that I like and respect you, so I hope you won’t mind my disagreeing here, I really don’t get your point.

    Talented or not, these people are mass entertainers,they sell to the lower/middle and make a lot of money,that’s why they do it. You don’t like the show? Don’t buy a ticket.

    Mike Ruhlman is a writer, thinker, educator, and cook – and an entertainer. He accepts ads and pushes products, does that invalidate the integrity of his message or the quality of his craft? Orson Welles shilled for Paul Masson,Rick Bayless for McDonald’s, Wolfgang has a line on everything from canned soup to frozen pizza. Nobody serious will ever take Marco Pierre White seriously again? Really?

    Playing a role and entertaining people has value, making a living and paying your bills does too. Integrity is a personal thing. I give Marco high marks for returning his Stars, quitting the club, as it were, before shilling for Knorr.

    Cashing in on your years of hard work to assure your kids and grand kids a secure future, in exchange for talking about a fairly benign (if insipid) product has it’s honor, especially if you came up the hard way in blue collar UK. You’d do the same and so would I. I think your closing line is the most honest in the whole rant.

    See ya soon, I hope – MP

    • Peter

      OK, but he insists that he used their cubes in his restaurant. That’s above (below?) and beyond.

      I picked a few examples of behavior that I find objectionable and do not wish to emulate. I also think that Welles was a human joke in those PM ads, Puck’s frozen food blows, and the McD’s thing was not RB’s finest moment by a long shot.

      And the entertainment thing is now Paula Deen’s fallback argument: she never meant for people to eat all that crap she made, it was entertainment. Nuh-uh. These people wield huge influence over what people eat. That’s why they can get paid so much to shill.

  • ryan

    All I can do is shake my head.

  • Peter

    In the affirmative or the negative?

  • This post is all kinds of awesome sauce. I started reading PW in 2007, you know, when she was still writing her own posts and was actually funny. Then it started changing. But that’s not what I want to mention. What I want to mention is that of the five or so recipes I made from her site (before I put the Kool-Aid down), none of them came out properly, and one of them gave both my husband and I the sh*ts. That was it for me. I was done. Her book tour with her “free upgrade” zillion-dollar hotel rooms was the last straw. The coffee’s fragrant notes finally reached my nose.

    It’s nice to see some actual writing on the net. Thank you.

    Jules

    • Peter

      As I said, I only just discovered her site, so I can’t claim to have been into her before she sold out. I’ve heard a lot of stories now about how bad her food is when made at home.

      Thanks for reading.

    • Pat

      Ok now Im laughing hard here. I never heard anyone say that a recipe they found on the net gave them the sh*ts. lolol. Ok this made my morning.

  • Michael Pardus

    “Wield Huge Influence?”…Just because we’ve coined the term “evolution” doesn’t mean it’s stopped. If Paula Deen has huge influence offer any facet of your life, you probably shouldn’t be passing genes on down the line. The shills are only preaching to the choir, you think Wal-Mart patrons will suddenly drop 100# and go vegan with Paula’s revelation?

    As for the chef endorsements, I don’t know how it is on your side of the fence, but in my crowd, we laugh with them, not at them. It’s funny because Knorr actually thinks that a) Bobby Home Cook knows anything about Marco’s cooking in the first place and b)The rest of us are going to change because of an advertisement. It’s funny because Unilever doesn’t get it and Marco does. Knorr won’t sell any more bouillon cubes because of it, but Marcos kids get taken care of. It’s a net positive for the world.

    • Peter

      So you’re saying that people who don’t know any better should be content with eating garbage that makes them sick because rich and famous people tell them to? I don’t agree with that at all.

  • oops, hit the return too early. Just read Marco White’s self-adulatory autobiography last week. One may have assumed from his attitude that he would sooner sell his children to a white slavery ring before he would shill for “the Man”. What a tool.

  • Indeed, I couldn’t help but to think Marco’s children were probably doing okay already. “Do it for the children!” was probably not ringing in his ears. It’s true that nothing is going to change, at least that’s how I feel about it, but that doesn’t mean I’m thinking: “Go, Marco! Take the money and run!” (I just checked out his web site and gosh, those photos are hilarious!)

    I do think that there’s a way to advertise in a tasteful way. I think Ruhlman’s site is an example of that.

  • That Sir was nothing less than devastating. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. But are adverts on blogs essentially any different than anywhere else? On TV, radio, magazine, billboards. They’re all annoying, I agree, and they’re all on some level a sell out. Someone famous endorses a product and gets paid.

    • Peter

      Hi, Ken. No they’re not, except in that blogs are usually sole proprietorships with (ideally) independent voices and the ones I read tend to be about food, so that the message of the post and the message of the ads are often at complete odds with each other.

      And there are degrees; endorsements are a given, but on the one hand there’s Ruhlman selling actually useful products he had a hand in designing and on the other there’s MPW voluntarily defaming his prior achievements as a chef in the service of little cubes of salt and fat.

      • Well, of course if it is a complete contradiction of who you are, then it’s a sell out. But honestly, what would you do if you were trying to make money and someone said, we’ll pay you 10,000 bucks to run this ad and endorse our product. Not something you disagree with at all. Let’s say a nice jam. But not your own. You would turn it down on principle? Or lets say a potential buyer asked you to paint her puppy for 100 grand? You’ld say sorry lady, take a hike.

        • Peter

          Everyone has to draw their own lines based on the specifics of each proposal. I take issue with some people’s standards, but ultimately that’s their problem, not mine.

  • Very nice Peter. And with this post you made it to the listserv of the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS). Sort of a seal-of-approval from those who have their own quirkiness.

    And P.S. – I don’t have any advertising, either, for all the reasons you clearly stated. Well said!

    Mimi

  • OK – I have to admit I am also an AFSFer – this was awesome. I find that the more intelligent the blog is the smaller the audience is. This seriously made me laugh – and think. All good things.
    I’m going to sound elitist (maybe because I am) – people neither have patience nor the intelligence to deal with long-form writing. But unless you are one of those sustainable “superstars” e.g. Pollan, Bittman, etc., no one gives a rat’s ass.
    And that also goes the same for the recipes these mindless blogs promote. It’s no surprise that the short attention span of most readers is also related to their lack of good recipes. Good recipes demand time and attention as well as good writing. The crappier the recipe – the crappier the writing.
    Once again, thanks for a good laugh. And now you have to follow me on my blog. HA!

  • JennNY

    The “haters” over at thepioneerwomansux.com say “thank you” for your post on PW! :)

  • Two recent endorsements that broke my heart were the Lexus-sponsored supplement about Ferran Adriá in Food & Wine, and Thomas Keller’s BMW TV commercial.

    I can sort of understand Adria, he barely made any money at El Bulli, and now has a food education foundation to support. But did Keller, who is expanding his Bouchon empire, really need the bucks?

    • Peter

      My guess is that his take on it was similar to so many others’ about such spots: “They offered me an obscene amount of money for one day’s work. What am I, stupid?”

  • i don’t know you but i love you for this.

  • I read some of the links in this post and “A Few Rotten Vegetables…” might be my new favorite. I’m bookmarking you too. Have you checked out http://www.fromscratchclub.com yet? I, and a group of 12-15 other local women from Upstate NY, take turns writing daily posts (with no ads). We’re all involved in our local food scene in one way or another (farmers, bakers, home cooks).

  • John

    Oh dear. Sounds to me like you need a cheeseburger, but Hey! Great Post!!! :)

  • kathleen

    I bow down to your fabulous writing. PW has been interesting to observe over the past few years. My conclusion is that you really can get worse over time. Yeesh.

  • Peter

    Britin: I am familiar, and I know one of your founding members from way back.

    John: No cheeseburger needed here. But thanks.

    Kathleen: I’m sorry for all those hours you’ll never get back.

  • ryan

    Sorry, a little of both. I feel like chefs like Marco earn there status, but also earn the right to use that status to better themselves, just as professional athletes, musicians, and other celebrities do. It’s not like he was born into to it like Paris Hilton or something. He slummed it through the trenches, grinded his way to the top. Against tradition and the odds, earned Michelin stars and then threw them back at em when he was finished. Keller and Feran for crying out loud! The best chefs in the world! I think they’ve earned their right to “sell out.”
    I do admire your passion, and you make some good points, but it just seems like you’re picking on the little fish and demonizing the big fish. I won’t celebrate your opinion, but I will congratulate you and a well written editorial.
    Honestly I can only hope to be recognized and accomplished a fraction of what these big names are. And you bet your ass I’d take million if I could make it out of the nothingness I’ve started from. And I think every person here would too if they were honest with themselves. Then again it’s not how you got there, but what you do with it when you get there.

  • This has happened about three times this week.

    Co-worker: “So what do you do for fun?”/”What on earth are you eating out of that jar?”
    Me: “I like to tinker in the kitchen.”
    Co-worker: “Like, Ohemgee, me TOO! I luuurrrve to watch the Food Network. Guy Fieri/Paula Deen/Ree/whoever is my FAVORITE.”

    Permission to just direct them here next time.

  • Carla Beaudet

    Well…there’s some irony here. The root of your anger seems to be that these less-than-mediocre blogs succeed financially and in popularity. I don’t see that you’re remunerated for your efforts here, except by the loving caresses of your fans, which might certainly be reason enough. But short of an outright donation, I’m not even sure how I would contribute to the cause if I felt moved to do so…Let me submit that there are balances. How about a blog with advertisements for specific products that the blogger owns, loves, and thinks are the bee’s knees? Example? I have been reading Maki’s “Just Hungry” blog for a while now, and haven’t been blind to the Amazon plugs for Le Creuset wares in the righthand bar. Still, this gal is a real cook, and she’s at an interesting cultural intersection; a Japanese woman living in Provence. There’s a lot for her to write about (and I’m just an appreciative reader, I’m not plugging for her, or I’d have inserted the link). I do enjoy the silence and purity of ad-free blog space. But it’s not an all-or-nothing; hosting a few ads need not be tantamount to selling your soul. However, it will reveal to your readers whether you blog for a living, or for the sheer joy of it.

  • Peter

    Ryan: Everyone has the right to do whatever they want with their reputation. I was just making a point about some decisions that I find to be tasteless, and about building traffic at the expense of actually contributing anything to society.

    Kate: Granted.

    Carla: I mentioned above that Ruhlman’s store where he sells things he believes in and helped to design is one viable model. I have a link on here to my Etsy store, where I sell ceramics; two recent sales are going to buy me a new camera. Of course there’s a balance; the examples I cited seem to me to be totally unbalanced and as such serve as cautionary examples.

    • Carla Beaudet

      Well, silly me (on two counts). Now that I know how to donate to the cause, I’ll pop over to Etsy and see whether anything strikes my fancy. Thanks!

  • Now I feel a little better (and confirmed maybe in the knowing) that I’ll never make tons of money doing something I like to do. I have a small readership – and I barely look at my statistics, but when it’s emailed to me once a week from blogger (I have no .com or webmaster or anything) I am shocked that 150 people a day actually click on my site.

    But hey, I am unemployed. It would be nice to make a little money so that all my work wasn’t done on a cheapy Acer netbook, still I’m not about to endorse CoolWhip or Nescafe or whatever to get my Mac. And now, I’m going to take down the “Google AdSense” that I put on my blog when I started it years ago. I have made exactly no money from it. Your (SIC) right, ads suck.

  • Lynn

    Oh, Peter. I love your blog. I love it because it’s a blog from the heart and you write and do amazing things. Thank you. BTW, yours was the third blog I subcribed to when I discovered by rss reader.

    I’m don’t have a blog. I have a restaurant. I have little time to be looking up internet recipes from really anybody. Sorry. But I do like to peek in on people who are leaders in their fields and commanders of their work. I do everyday, all day, what you do at home for dinner. I’m impressed. Other sites don’t impress me as I’m looking for new ideas and new takes on the familiar. I don’t need hand-holding, brand-selling or endorsements really of any kind to get me to pay attention. Just honest words, good ideas and sincere efforts at your craft. And when you stop being interesting, I’ll move on. PW is not on my rss reader but 35 other blogs are…as long as they don’t waste my time. Delete is my answer to the schlock out there.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Very well written and spot on. Ree Drummond left the building years ago, but her cooking page still posts recipes lifted from community and church cookbooks. In fact, on my blog, we have set up a dedicated page linking to glaring examples of her plagiarism. Tell me again why corporate America has fallen for this schtick.

  • Anna Dibble

    Great rant. Hilarious stuff about the frickin Pioneer Woman. Someone wrote an article about her in the N Yorker awhile back. The only amazing thing about her is her popularity, and I guess that was why she rated a N.Yorker article. The food blog world seems to be similar to the art world and so many other ‘worlds’ – lowest common denominator gets the big bucks. Usually, that is. Love your blog but wish you’d add recipes now and then!

    • Peter

      Hey Anna-

      If I used recipes, I’d include them. I do try to mention everything I put in, and all the steps I use. Class @ Taylor Farm looks to be in Feb. Stay tuned…

  • I’m so glad I read this. I’ve heard of the Pioneer Woman but managed to ignore her. Now I’m curious, but you’ve given me many reasons not to give a rats ass about her. Or about any of the other food blogs I stopped reading a long time ago because they were devoid of good food or even a good story. It’s such a strange time we live in, this self marketing stuff. Makes me realize how quickly people stop blogging for the love of it, and start trying to be someone that may sell some ads. Not going there either.

    • Peter

      The tireless self-promotion turns me off, and the time required precludes getting any actual work done so there’s nothing to promote. I prefer to focus on the work.

  • [...] gathering my wits, but in the meantime, go read this and here’s something to tide you [...]

  • Karen

    I am coming late to the love of cooking. When my children were little, I hated to cook (I know!), but now that they are grown and I feel like I am not so rushed, I have found such peace and joy being in the kitchen and making things for the people that I love. I “get” why people have such passion for cooking now and I never want to lose that feeling.

    I started bookmarking a number of food blogs and what you have written here rings so true. There are not many who come across as passionate about anything other than making money. There are a number of sites that post nothing but heart-attack-inducing meals and baked goods. I wonder why these people do not weight 800 pounds because if I made those sorts of foods on a daily basis, that’s what I’d weigh. It gives an unrealistic view of life, in my opinion.

    Pioneer Woman does that thing where she always lists her “cast of characters” when introducing the ingredients she will be using and that alone sends me over the edge. Her writing is forced phoniness and the one recipe I tried of hers ended up sucking so I won’t be trying anything else. There is no real love of food to be found there. That’s what I am looking for when I read food blogs. I know it when I see it immediately and I don’t not see it often anymore, which is a shame.

  • Jennifer Hess

    A few years ago, I got an email out of the blue from one of the partners in a PR firm who represents one of those big food personalities everyone loves to hate. He asked me if I had ever thought of turning LND into a book, and quite honestly, I hadn’t, but after a volley of emails and a meeting over drinks, there I was, putting thousands and thousands of words into a book proposal which still sits unfinished among my Google Docs. He checked in with me from time to time and I made all sorts of excuses about my lack of progress; eventually, I figured the whole thing was dead. And I was relieved.

    A year or so passed and I got another email from him, this time asking me to take part in a month-long, cross-promotional feature with that big food personality’s magazine – it would be a great opportunity and drive lots of traffic to my blog. I agreed to it – for a number of reasons that I won’t get into here – but every single time I hit “publish”, I cringed. It never felt right or honest, never felt true to who I was or the blog I had built, and the traffic surge I was supposed to get never materialized. I honestly think it drove away people who had been reading my site, people who until that point cared, for some reason, about my food and my life. I had really liked my little corner of the internet and the people who came to visit there, and after that whole fiasco, I feel like the site never really recovered. I had lost credibility. It was a very easy decision to just let the whole thing go after J was born.

    So while I’m blogging again in a new space, with a slightly different focus, I’m determined not to make the same mistakes I made with LND. I want this new blog to be (as LND was when I started it) a record of our lives through the food we make and grow and buy and eat, a record of those things and their importance to us, and I don’t ever want to cheapen it, especially now that our son is involved. There will be no ads or endorsements or affiliate banners or product reviews. I no longer feel like I need to spend money we don’t have on a DSLR or to attend blog conferences, to post daily or have endless back-slapping Twitter conversations with certain people who, frankly, bug the shit out of me. This new blog is just about our family and our food, our way.

    But that’s enough about me. This has all been a very long-winded prologue to what I really came here to say, and that’s thank you for once again calling it like you see it. I have always admired the heck out of you for what you do here. You don’t dumb anything down. You’re always true to yourself, true to the food, true to your readers, and I really appreciate that. If our kid grows up to be half the eater Milo is, we’re in for a treat.

    • Peter

      If I couldn’t do all those things you list, then this would be a job. And you know how I feel about those. Ultimately, all those things that you make sound altruistic and noble are really quite selfish; I enjoy being unconstrained and the freedom feels good.

  • I had an intern once who told me I should read the Pioneer Woman’s blog because I reminded her of PW, I guess because I live in rural Wisconsin, I grow my own food, I can things, I pickle things and my husband is an avid hunter. So I did and I was horribly insulted that someone could compare me to her. I totally agree with what you’ve written and it’s sad that people look to her and see her as a “cooking” role model.

  • Hey, one of my readers thinks you’re “delightful”. Little does she know.

  • Anna Dibble

    Seeing the number of comments on this post, you don’t Need to advertise!

  • i could not agree with you more. somewhere standards must exist…

  • [...] I would totally spring for a “semiotic Snuggie of safety and validation,” especially if it came in [...]

  • Bunny

    This is utterly unrelated to your post, but I’ve been thinking about lambs hearts recently and I don’t read any other food bloggers that I think could help with this.

    During a recent dinner I was struck by how much the natural, fibrous texture of lamb heart reminded me of the shredded meat served with pancakes. I’ve since been obsessed with trying to figure out a good way to make heart pancakes, but what I can’t work out is what would make a good dipping sauce. I wouldn’t want to overpower the delicate flavour. Any suggestions?

  • Peter

    Do you mean slow-cooked until they shred apart like pulled pork? I’ve never had them that way. I usually cook heart rare.

    As for the sauce, it would depend on how you flavored them. I would tend toward Moroccan flavors, so I’d do something like make the pancakes with harissa spices, using activa to bind them together, and then make a dipping sauce using yogurt, preserved lemon, mustard, and herbs–maybe pesto–as a sauce.

    • Bunny

      Oh my gods, that sounds gorgeous!

      I do mean slow-cooked, yeah. I cooked mine whole for around three hours, submerged in a pot with plenty of barley.

      Thank you so much for the Moroccan flavour suggestions! I think I’ll be trying that, soon!

  • Kaeri

    I stopped reading to post a comment that “conjured it out of Internetular ether” is easily the best thing I’ve seen written online in a long time. :)

  • Sarah

    I only began reading food blogs in the last couple of years when we went gluten-free after a diagnosis, and it has taken a lot of searching to find the good sites. But more and more they seem to be trying to sell me everything, so much sponsorship & so many posts on specific products. They read as a “special advertising section” of a magazine, and not as a personal venture. Everybody needs to pay their bills, I get that, but the worst of it is the bloggers hawking for each other. Everybody has a cookbook or something else to push. The marketing is obnoxious and the recipes largely terrible.

    • Peter

      I bought a couple of magazines recently and it seems like fully half of them are “Special Advertising Sections.” It renders them nearly unreadable; it’s as if they’re dying to emulate television as much as they possibly can.

  • Christie

    Bravo! Love your rant! Recently while scanning channels I came across FN Paula D’s show and her guest was the PW, her kids and the “Marlboro Man”. It was more disgusting than you can imagine. I flipped as soon as I heard the PW’s voice. As far as drinking the kool-aid, PW actually did feature a recipe on the FN blog for her kool-aid punch. It called for adding meringue powder to a packet of kool-aid. Puhlease! She is such a farce!

  • I have been “over” the Pioneer Woman for a while. Since I didn’t grow up eating the kind of food she cooks, I found some novelty in her recipes. Plus as horse lover, I couldn’t stay away from the gorgeous ranch photos. I learned more about just how “humble” her life really is and grew tired of her shtick and enjoy browsing PWSUX now.

    That being said, I can’t help feeling a certain level of envy. I can go to her blog and see thousands of comments on a single post. I know that despite the tides turning against her, she still have a crazy number of fans. I find myself thinking, “Can I do that? How can I be popular like that?” I don’t really want thousands of followers. I don’t. However, if you have a very low-traffic blog like mine, even if you are writing it purely for your own enjoyment, it’s nice to think that after you put out the effort of creating a recipe and writing it out and taking your (in my case rather crappy) photos, you would like to know SOMEONE out there besides your mother is appreciating it.

    I always like to think that I’m as authentic as possible in my blog. I’m honest about my likes and dislikes. I share my life in detail (within reason anyway). I use my goofy, geeky sense of humor. I liketo think my voice is somewhat unique. I can’t tell you if it’s good or bad. I can’t be objective about my own writing or my own recipes.

    It seems to me that popular food blogs need some kind of angle. You need a persona. You need a shtick. You have to have something people find unusual/glamorous/exotic – or else you have to have incredible recipes. I have none of that. I’m a middle-aged dink, living in a suburban condo, who cooks as a hobby. I’m not a NYC sophisticate. City folks see me as a lowly B&T. I’m not living in the country lovingly pulling the bounty of my own garden and presenting the ultimate in homemade food. I only grow herbs on my balcony in the summer. I really don’t have much to offer anyone that a hundred other food blogs can offer just as well.

    I can see why people like PW have to put this facade on. If she came right out and said she was a girl from a wealthy family who married into an even wealthier family where she is truly enough of a lady of leisure to blog and take photos all day, I doubt people would pay attention. She has to talk folksy, make it sound like life on the ranch if tough (she cooks that way because she doesn’t have access to better ingredients!), make it sound like she is living in isolation and even a bit of struggle. If Rachael Ray decided to take time off to attend the CIA and cook things other than her vile meals, do you think she owuld have the audience she has now? For all I know she’s brilliant in the kitchen, but it’s her job to act dumb and giggly and naive because that’s what her audience wants.

    Getting a gimmick is tempting sometimes.

  • Peter

    I understand your envy. Who wouldn’t want to be paid like that for doing next to no work? But she’s peddling a fabrication. And unlike escapist fiction–in any medium, whether novels, TV, or movies–she’s presenting it as fact, as her actual life. That’s fraud, and nobody should aspire to commit fraud.

    Actually, scrap that; my next post is going to be about the threesome I just had with Salma Hayek and Penélope Cruz. That should bring in the traffic, don’t you think?

  • I think I love you! I had a 26 year career in media selling advertisements and I left because I found it so offensive that we believed people were really “that” dumb as to pay any attention to the crap we were putting out in the name of marketing, other than to be offended. I am hoping to monetize our blog but I do hope to find a better way. In the meantime our hope is that people will enjoy both our banter and our recipes and visit often. We aim not to offend them for doing so.

  • Janet

    I love a good rant, you had me at,”negative stereotypes of lazy, basement-dwelling, cheeto-munching hobbyists!” LOL!

  • this is why we heart you, peter. knowing you in real life is also a help b/c i know your writing isn’t bullshit. you really are interesting, acerbic (in the best, fucking coolest way possible), smart and funny. or and did i mention you are seriously legit about food/growing things/organic/local, etc. etc. and you know your stuff. and, one more thing, you’re sarcastic. this is why you are one of, like 4, blogs i like.

  • I was hoping for cherry tomato washing advice, or maybe some tips about what to do with all the ‘photographic foods always make it into my shopping bag’ but all I find is this tirade.
    A fantastic tirade.
    I once spent an afternoon scrolling compulsively though the PW blog, giddy from all photo’s, lurid food and inane home schooling tips. I found it disturbing and very depressing.
    I have to thank you for introducing me to ‘Happy, Healthy Life’ though, it is hilarious and thanks to Kathy, I too will be introducing myself as a ‘Internet Content Producer in the Culinary Sector’ from this day forth.
    Amen

  • I have read the PW blog for years.As an Oklahoman I could also see some of the real facts behind her situation(ie agoraphobics don’t travel to Dallas for shopping trips,or live in LA, the Drummonds are WAYYYY wealthy,etc)I read her for the entertainment value, but quite frankly all the animal b.s. has driven me away.As for her recipies working, I have made 4, 2 were tasteless & 2 were really good.Although one of them was really harder to make than her recipe would have had me believe & made no where near the amount she claimed.

  • Peter

    Jill: If your intended audience is as discriminating as you are, then I think they’ll be pleased.

    Janet: I should have said “parents’ basement.”

    Amy (I can totally tell it’s you): I need to come over and see what you’ve been up to.

    Rachel: I’m having letterhead and business cards printed up.

    Boot-C: Evidently many of her recipes are plagiarized to boot.

  • NickyB

    Just found your blog via Belgian Waffling. Terrific post.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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