Fig. 4

© 2013 http://madebymargie.co.uk/ All rights reserved

© 2013 http://madebymargie.co.uk/ All rights reserved

The object for fig. 4 is a food blog, Made by Margie, that is one of many who are driving the ‘foodie revolution’ in the UK. The author of this blog is Margie herself, a professional chef who uses her blog to publish recipes, restaurant reviews and cooking advice.

 

It is widely heralded by popular media in the United Kingdom that we are in the midst of a ‘foodie revolution’, as British consumers take an unprecedented interest in food and cooking. A new interest in personal health, a barrage of conflicting diet advice, and food scandals such as the horse meat scandal of 2013, means that those consumers who are sufficiently wealthy and time-rich to have the choice are duly considering the quality, provenance and health benefits of the ingredients in the food that they cook and eat. A recent conference held in late 2014 by the Culinary Institute of America in collaboration with MIT Media Lab considered the future of food on the basis that ‘today’s explosion of information technology, with its attendant impacts of massive high-speed computation and mobile connectivity, has unleashed a global conversation about needs, values, and aspirations around food and food systems.’[1] This global conversation has, on a micro level, enabled online food communities to form, united by ethos and approach rather than geography or tradition. It has also provided a platform for anyone to share recipes. In a pre-internet age a cook might adapt a recipe according to their own preference or the ingredients and tools available to him or her, but it is not likely that these instructions would have been shared with a wide audience and would have most likely remained within family groups as annotations in a recipe book, hand written in a scrapbook or passed on by word-of-mouth. The Internet allows a much less inhibited flow of food information whereby cooks from all over the world gather recipes, images and techniques from multiple sources, which they adapt, improve, discuss and re-post.

 

Margie specializes in healthy cooking, creating gluten-free versions of well-known foods without certain processed and unhealthy ingredients. With a particular interest in vegan and raw cuisine, Margie’s blog has become a node of information on this particular subject, part of an online network formed of blogs, Instagram, twitter feeds and Pinterest, to which Margie is able to create actual links on her site, thereby literally positioning her blog within this network. A great deal of Margie’s inspiration is drawn from these sources and her recipes comprise an accumulation of these influences, personal eating experiences and her own cooking knowledge and expertise. Yet, the blog is a curated presentation of her cooking practice as an awareness of what other bloggers in the same community are doing prevents her from posting a particular dish or food trend if she feels that it has been ‘over done’ or if she is not an early adopter; originality and difference are desirable aspects of a blog and are needed to successfully differentiate one blog from a wealth of similar sites.

 

Shannon Mattern, assistant professor of media studies at The New School, in an essay that analyses blogs in relation to the circulation of information via zines, a previous generation of DIY publishing, observes that ‘a blogger can do little to keep his or her site from reaching a worldwide web audience indiscriminately.’[2]  Certainly the immediacy of blogging enables Margie to be perfectly current within her own space and time, but as seasonality and geography still, to some extent, govern the availability and quality of ingredients, she cannot hope to be immediately relevant for her entire global readership. The user-generated comments section on Made by Margie, however, enables Margie to have an ongoing conversation with readers to clear up any cross-cultural misunderstandings (eg. different names for ingredients), answer questions about alternative methods and manage other feedback. The limitless iterations of food information on the internet does, however, ensure that Margie’s readership is self-selecting and enables her to write assuming a pre-existing level of cookery skill and interest in her audience that would otherwise visit a different blog more suited to their needs.

 

Margie is a small business-person, a trained chef who has not yet established a high profile, but who is gradually building her business without the aid of any considerable financial backing. A blog is an inexpensive means of self-promotion; creating a showcase for an individual’s work, ensuring an all important web-presence and ‘google-ability’ and enabling an ongoing interaction with an audience who could potentially become clients or consumers of any off-shoot business that may launch into the ‘real’ market. Margie considers her practice of keeping a recipe blog distinct from her work as a chef, as it is a way of showcasing the food that she is most interested in, free from the cost and menu negotiations that are inevitable in a client relationship. A blog allows Margie to present all of the distinct strands of her practise: recipe writer, professional chef, restaurant critic and cookery advisor, as a coherent whole, unified under one aesthetic and all described using her own distinctive voice. As a blogger, Margie is both consumer and producer of food and recipes, but also of imagery and information.

 

The form of the recipes themselves is not dissimilar to that of a traditional recipe book, consisting of images accompanied by textual instruction. Because a blog is created over time, the writer is able to treat the blog as an ongoing conversation, as well as being able to refer back to previous recipes and techniques and to develop a personal voice and rapport that are important in gaining the trust that is so essential to any instructional relationship.

 

Images are important to Margie both because this is an aspect of her work that she particularly enjoys, but also because she believes that an enticing image on her blog will make a reader more likely to cook a recipe than a delicious-sounding description, so important is the visual to our understanding and expectation of food. Margie also believes that if a dish is attractive a client is considerably more likely to photograph it and post the image on social media which can lead directly back to Margie’s blog and thereby generate publicity for her business and further interest in her blog. Contemporary food culture relies overwhelmingly on the visual with particular visual conventions having come to convey particular eating sensations. In a discussion of food porn, critic Richard McGee writes that ‘food, when removed from the kitchen, becomes divorced from its nutritive or taste qualities and enters a realm where surface appearance is all important.’[3] Margie’s images, while clearly carefully considered, do not bear the hallmarks of the expertly styled images that we are accustomed to seeing in the media and look more like the work of a home cook, albeit an accomplished one. These images do give a sense of an attainable result, as well as seeming more appropriate for a blog whose specific focus is on nutrition and natural ingredients.

 

In his 2005 work Postproduction, art critic and theorist Nicholas Bourriaud considers contemporary art as being ‘created on the basis of preexisting works; more and more artists interpret, reproduce, re-exhibit.’[4] The practice of food blogging and contemporary recipe writing follows similar patterns and it is perhaps useful to consider the ways in which different forms of less radical contemporary cultural production, are related and governed by the structures and forms of information networks within which they exist.

 

Miranda Vane

 

[1] Overview for reThinkFood Annual Leadership Conference, presented by Culinary Institute of America and MIT Media Lab, November 7-9 2014, p. 2

[2] Shannon Mattern, ‘Click/Scan/Bold: The New Materiality of Architectural Discourse and Its Counter-Publics’, p. 336

[3] Richard McGee quoted by Anne McBride in ‘Food Porn’ Gastronomica: the journal of food and culture, Winter 2010, p. 38

[4] Nicolas Bourriaud Introduction to Postproduction, p. 1 

 

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