Food blogging’s moment has passed. When I started From Away in 2010, my first website about food where I live in coastal Maine, the food blogging landscape was much different. Back then, anyone with a keen interest in the things they were putting in their mouths each day could pick up a camera, snap a few photos of their dinner, cobble a recipe together, try not to say “f*ck” too much, and boom: Internet celebrity would come calling.
Instagram wasn’t even a thing yet, if you can believe it, and Kylie Jenner saying something stupid on Snapchat didn’t cause anyone’s stock to plummet. Food obsessives (let’s not call them foodies, agreed?) documented every single thing they were eating and cooking, and a few of the brightest bloggers turned that casual hobby into highly-trafficked destination websites, full-time jobs, cookbook authoring deals, lucrative consulting careers, and Food Network stardom, complete with a line of cheap cookware. In just a few years, food blogging, a term that hadn’t existed a scant five years earlier, became a huge business.
The landscape today is much different. Like the restaurant industry itself, the barrier to entry and the gulf between the haves and have-nots has grown increasingly, to the point that starting a new food blog in 2018 feels like an impossible uphill climb. As food bloggers have grown in number and pro-quality digital cameras have gotten cheaper, the overall skill level of amateur food photographers has risen to insane levels. Cruise through even the most modest blogs, and you’ll find magazine-quality photography nearly across the board, complete with sophisticated lighting rigs and props departments that would make even America’s Test Kitchen envious. Food bloggers have also become small-scale marketing geniuses; ask any food blogger about their marketing strategy, and you’ll be presented with a polished, fully-formed Powerpoint deck detailing their Pinterest scheduling strategy, their position as “thought leaders” among the 24-36 year old demographic, and their intricate plans for doubling social reach by the end of the current fiscal year.
It’s turned into an impossible industry in which to try and compete, and have your voice, no matter how unique, find its audience. There are something like 350 MILLION blogs in existence, right this minute, as you’re reading this. In 2017, there were 1,388 new blog posts published PER MINUTE, to the tune of two million new posts per day. And my casual observations estimate that at least 95% of these are food blogs.
Every single thing that could ever be cooked has already been cooked, with every step of the process painstakingly documented by someone who is already a much better photographer than you could ever hope to be, and with a full-scale marketing plan in place to ensure that their post reaches the largest potential audience. In spite of this level of sophistication, however, ad revenues continue to drop, as advertisers realize that absolutely no one has ever clicked on a banner ad, in the history of time. It’s a more and more difficult way to earn any kind of meaningful money, even though the overall product is better and more varied than ever.
So why would anyone bother trying to start a food blog in 2018?
As food blogging has developed into a multimillion dollar business, a few bits of conventional wisdom have proven themselves out. First, for a new food blog to have any hope of surviving, let alone finding an audience, it has to have a very specific niche focus. General interest blogs which focus on the broad spectrum of food that’s “yummy” are going to be left shouting into the wind. Second, any new food blog needs to speak to the author’s area of expertise; in an era where we’ve all become amateur critics of everything, vague commentary on trendy ingredients is no longer sufficient. But if you’re a small scale farmer with a passion for discussing your cool new home-brew irrigation techniques? That’s a topic that you can cover knowledgeably, and that will find an audience. Finally, there is absolutely zero room left for anything less than a 100% authentic voice. Any efforts to have artificially broad appeal, or watered down, safe content that’s easily digestible by every person, all of the time will be instantly shredded by your audience, or even worse, ignored. The short take? You do you, player.
With these three theories in mind, I decided there was still room for maybe one more food blog.
Death to Food Blogs/Viva La Food Blogs
I wasn’t one of the lucky few that turned food blogging into a full time job. I’ve never become much of a photographer, and I still don’t know what in the hell anyone is doing on Twitter. Instead, in 2014, I turned my love of creating food into a career in a different way: I crowdfunded a concession trailer and hit the road, crafting the food I cared about the most for a handful of loyal customers each and every day here in Maine. I’ve been cooking seriously for 10 years, and cooking professionally for just four. From a pure business perspective, it hasn’t made any sense; the season is short in New England, and I end every summer just a little more in debt, than I was when I started. But when it comes to “job satisfaction?” There’s nothing I’ve ever done for work that can possibly compare. The feeling I get from dreaming up a concept, scrawling it on a blackboard, and then watching people eagerly wait in line, before closing their eyes in a moment of pure bliss when they take that first bite? There’s nothing else like it.
With this website, I want to try and transfer some of that passion for creating casual, street-level food to your home kitchen. The cooking I’m inspired by most takes place in some pretty unusual places, like the gourmet burgers coming out of the back of a food truck, or the empanadas being fried on a sidewalk cart, or the $1 tacos being passed through the window of a quasi-legal cocina economica in any random city in Mexico. It’s an area of cooking where mostly self-taught chefs make do with sub-standard equipment and inexpensive ingredients, but produce imaginative, incredible dishes driven only by their dedication to making the best possible product, at the lowest possible price.
Together, we’ll unlock the secrets of some of the most craveable, creative, and comforting food on the planet. We’ll make tacos. We’ll stack weird shit on top of hamburgers. We’ll make oddball fusion sandwiches that are probably borderline insensitive to the food cultures they recklessly combine. Along the way, we’ll also talk to some of the proprietors of small food businesses, including food trucks, concession carts, independent producers, and small-scale restaurateurs, to find out why they do what they do, and learn how to cook their favorite dishes. And I’ll offer any other insights I can into this world whenever possible, because it’s what I know, and what I want to talk about.
Like my food truck business, writing this blog doesn’t make any kind of fiscal sense, with the odds of any measurable success stacked completely against me. But there’s a common link between the guy making amazing sandwiches from the hindquarters of a barbecued goat named Stacey that he raised himself, cooked on a piece of red-hot galvanized roofing that he found in a pile of construction garbage, and starting a new food blog in 2018. Caring about what you’re doing, and doing it honestly and to the best of your ability is sometimes enough. Maybe someone will even read it.