"Don't you even think about it, not before I take a photo." | Photo: Priyanka Chand Agarwal
I was a food blogger, and not far off from the ones you encounter today.
I was that girl with the DSLR, snapping away while food got cold at the table.
I was the only barrier standing between family and friends from easing their grumbling stomachs just to snap hundreds of the same pictures I would not end up using.
And I was that girl who sometimes set flashes off in a dark, romantic restaurant (sorry!).
"They are, after all, not journalists. Some outrightly dislike them, others have a love-hate relationship with them, and just about everyone draws lines and judges them."
Back then, blogging, or “web logging”, was just picking up momentum. And I was doing what my hobby dictated, uninitiated by the thought of freebies, fame or sponsorships. My food blog was my online diary and commentary space, and this personal project helped me find my footing (and voice) in the world of food writing.
There were no major means of monitoring readership then, and advertisers and competition were scarce. Most food bloggers and posts were carefree in tone and in spirit. They were authentic.
Blogging has developed tremendously since, and not always for the better.
Food blogging (or, yikes, “flogging”) is now a career – think LadyIronChef, Six & Seven and Camemberu. And in Singapore, it has come to embody, at its worst, an industry that is opportunistic, aspirant and made up of shameless, fluffy, navel-gazing content.
They are, after all, generally not journalists – they have not been professionally trained, screened, and have no obligation to stay objective.
Within the food and beverage circle, many press relations officers (and journalists) still steer clear of bloggers for the stereotype that they bring to the table. Some outrightly dislike them, others have a love-hate relationship with them, and just about everyone draws lines and judges them.
Yet, this stereotype, for those who are doing good work, can be unfair.
Here are some reasons why we should hold back on being judgmental:
1. Bad reputation fuelled by a minority of bloggers
The “blogger” label can elicit extreme reactions: the common perception is that they are self-indulgent celebrity wannabes who don't possess the objectivity, skills and palate of a hired food reviewer to properly review a restaurant.
It seems everyone has an opinion, whether or not they have walked in the blogger's (sponsored) shoe or not.
You're lucky if you end up being associated with food bloggers such as those of His Food Blog, Fundamentally Flawed and Dan & Esther – these guys know from culinary school and trade experience what they're talking about in their posts.
The guys behind Keropokman, Miss Tam Chiak, AromaCookery and The Food Nomads represent the sub-set of bloggers who approach everything with a healthy dose of humility and curiosity. They have been exposed to so many food tastings their accumulated knowledge allows them to ask the right questions and gather the appropriate insight, and reading them is akin to learning from them.
All it takes is for a couple of crappy bloggers to kick down the entire basket of good apples, and (unfortunately) we all know who these are.
2. There is no such thing as a free, warm lunch
Serious bloggers know that every invitation or hosting to a meal has a price.
Bloggers have to take snaps of the food while it is hot. Free meals are great, but less so when you can't even have your food warm.
And while there are no target deadlines, it is understood that after being out at an event all day, bloggers have to write about it.
They have to be fast workers since timeliness is key. And yes, most of them resort to posting pretty pictures, sometimes with a few selfies thrown in.
But who can blame them, especially if the blog's content and survival depends on freebies that public relations companies hand out? It’s not like they have a generous backer offering them a budget. Can you really blame bloggers who say to organisers, “Why didn't you invite me to that restaurant tasting?”
3. Bloggers are easy targets, almost bullied
Truth is, there is a lot of blogger-hate going around.
Bloggers are banned from restaurants, blacklisted on PR officers' lists, and deliberately seated apart from journalists.
Even the search engines are not on their side: a search for “bloggers should...” comes up with “be hanged” as the first search query option in one instance.
Putting yourself out there is not all that easy, and it takes courage to have a thick skin and keep going after every punch.
4. No rest in a competitive environment
We all need rules and boundaries. Unfortunately for bloggers, there are none of these to govern the blogosphere.
Unlike journalists who mostly follow rules of ethics, and are subjected to a direct line of accountability, bloggers aren't hired through an interview process like most professionals are.
There are also no routine working hours – blogging takes place 24/7, through holidays, family crises and computer breakdowns.
There is no support and resources, such as a team of designers, editors, proofreaders and content uploaders to help them with the work down the factory line.
Add to that the many "competitors" around and they have to keep trying to think of ways to get people to keep reading and following. After all, the blogosphere isn’t getting any smaller and it's a free-for-all, so bloggers are signing up every day, to get a piece of the fame pie.
The question is, while we learn to live in a field that produces quality wheat as well as weeds that sabotage the business, can we also put away our knives now and then to give the community a break?
Celine Asril was a food blogger, cook, and food photographer's assistant before becoming a food editor for Time Out Singapore and HungryGoWhere. The avid WWOOFer and Twitter-jointed writer is addicted to Instagram and Twitter, though she is definitely not a Singaporean hipster. She has a pet DSLR, and is often attacked by pangs of guilt for not spending enough time with it.