Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mixed Plate: It's Not About the Food

One of the latest food blog-related headline of note was the kerfluffle in New York City, when a PR firm pulled what it thought would be an edgy stunt, inviting a gaggle of influential local bloggers to an exclusive dinner party, offering them a taste of something cutting-edge and amazing. The big reveal was that – surprise – the cuisine wasn’t some painstakingly prepared gourmet feast, but artfully plated TV dinners. It sounds like a joke, and maybe it would have been funny if they really did serve a bunch of Hungry Man meals and Bud Lite to a room full of bloggers, but the stunt was bankrolled by a national frozen food conglomerate under the guise of serving fresh, “real” food, trying to fool sophisticated palates that processed food can be gourmet. No need to name names, everyone knows what I’m talking about, but needless to say, there was the requisite umbrage, nutritional outrage, and public relation poopstorm that followed. If this happened to a bunch of random restaurant-goers, it wouldn't have been a blip on the news radar, but because it was bloggers, the squeaky wheel got the grease and kaboom, it's gracing the New York Times.

My own "underground dinner party," last minute BBQ over Labor Day holiday - Photos fr Wasabi Prime's iPhone

It got me thinking about transparency. Not just about what weirdo chemicals lie in wait on packaged food that will likely outlive a nuclear winter, that's kind of an easy target. Transparency in blogging and the role bloggers play as influencers. This was something I’d been thinking about for a while – I first saw this discussion appear over Twitter a while back, kicked off by the smart and thought-provoking @KitchenMage. The banter brought up a good point: Are we blogging the life we have or the life we’d like everyone to think we have? Is there a need to have a persona when blogging, or is it better to just “let it all hang out?” And how does that affect the ability to be transparent as bloggers who wish to position themselves as influencers? I think that’s a personal question on so many levels, so I’ll just leave that dangling in the wind, as it were.

Other people's lives are way cooler than mine, I just show up to their parties - Photos from Wasabi Prime's iPhone

But as to the sticky subject of transparency, one should always start with themselves, so this is Wasabi’s Two Cents: blogs aren’t real news. We are not Walter Cronkite, 2.0, revealing brilliant truth to the masses. We're sending editorial messages out into the ether and thanking our lucky stars there are people generous with their time who will read it. While there are influential blog voices of the moment, there are hundreds of hungrier pundits out there who will devour them whole to take their place, and no one will be the wiser in three months. And the most important point, no one's getting rich off blogging (unless you’re Perez Hilton, but really, who wants that?). So I don't judge someone for getting thrown a few bucks to do a sponsored post now and then, because guess what? Bills suck. There, I’ve said it, my ugly truth. Because that’s what I remind myself every day. “We’re not saving lives,” was a favorite saying at an old company, to keep us focused on the work, but not allow the work to be so self-important that we give ourselves too much credit. I don't seek fame from blogging because I know I'm not interesting enough, and I think celebrity is the Devil incarnate, as it's the Monkey's Paw that inevitably takes too much. And many times, I don’t cook to create the music of food so me and my imaginary flaxen-haired children can dance in the kitchen – I do it because I’ve had one cup of coffee all day, worked too long for too little, and if I don’t eat something simple and fast, I’m going to pass out. There’s my transparency, the daily life of not a food blogger, but a person who happens to write a food blog. How you like me now? *Insert rap star swagger*

But this is still a very good life, albeit a simpler one from earlier times. I'm thankful for it, and I do whatever I have to do to maintain this quiet little corner of the world. Cooking is relaxing for me, and this blog keeps me sane when there’s more doubts than hopes. And in a lot of ways, while I call this a “food blog,” I would argue it’s more about a blog that explores how food influences a normal life and how it can bless that life with a little specialness. For myself, I find what's on the plate less interesting than what series of events made that meal happen. We’re taught from early on that meals are a hallmark for special occasions. It’s not a birthday without cake, holidays aren’t truly festive without a big dinner – in many ways, it’s not about the food at all, it’s just a centerpiece for how we come together and celebrate the people in our lives.

Snapshots from a partially-charmed, but pleasantly normal life - Photos from Wasabi Prime's iPhone

I’m in a constant state of questioning what Wasabi Prime is supposed to be. It was a byproduct, formed after one too many martinis and being in a criminally insane job. I often feel lost and worry this blog is terrible and not fancy or trendy. I think that’s a good analogy for life, as that’s pretty much how I am as a person, and honestly, aren't we all like that? For answers, I look to the perennial influences behind this blog. They are not the celebrity darlings of the culinary world, cookbook sets that cost the down payment of a car, exotic ingredients that come with their own political statement, or even the latest en fuego restaurant bursting out on the local scene. My most valued resource for material and inspiration are friends and family, ones who quite honestly, couldn’t give a toss about this blog or anything food culture-related. It’s the ones who hate or don’t know how to cook. The ones who are picky and only eat grilled cheese sandwiches. The ones who come home so tired after a long day, want to cook, but have to hit the “pass” button and eat cold yogurt and beef jerky before falling dead asleep. I feel like these are the most important people to take note of, because this is most of the people out there. They don’t relish in the obscurity of food, which I think can be a turnoff to many who don’t want to wax poetic about the balanced flavor notes of a rare heirloom tomato grown by albino pygmies in a greenhouse community in Upper Mongolia. Not to burst anyone's bubble, but in mixed company, you sound like a douche, and not convincing anyone to improve their eating habits. And that's why friends and family are important, because they remind you who's really eating the food and how lives shape choices. They also keep you grounded, they support your efforts but never let you get caught up in your own BS, and they don’t care if you can't make a perfect soufflé because that’s not why they were friends with you to begin with. They won’t judge you if you say, “eff it, we’re getting drive-thru and eating burgers and drinking cheap beer.” If anything, they’ll be the ones to say, “PBR or Red Stripe?”

Food as a means for developing community - Photos from Wasabi Prime's iPhone

I don’t know how people treat their blog around others, but mine is like Fight Club. I don't talk about it. It’s a different life from the one populated with lifelong friends and relatives; it’s easily and gladly compartmentalized and put aside. It’s a thing I do, a private escape, but not who I am. And hearing about others’ lives that are very real, with new babies, new jobs, serious issues with relationships and worries about an uncertain future – it puts blogging in perspective and makes it less about making food serious and obscure, but how can we make it welcoming, approachable, and a release for people who just need a break. Food in and of itself, isn’t interesting. We give it value and create our own stories around it, and for as many opinions as there are stars in the sky, that’s where the relevance lies. And as for blogging and food writing in general, I’ll take it seriously to a point, but in the end, I ultimately write for myself. I genuinely enjoy the activity, and once it leaves my brain to live on this blog or magazine, I don't look back, because I've moved on to something else. I always defer to my favorite line in Platoon: Opinions are like a$#holes, everyone’s got one. So there you go. Transparency.


  1. Love that you went out on a spindly limb here. & also that u note a life outside blogging. It ain't so serious, peeps.

  2. I pity the fools that have the spare time, unspent energy, and bitterness to troll around. Heart you! Keep being you :)


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