For decades, collections of printed and handwritten recipes used to be the enthusiastic cook’s treasure trove. Everybody I know had files and boxes and shelves and drawers full of them. And you hardly ever saw a recipe that did not come with personal little sub title like ‘Myna’s best’, ‘Baie lekker’, ‘Piet se favorite’ and ‘Tried’ or ‘Tested‘.
But then a few cooks started using a very efficient and powerful way to hand down those treasured recipes: they created internet weblogs for themselves, took pictures of their dinners and long before the family stirs the next morning, the picture, recipe and a little blurb was posted on their weblogs. Friends and family were alerted who in turn alert their friends and family and everybody was so excited they posted the most inspiring and flattering comments about that post. And obviously, those dynamics and volumes of praise and share and care and affiliation was so satisfying that the hobby of writing a food blog ignited like brandy-drowned Crepes Suzette over a gas plate on steroids. And that caused the rapid demise of the handwritten recipe while it got it’s hands firmly around the necks of recipebooks, slowly squeezing the life out of them…
And so food blogging grew exponentialy until nowadays there are more food bloggers in the world than we have grains of sugar in your tea. And food bloggers don’t only share their dinners lately: they have vastly expanded their culinary repertoire. It’s not strange to read huge praises for anything from cheese toasties to all sorts of eateries, food festivals, food shows and back to the latest trend in cupcakes. It’s great for workaholics like me as I feel a sharing in the experience without the need to interrupt my usual work schedule. And naturally almost everybody involved with food are currently trading on the growing food fascination of social urbanites by having blogs deliberately to sell merchandise, promote TV shows and to establish themselves as human brands.
And that is where I fear the paw paw hits the fan big time … the torrentuous volume of posts from food bloggers, foodie facebook pages, foodie twitterers, celebrity chefs, restaurant owners, small food producers, online foodie magazines and even foodie television shows in an effort to promote themselves, is making it very hard for home cooks to get what they primarily want from food websites and blogs: recipes and menus that will make their urban lives easier and nicer.
Those of us with a statcounter on our blogs and websites will know that more than 80% of visitors to our foodie websites are working women who quickly pop in during weekdays to check out what’s co0king online. And a quick search of Google Adwords verifies that an average of 832 000 South African online searches are currently being conducted every month using the keyword ‘recipe’. You need not be a rocket scientist to figure out what is in demand here …
And that is where the other stuff hits the fan …
In the old days when we wrote recipes books, we spent hours and hours and one massive amount of money in testing and trying out our recipes. We and the publishers knew that if our books got a bad name, it won’t sell, causing those of us who invested a year or more of our lives and the price of a house (yes!) into the book, to loose all we invested. And we knew that it would give us such a bad name that any future books were doomed to fall like a cold souffle. So we tested our recipes. And tested them until their were flop-proof. So that consumers could not tell each other how they lost money on a useless book as well as on the ingredients because some recipes flopped. We knew then already that word-of-mouth is the most powerful marketing tool in the history of man and that was long before the term going viral on the Internet!
Also, if we used any intellectual property that did not belong to us we could have been sued by the originator of the material, we could have been forced to withdraw the book from sale and we could have been criminally charged if the originator laid a complaint against us. It was also a huge, dreadful scandal if we used another persons work without their permission and crediting them or tested our recipes. And any of these lack-of-integrity actions would have ended our careers for ever. So we wrote every word ourselves. The glory and praise we received for work if it were copied, stolen or used without permission of the originator, was not worth the risks or losses of money and income.
But nowadays laws have not held-up with the rapid growth of online content and permutations of use and abuse. Besides, there seems to be an online attitude of who cares and who can check that it does not happen and so what. Fact is if you post offensive or dangerous or simply incorrect content, you can instantly remove it if somebody squeals without any loss of money or goodwill or face.
But we real recipe book writers actually created the perception that recipes that are published, can be trusted. They work. They are original and authentic. Or at the very least, they are a variation on an old theme like milk tart with cinnamon crust. And so currently 832 000 fellow South Africans go online every month to find a recipe. They are working women. They want something fail proof. Easy. Quick. Hearty. Above all, they want to prepare a meal for those they love and it has to be good and wholesome and delicious.
Unfortunately those unsuspected believers and followers of Woolworth’s online who tried the Nutella Crepes posted last week, must have gotten a little shock and suffered some embarrassment if they served it to their loved ones in this lovely Cape pancake weather. It was not a recipe that can possible be tasty or healthy, for that matter. It called for 5 teaspoons of salt of which 4 were coarse salt. It called for baking powder that is not usually used in crepe recipes, the method asks that the flour and salt be sieved together and it took a lot of effort to rub the coarse salt through my sieve … and once made, we all had lemon lips from all that salt. Was the recipe tested? Probably not. Erm … definitely not! Is the blogger to blame? If that recipe is from his pen, definitely. Is the online food editor also to blame? If they received the recipe like that and allowed it through, for sure … the basics of such a job is to check for glaring mistakes and there it was …. 5 teaspoons salt of which 4 were coarse salt, hello. But which online editor can test all the recipes from bloggers who feature recipes on their website? Very few can and do. They can just check the basics of the content: we bloggers have to ensure our work belongs to us and is tested even if we ‘borrow’ a recipe from another blogger. And is that not the very essence of working online … to each his and her own? To each his own conscience and reasons why they post what they post …. and to each his own sense of care and respect for those consumers who choose to believe them and have faith in what they post or sell …?
Also on the same post Woolies Pantry has on this platform, we were referred to the dark chocolate souffles. As an old hand at writing styles and proofreading, it immediately struck me as not the usual writing style of the blogger and I Googled the content. It took me www.bonappetit.com within seconds to an almost word-for-word replica of the recipe with a few changes made to it. But it even contained the same slight grammar oddities! If discovered, Woollies Pantry may find themselves at odds with the owner of this intellectual property. I wrote them an email about my concerns that they are exposing the main brand Woolies to possible law suits and embarrasment if they do not take a policy decision to (as a rule) get permission from and credit the real owners of intellectual properties they publish. Their website/blog’s terms and conditions clearly state that they own the intellectual property on the blog. Well. I included a comparison of the recipes to prove my point and so far I have heard not a word. I have noticed subsequently that the blogger actually acknowledged on her blog that she was ‘inspired by’ and gave the URL of the original recipe. Albeit a nice thing to do, I should rather say ‘provided by’. To cap it all was that the assistant editor’s fluffy ricotta and olive-baked eggs contained no olives – another oversight and puncture to slow down the traffic to (and respect for) food blogger recipes.
My point? If a blogger wants to use a blog to sell themselves as a social persona or to promote a brand or a retailer or something, do so without harming others. Not the brand, not the consumer and not other bloggers. This is a plea for originality. A plea for content, facts, advice and recipes that are safe and trustworthy. A plea to be responsible and publish tested recipes that actually work and not waste the cosumer’s money. A plea to be of service to the consumer and not harm or disappoint or embarrass. A plea to place ourselves in our reader’s shoes when she excitedly goes out, buys the ingredients, prepares the recipe and waits with excitement and anxiety combined, for the reaction from her loved ones. She is hoping to get acknowledgement, gratitude, praise, love … like us. And yes, this is a huge a plea to keep food blogging active and vibrant and popular and in keeping with the original intent: to share great recipes we cooked ourselves – even it they are not strictly original, we made them, we served them to our loved ones, we ate with them and with integrity and pride, we can recomment it to our readers/visitors/consumers. That’s what its about.
Writing a blog is actually not about us. It’s about those who follow us, who believe in us and who trust us. Our focus groups complain bitterly and our consumer inbox weekly gets at least three complaints from consumers about terribly bad recipes .. and they refer us to the websites the latest being Angela Day (can you believe) and Your Family (can you believe). And as the complaints escalate, the number of visitors and comments to all food blogs and webisites get less … even internationlaly, I am told, the same trend is happening.
So finally I decided to speak again despite that beleaguered post of mine last year about bad blogging when I was attacked and maligned and the tweets apparently were rife with indignation. But since then most local bloggers with high ethos have agreed with me in person and since then, we have seen some of our best bloggers’ material stolen by an ego-monger who merely wanted to be admired by much traffic. And since then, complaints from consumers about online recipes that totally flop have literally boomed.
I know that cooking is subjective and some people dislike some of my own best recipes. And that is how it is … not everybody has the same taste or affinity for what we dish up … but brazenly bad recipes can kill food blogging in a short few years time, believe me. It is part of my job to actively study consumer trends and this is what is going on: the consumer is losing faith in online recipes. Just please do a quick summary of your own stats and compare the count of the comments you receive per post these days and compare them to a couple of years ago. Surprised?
I’m not. So in advance, I apologize to anyone who takes this up the wrong way and think I am trying to finger anybody. I am not. I have pointed out three examples of what in my opinion are potential nails in the coffin for food blogging. If you believe me, help me and if you don’t … so be it, but don’t attack the voice of reason and common sense as you will then actively assist to hasten the end of our beloved passion: food blogging.
There is no recipe today as the topic of this post is not so good and it was written with sadness and disappointment. But after sleeping on it, I just decided to not let the fear of attack and rejection rule my good sense, my honest love and respect for our good food bloggers, our readers and my own natural urge to protect and keep wholesome and real that which is valuable to me and other kindred spirits.
So here is just a funky pink Easter egg to put a smile on your face wish you peace and faith and love and a great break if you re going to be travelling. Please return safely.
POSTSCRIPT (Sunday April 1, 2012 at 17:54): Almost as if the Universe planned to confirm that me taking the terribly huge personal risk to speak out above is the right thing to do, here today appeared this article in the Rapport, our national Afrikaans Sunday newspaper with millions of readers (exactly our target market!!) about what the journalist thinks of (especially) local food bloggers. It is not the first time this kind of media report has appeared locally. I do not know about you, but I am embarrassed and saddened by it and unlike before, fighting and attacking the journalist is not going to make it better … or go away.