Why in the World Would Anyone Start Another Food Blog?
Brocavore ˈbrōkÉ™ vôr (n.) | A dude involved in the local food movement and restaurant scene. Typically identified by his fixed-gear bicycle, tattoos, facial hair and fondness for craft beer (preferably Sixpoint) in a jar and early Pavement. Commonly seen at Roberta’s, Prime Meats, the Bell House. -Christine Muhlke, for the New York Times. January 27, 2010.

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.

Hot Dog Vendors

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.

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8 comments

  1. “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.”

    Yup. This.

    For me, it would be great if my blog paid me as much as my mercenary writing does, but then maybe I wouldn’t love it as much. Maybe it would stop being about creativity in writing and in food and more about reach and keywords and traffic and “hits.” I don’t want that. I would rather write for myself about the things that I love and the sometimes-stupid thoughts in my head and say “fuck” as much as I want than write Pioneer Woman-esque odes to prairie life or clutter my blog with so many ads that the page takes 15 minutes to load.

    And your concessions truck sounds like heaven.

    1. Thank you, Suzannah. First of all, I love the term “mercenary writing,” and am going to be using it from now on and pretending that I made it up. But I think you’re right; especially if you achieve some middling level of success with your food blog, it’s easy to fall down the “monetization” rabbit hole. I totally understand it; we all want to augment our incomes, and food blogs are a great way to do that. I think that it’s too easy to focus on the business side of it, and start writing homogenized stuff that you don’t totally believe in, or that doesn’t feel entirely like “you.” I’ve have about five food blogs, but only one that reached a level that would justify a monthly “income report.” There’s so much that I would do differently now, and I plan to on these pages. Thanks so much for stopping by and reading.

  2. Thank you for this. I write my own food blog out of a great desire to recreate food and drink and meals I’ve read about in various literature over the years. I do throw in the occasional “fuck” because when you’re recreating recipes, you’re going to cut yourself, burn yourself, drop the tray full of cookies, burn something (or yourself), and that authenticity has to come through. A false voice will ring a false note and no one’s going to pay any attention. Besides, if you can’t be yourself on your very own blog, why are you even bothering? When it becomes about monetization, the joy goes out of it.

    1. These are kitchens! We’re cooks! Why would you get into this business, if not to say the worst things you can imagine, and have nobody bat an eyelash? You certainly don’t do it for the money or the job security. 🙂 I think that everyone who gets some traffic, will eventually try to figure out a way to leverage it. There will be ads on this site, at some point (unless I do a Patreon or some other newfangled thing that I don’t totally understand). But you’ve gotta stay true to who you are, and you can’t do it just for the money. Just like the restaurant biz, and just like the kind of people I want to profile on this site. Thanks for stopping by and checking it out, Vanessa.

  3. “The landscape today is much different.”

    Thank you for so eloquently explaining in that paragraph exactly what the current state of food blogging is. You nailed it.

    Looking forward to seeing more of your fabulous writing Malcolm.

    1. Hey Elise! We’ve “known” each other for a long time, and you’ve been in the game since I first looked at a picture of someone else’s dinner on the internet. 🙂 I know that you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words on this new project.

  4. I love your voice, and I can’t wait to see where you take us on this new adventure. I started blogging back in 2004, and through my years with BlogHer saw so many changes in the world of food blogging. Here’s to your next chapter (and one of these days, I WILL get to Maine, to taste one of your creations.

    1. Thanks, Jenny. I was with BlogHer, for a long time. They were always great to me, and it was really fun to see their (your!) business grow and develop. Thanks for checking in, and maybe I’ll get to feed you one of these days!

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