Follow Me To The Deep End!!

Feb 11, 2006

Dine & Dis. Food & Wine's Pete Wells Applauds Deep End Dining but Declares War on the Food Blogosphere.

food and wine magazine
The March 2006 edition of Food & Wine magazine.

Food writer Pete Wells’ column in the March 2006 issue of Food & Wine magazine critiques food blogs and their masters. Only a handful of food blogs gets his approval and kudos. This short list includes Noodlepie, Deep End Dining, Food Porn Watch, Slice, Gastropoda, Saute Wednesday, The Food Section, and The Bruni Digest.

For the remainder of the food blogosphere, Pete Wells essentially did the food writer equivalent of drawing and publishing caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad by calling most food blogs boring. He writes,“…I can't help wondering why so many other food blogs turn into tiny empires of boredom.” The “empires” are striking back. The reaction from the food blogosphere has been many and predictably irate. The feelings have snowballed from personally hurt to talk of gastronomic jihad. This ever increasing in numbers lunch mob of offended food bloggers and food blog readers have in the planning “cheese sandwich protests” and a “Cheese Sandwich Day” via a meme. All the mentions of "cheese sandwiches" refer to the derogatory description of the type of blogs that have very little to say i.e. a blog that talks about the cheese sandwich eaten for lunch. Mr. Wells insinuates that the majority of food blogs are of the cheese sandwich variety. Now those affronted have embraced the cheese sandwich as a badge of honor and are turning the tables on Mr. Wells by super scrutinizing his past essays looking for any allusion to this embattled cheese sandwich.

The magazine hasn't even hit newsstands yet. (March 2006 issue)

This controversy also has agitated debate on the adverse effects food blogs may have on the food publishing establishment and how Pete Wells’ column may be a manifestation of the establishment’s fear and loathing of this sort of grass roots publishing and its chipping away at the mainstream’s readership and revenue.

This is the second write-up Deep End Dining has been embroiled where more than a few food bloggers were upset by the author’s commentary regarding food blogs. The first was Avital Binshtock’s piece in the Los Angeles Times’ Food Section. A common complaint from angry food bloggers about Ms. Binshtock the reporter was that she wasn’t even qualified, based on her experience, to write about food let alone criticize food bloggers. The same complaint can not be issued to Pete Wells. He is a James Beard Award winning food writer and has appeared several times through the years in the Best Food Writing anthology. Sure, you can disagree with him, but he has undeniably strong credentials in the world of food writing. Coincidentally, his criticism and analysis of food blogs happen to be uncannily similar to Ms. Binshtock’s.

Obviously I am very happy with the kind of reception I am getting from the mainstream media. Although I wish this didn’t have to be a sort of zero-sum game where someone is deemed the good blog while the other one sucks. But in reality bloggers and food bloggers have been doing just that for a few years now with their various awards. It is widely known, although not admitted, that bloggers, regardless of genre, are very cliquey like in a virtual high school. The food blog world is definitely no exception. The food blogs that find themselves winning their category year after year may or may not be winning on merit but rather by popularity. Clearly many people don’t even bother to peruse the other nominees in a given category. That’s how the system is set up for now. So when outsiders, in this case, mainstream journalists, muscle into the food blogosphere and decide (without the consultation of food blogdom’s overlords and ladies) who is worth reading and who isn’t, most food bloggers could not be happy about the intrusion. But, ironically, it is acceptable in food blogdom to crown one another as being the best and most worthy while leaving the majority of its subjects by default as merely mediocre. The only difference between Pete Wells’ column and the various food blog awards is who is doing the choosing.

In the end if you are doing your best work and are happy with your contribution to this funny, fractured and crazy food blog world, keep on truckin’. Pretend you are actually in that virtual high school. Be the rebellious teenager once again. Flip off the powers that be. Who cares what they think. I got your back.

26 comments:

Kalyn said...

Eddie, kudos on your recognition in Food and Wine. Obviously you are very talented. Very well put in this post also. I couldn't agree more that commentary on blogs doesn't need to be a "zero-sum" game. As far as the reaction in the food blog world, I think the MSM greatly underestimates the interactiveness of blogs, and the connections which are created. Me leaving you this comment is a perfect example of that. Best wishes.

cipollaia said...

Easy for you to stay cool , when you're saved among the list of the GOOD ones!!! You deserve it fully, dont get me worng , but see my point?
It's pretty obvious that these columnists fear that some new talented blogger might steal their job! It's pre-emptive defense! So American!!!!

Eddie Lin said...

kalyn,

i was wondering who pete wells was referring to when he was excerpting other blogs without naming the source. thanks for coming out and revealing yourself.

yes, the interactiveness of blogs definitely foster connections and feelings of community. but it also can mutate into the "clique" mentality that i was discussing in the post as well. it's human nature but we can overcome it.

thanks for the comment and keep on blogging!

Eddie Lin said...

cipollaia,

jealous? just because your blog sucks. what is your blog anyway? aren't you the pickle blogger? i recognize you now! i used to date you! why are you stalking me?

happy valentine's day, pickle girl,
eddie

MagicTofu said...

Nice post and congrats for being mentioned in the article... you certainly deserve it both because of the stories you are telling us as well as your witty wizardry with words.

I guess what irritated so many bloggers with Pete Wells article is the fact that he used some quotes, taken out of context, to justify is claim about the boring nature (to him at least) of many blogs. Adding this to the very obvious ignorance of the reasons that push so many people to work on a blog and you get a fairly incendiary situation (much like the Mohammad cartoon thing).

I have to agree with you on one important point, food bloggers do form unintended cliques through their participation to specialized forums and this ‘controversy’ certainly suffered from a certain level of group think.

This does not mean that a Cheese Sandwich day is superfluous. On the contrary, I see it as a fun way to react to this situation. I think the point that many want to make is that there are many reasons one could decide to blog; and accessing a wider audience might not be that important in the eyes of many. I believe most of us would agree that criticism is a good thing but criticism should also be subject to criticism at times.

Congrats again!

Juliet said...

First off, congratulations to you on the much deserved recognition. I hope that you haven't been lashed out at in anger by too many bitter food bloggers.

As far as the popularity and clique mentality of blogging, I don't really let it bother me anymore. Sure, I get a rush of excitement when I get new comments. I don't think that ever gets old. But I know that stories of my family life probably don't interest many people. People visit blogs that, for whatever reason, speak to them on a certain level, or simply pique their interest.
For example, I found your blog by doing a search for stinky tofu. (Which, by the way, I am seriously craving lately. There was a Taiwanese restaurant in Irvine that had awesome stinky tofu! But I won't be back until next year.)

Alaina said...

Congrats and thanks for an excellent post on the current state of the food blogosphere.

hereandthere123 said...

Thanks for a very sane take on the whole thing. I, on the other hand, am fuming with righteous indignation. It will pass as soon as I finish my grilled cheesee sandwich.

Eddie Lin said...

magictofu,

thanks for writing. i got to discover a new food blog like yours. yeah, the out of context thing definitely is debatable. pete wells was writing a column and not a report or article. an opinion column tends to take information and manipulate it to prove an argument. so i give him some wiggle room on the out of context use.

anyways, thanks for your input. it's great for the dialogue. enjoy cheese sandwich day!


dalian,

thanks. it's always nice to hear from you. i'm happy to hear your hubs started his own blog. cool!


alaina,

you are very welcome. my friend and tech support eric alba is a huge fan of your blog. he lives in nyc now.


hereandthere123,

fume away!!! get it out of your system. yeah, and a cheese sandwich should do the job at helping. burp!

fortune said...

as some on who's been blogging for 6 years now, i must say i completely agree with wells.

instead of original commentary, original recipes, or moves to explore different and overlooked food or cuisines, most bloggers post byzantine or minute changes to simple, well-known recipes and boast, "look ma, no hands!"

that the cooking skills of most bloggers are sadly lacking is not something to be congratulated, altho' many blogs do seem to be hilarious testaments to the fact that the owners can't cook. at all.

in fact, demonstrating this publicly has made one food blogger rich. but i also confess that some professional food writers, such as amanda hesser, have also confessed that they can't really cook well either.

however, the lack of even elemental culinary abilities causes many bloggers treat the most basic things -- pasta dough or such -- as if they were miracles.

frankly, i personally lost all respect for a popular french girl who writes a food blog when she posted a "recipe" whereby she made a "dessert" consisting of granola sprinkled on pears.

and naturally her ardent fans oohed and aahhed at such an amazing thing.

wells, who represents a magazine devoted to culinary excellence, is of course going to remain unimpressed.

blogs have given would-be "foodies" the ability to post, but not the ability to cook, create recipes, or travel enough to adequately evaluate restaurants.

Barbara Fisher said...

Hey, Eddie,

Thanks for the sensible commentary. You managed to keep an even keel on this matter, without calling either Peter Wells or those who are cheesed off idiots. Some other folks are not so classy, I suppose one could say.

My main problem with the column is that I know that Wells is a better writer than that--but this particular column comes across as "tossed off." There was nothing new or noteworthy in what he had to say, other than there are some great blogs out there, and the way he said it was not exactly the way I would do it.

The use of quotes out of context is part of what I found to be most irritating--one could pull quotes out of context from Wells' writing and use them to prove what a boring writer he is. Hell, one could do that with any writer. It was a cheap, easy shot, and he took it.

And he didn't need to do it to prove his point.

Anyway--I enjoy your blog, and have enjoyed it for quite a while. I just finally felt moved to post and let you know I thought your take on this was very balanced and sensible.

Eddie Lin said...

fortune,

you've nailed it on many of your points although, of course, there are some out there with genuine cooking and recipe writing talent. and, like you mentioned, some of the most endearing food blogs are the ones who admittedly can't cook and are stumbling their way towards epicurean ecstasy.

thanks for your comment.


barbara,

thanks for your input on this controversy. it's great to read all of these different perspectives on the subject. and i'm sure mr. wells is aware of your viewpoint. he is keeping a close eye on the reaction. i don't doubt it.

Barbara (Biscuit Girl) said...

I really don't care what some food writer from Food and Wine says about those of us who enjoy food blogging. Most us us do it because its fun and we enjoy it. And when you think about it people have for years shared recipes with one another, first by writing it down on paper, later by making copies on a photocopier and now with the most recent format......blogs. The same restaurants we've tried and want to tell others about.

What we're doing is nothing new. It's just a new way to do it. And because of the Internet, it reaches more people, people we never would have known before.

I also think that FORTUNE's comments went a bit too far when she said, "blogs have given would-be "foodies" the ability to post, but not the ability to cook, create recipes, or travel enough to adequately evaluate restaurants." and "that the cooking skills of most bloggers are sadly lacking is not something to be congratulated, altho' many blogs do seem to be hilarious testaments to the fact that the owners can't cook. at all."

Like I said before, most of us do this as a fun and creative way to share with other people in new format. And we ENJOY every minute of it.

So say what you will Mr. Wells and Fortune. If you don't like what some of us write, that's ok. There are others out there that do.
[and I guess it goes without saying that I probably won't see my blog linked to Fortunes :) ]

Eddie Lin said...

biscuit girl,

thanks for speaking up. it is important to stress that oversimplifying anyone's passions will not likely be effective in persuading people to one's point of view. so thanks for not oversimplifying or generalizing.

paul said...

This whole thing did get out of proportion. My only gripe with Wells is he completely missed blogs that talk about food as something we eat everyday.

I like his list, they're all at the top of their game. But if that's all he found, he didn't look very hard. An article on food blogs should include some food blogs.

It's a good point that some food bloggers aren't great cooks, writers or photographers and you can say so, as long as there's no implication that they should stop because of it.

Other than that I'm not offended at all that he completely missed my list.

I'm not offended at all. Really. OK, maybe a little.

Eddie Lin said...

paul,

when i first launched deep end dining i did a google search on "food blog" to see what would come up. your kiplog food blog list was the first result. and your list was the first website or weblog i approached to swap links with. of course, you were gracious enough to accept. i don't understand why you didn't make pete wells' column. you really are an amazing resource for people searching out food blogs and for new food bloggers trying to get their first readers. you have the right to feel a little sour about it. but, man, i really appreciate what you are doing. honestly.

the cook said...

So many insightful comments are made here, and though it's tempting to leave it at that, I just want to throw another log on the fire.

I think it's important to note both Wells's food-writing pedigree and the fact that his piece was, in fact, an opinion column. But it nonetheless feels irresponsible and, frankly, tossed off. Wells comes off as someone who spent a mere hour or two looking into this food-blogging thing, not to mention thinking about what he wanted to say.

It is easy to find poorly written blogs and plenty of examples to poke fun at, as Wells does. Similarly, it's not too tough at this point to find some really good ones, like yours, Eddie. The problem with Wells's piece is that he's attempting to hand down rules from on high, rules for something that at its best is wild, innovative, and fun (can I also note that an article on food blogging should be a lot more fun -- good thing Wells had some examples from DED to draw from).

I may be missing the point of the whole cheese sandwich thing, but to me Wells's point in this regard makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. First of all, a great writer can render drama, humor, pathos, suspense, whatever, from the idea of "Today I had a cheese sandwich." If most of us cannot get there, that's okay; someone can, and should. Plus what is a restaurant review if not a glorified "Today I had a cheese sandwich"? Sure, maybe you had four sandwiches, and some other stuff, spread over a few visits, and maybe you can tell me interesting, learned things about the cheese and the bread, and the decor of the joint, and the service -- but aren't you starting with "I had a cheese sandwich"? It seems dangerous, and it comes off as awfully stodgy, to dismiss this idea with a sweep of the hand.

Wells set up a tough job for himself, but I don't think he did nearly well enough. Thanks for providing a great forum to discuss it, and for creating a helluva blog.

Michèle said...

this whole blog backlash is taking on such ginormous proportions! I agree with you-- who cares what Pete Wells thinks in the long run, just keep on writing...although the guy made me stand at attention and look a little more critically at my own stuff, and it seems to me that's the reason there's such a thing as a critic.

congratulations on getting his nod however, you DO have a VERY cool site!

Gourmetish said...

Eddie, that was an extremely well written post. I couldn't agree with you more. As a new food blogger I wasn't upset at PW's opinions as much as I was upset over certain choice he made in his writing style. He quoted out of context and he made vast generalizations. I personally felt that he didn't support his opinions well enough. His examples were weak. While he may normally be a good writer, I think you are ten million times more entertaining, thought provoking, and intelligent than he is. He should be sending you his paycheck.

Gourmetish said...

One more point. Today I realized that I am interested in reading about a fancy gourmet meal that someone made for dinner last night but those type of blogs are not very useful for me. I'm young, poor and cannot afford to cook that way or eat out at extremely expensive restaurants. Most of my readers feel the same way. Therefore the whole phrase "cheese sandwich blogs" does not translate as "boring" because most of us need new ways to make a cheese sandwich since we don't have the money to go out and eat truffles and foie gras for dinner.

I do, however, agree with PW that we need to raise the stakes and make a statement. That's why your blog is so entertaining. You DEFINITELY raise the stakes and you have a central theme. I try to do that too but in a different way. My focus is on making the ordinary gourmetish and not settling for a bad meal while exploring new tastes and menus. I think PW meant to say that a blog should be useful but instead he implied (or bluntly stated) that the every-day (ex: "what I ate for lunch") is boring and automatically not useful. That is where I completely disagree.

Thanks for letting me vent a bit!

Eddie Lin said...

the cook,

you raise some very valid points. blogs and foodblogs each have unique personalities and motivations behind them. just like a person can't make everybody like them, a foodblog can't possibly achieve that either. as long as you remain true to your spirit, whether that's wild or fun, you are on the right track to building an audience. most importantly your audience - the people who appreciate you despite criticism.

i also agree with you that a restaurant review is like an elaborate "cheese sandwich" blog. but i think that's also what pete wells was saying. to be brief, he essentially said nobody cares what you had for lunch. professionals critics have more resources etc and are better equipped to tackle such things than food bloggers.

thank you very much for your thoughts and best of luck with your food blog!


michele,

i'm glad you brought that up. i think if the only reaction an overlooked or dissed food blogger had when reading mr. wells' column was bitterness then i feel he/she missed an opportunity at some valuable reevaluation of his/her food blog. mr. wells' column dispensed some helpful albeit caustic pointers. there's at least one food blogger (matt bites) who actually created a mission statement after reading pete wells' column. i guarantee you that pete wells feels he has done his job just by influencing this individual.

thanks, michele, love your site.


gourmetish,

oh, i totally agree with you a hundred million zillion percent that pete wells should send me his checks every month. now if we can get a critical mass of people to demontrate that on the internet, it would be awesome. we could do t-shirts too. "pete wells loves deep end dining. put your money where your mouth is!" just joking, pete.

and, yes, people read food blogs for different reasons. some check out food blogs like they would a xxx porn site aka food porn. others read food blogs for cooking tips and recipes. still others try and get restaurant recs. and you are absolutely right, not everyone can afford many of the establishments frequented by frank bruni. bruni recently went to hooters but, i can tell you now, back in school, i couldn't even afford hooters. i mean, where's their value menu? and you definitely pay extra for the staff's "big hearts".

sarah said...

i have a post about this very subject waiting in the wings, but just thought i'd comment here since...i don't know. just feel like it.

first of all, eddie, you know how much i shriek like a goddamned monkey every time you write a new post for me to read - i love your site and your writing. it's incredible. i HATE the stuff you eat, but the way you spin things and they WAY you write is incredible. love love love. you truly deserve all the recognition, if not more.

ok good. all my gushing - that's out of the way. :)

when i first read wells' article, i didn't think much of it, other than thinking "oh! there's deep end dining! that's eddie! WOOOOO HOOOO!" high five! high five! and well, i started shrieking like a monkey again.

and then someone posted a very neutral, FYI-type post on the food blog scool blog and i re-read the article, and i was the FIRST person to post a comment, and it was negative. i think i said something like...i am slightly offended that he implies that my delicious life is a cheese sandwich, and then well, we know what happened from there. (by the way, i'm not saying that my comment initiated the whole spewage that came after that, as i think it would have happened anyway - i just wonder what would have happened over there if the first comment had been something moe along the lines of "AWESOME!")

the thing is, i still feel negatively toward the article, and i COULD say all this stuff about how wells' writing sucks and he shouldn't have said or done this or that, or whatever, but i think that would all just be me trying to hide the fact that - am i the first to admit this? - I WAS JEALOUS. i was just MAD because he didn't recognize ME. that's all. and instead of taking the opportunity to look at some of the VERY GOOD points he made, i just sort of let my hurt feelings nad pettiness take over, even though some of the things he said were so right on.

there.

i said it. i was offended that he didn't pick me.

he has every right to say whatever the fark he wants, as does ANYONE, and god knows i do the same thing on my blog. i sit there and badmouth shitty service and condescending asshole maitre d's and food that tastes like ass on my own blog (see? i just did it LOL!) who's to say i'm right or wrong? who's to say he's right or wrong? they are opinions. whether he did research, or interviews, or spent 2 minutes looking at food blogs or 2 years, it doesn't matter. i think we are picking apart things that don't really matter. i mean, even using the term "cheese sandwich" is being over-analyzed.

but it still doesn't mean i won't be pea-green with envy of the awesome blogs that he did mention.

but you know, that's just me. :)

Sam said...

Sarah - love your honesty - you are a treasure.

Edie I probably agree with more of what you say than you imagine I might, but then I usually choose to keep my bad mouth shut and my negative thoughts to myself so as not offend the people I probably would offend if I spoke my mind more often.

Before this saga began Pete Wells was nothing to me, he wasn't someone in whose circles I moved, and so I didnt really stop and think about his feelings, before posting a few comments as a joke more than anything else. It thereafter dawned on me, that if he was a food blogger, for example, there is no way I would have behaved in that way toward him, so I retracted my comment and decided I should respect him as a human being with feelings.

This certainly does not mean I agree with everything he wrote, but it does mean that for me the disagreement should be a more level headed conversation.

And just because only a few blogs got mentioned by name in the article, that doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't other blogs that meet with his approval too, does it?

Eddie Lin said...

sarah,

it takes a big person to admit all that. you are a really big person trapped in a very petite body. i mean that with all my love. hey, i've been jealous of other people too when i'm not mentioned in whatever paper or magazine that others get mentioned in. it's our frail human nature. ideally we'll all get our moment in the spotlight. some bloggers i know would kill for a couple of comments once in a blue moon and they don't even get that attention. can you imagine? of course not because you are a very popular blogger who has gotten her fair amount of press. it's funny how when you reach a certain level, you get accustomed to its trappings. at this moment, getting noticed outside of the blogosphere is the brass ring.

i can't wait to read your post on this. pete wells is pretty eager to read it also.


ms. sam breach,

i never thought i'd be reading a comment from you. i am flattered that you have left a comment, a very thoughtful and honest comment at that. i'm glad you've decided to come back from your hiatus to join in the dialogue. i'm certain that there are greater offenses in life than criticizing or even insulting a critic. one thing is for sure, if you ever introduce yourself to pete wells at a cocktail party, he will know who you are and you two may perhaps even have a laugh over all this and do a few irish car bombs together while you're at it. it could happen.

Robyn said...

You have my back? OMG, GIVE IT BACK! >__<

Anyhoo...yes, clique-tastic. It's funny because in real life, I don't have a clique. Online...maybe more so, but that's easy to say when a real life one doesn't exist.

This is a nicely written entry, as usual. I've enjoyed the "HERE'S MAH CHEESE SAMMICH, BWAHAHAR!" entries from other blogs lately, but your's is nice for...um...not making me want a delicious cheese sandwich, among other things. Rational. Un-inflamed. Non-cheese-sammich-porn.

Eddie Lin said...

robyn,

i'm going to squeeze you.

me want pancake shirt.