Food in binary: identity and interaction in two German food blogs.

Author:McGaughey, Kerstin


Food blogs have become a wildly popular platform for individuals to write about their recipes, restaurant meals, opinions, and food experiences in a public forum. Some argue facetiously that everyone with a fork and an Internet connection has a weblog of his or her own. While this is not accurate, it may not seem too far-fetched. Every major newspaper with a food section now has at least one food blog, if not several, on their websites. Writers who began by posting their personal thoughts and recipes regularly on their blogs now have major book deals (1) and jobs working for the Food Network. (2) While food constitutes only a small portion of the topics written about in the blogosphere, this still accounts for thousands of blogs on food in many different languages.

This paper will focus on how two German food bloggers portray their identity through their blogs, and how their interactions with their readers and other bloggers shape a sense of community unique to the medium. (3) A unique convergence is occurring in food blogging: while the food blogosphere was born in the realm of new media (the Internet) it must by nature of its subject rely on the offline food world, as well as traditional media spheres such as print and television. This mixing of media is what Henry Jenkins calls convergence culture: the blending of media and users who are willing to follow it. (4) It is evidenced all over the food blogosphere: blogger Adam Roberts' erstwhile television deal with Food Network as its host of the weekly food celebrity web show "FN Dish;" and pastry-chef-turned-expat-blogger-in-Paris David Lebovitz's several published cookbooks.

While English-language blogs, like Roberts' "Amateur Gourmet" and Lebovitz's eponymous blog, are highly popular internationally, they are only one portion of the food blogosphere that exists. Just as Hollywood has its celebrities along with the countless actors who are in L.A. trying to make a break, or simply to follow a passion, food blogs have their own set of stars and lesser-known individuals, all engaging in the media for their own reasons. This paper will focus on a specific subset of blogs, namely two blogs out of Munich including the internationally popular blog, "Delicious: Days," written in English by Nichole ("Nicky") Stich, as well as the German-language blog "Cucina Casalinga" by Nathalie (5), which is more locally/nationally focused.

There are countless variations of food blogs, which makes choosing a set for study challenging. Susan Herring has created a methodology for what she calls Computer-Mediated DiscourseAnalysis (6), in which she discusses how to choose a corpus of online data. She suggests three different methods, including choosing random, motivated, or convenience samples. (7) In this case, a random sample was not feasible, as it would have required the virtually impossible task of collecting every German blog on the Internet from which to randomly choose. (8) Thus, the choice was made for these two blogs out of a combination of motivation and convenience: both of these blogs were chosen because they are by women writers out of Munich, which narrows down geographical and gender variations, but also because they provide examples representative of the food blogosphere at large, as well as social norms and trends in German society offline. These were also samples of convenience, as the author was already following several German blogs before this project was started.

The similarities between these blogs raises questions about the significance of two women blogging about food out of Munich. Women bloggers, while they are less popular than their male counterparts, can claim authorship of at least half of blogs on the Internet and are more likely to be blogging about creative pursuits. (9) Furthermore, Munich is known for its flourishing tourism and food industries. While every region in Germany prides itself on its distinctive food cultures, it is arguable that Munich is even more aware of its cuisine, due at least in part to the foreigners who come and enjoy the food. Both bloggers in question write about shopping in several of the city's specialty food shops and local fresh produce markets, as well as their favorite regional Bavarian foods.

Stich and Nathalie are bloggers who cook much of their own food and post about it. This is a general trend in food blogging, though these two particular blogs are also scattered with trips around Germany and abroad. When traveling, and also sometimes while at home, they will post about the foods they ate in restaurants. However, both of these bloggers write mostly about their own personal cooking experiences. These two blogs are examples of convergence culture: the bloggers take personal, family, and national food cultures that have been passed through traditional methods of communication and post them on the Internet, creating a community that is entirely dependent on both virtual experiences online and physical experiences in the kitchen.

This paper will look at the online community of these two German food blogs, drawing on current theories of Internet and community space, the evolution of the blog and blogging communities, and other studies of "virtual ethnography" to interpret how these bloggers portray their identities through their blogs, food, and what kind of interactions occur as a result of engaging in the medium. While this work by no means can encompass all aspects of this new and constantly evolving topic, it will act as a stepping stone for further analysis, providing a window onto possible themes and tropes that appear in many food-related blogs.

A Brief History of Weblogs

"There are only a few things you need to know about weblogs." This quaint introduction by Rebecca Blood to the edited anthology We've Got Blog was written in 2002, three years after the first weblogs, or blogs, took off. This book of essays on the topic was, at the time, revolutionary: one of the first collections of essays to look at blogs from a self-reflective angle, but also using the "old-fashioned" media, that of print books. All of the essays had been originally published on the Internet, but it is fascinating to look at how they come together in print.

What becomes evident right away when reading through this collection is that blogs have changed dramatically in the six years since this book was published. Another contributor, Derek Powazek, acknowledges a change just in the three years since blogs first evolved, arguing that originally, blogs were sites with links to other sites: "each was a mixture in unique proportions of links, commentary, and personal thoughts and essays." (10) Now, blogs are multimodal, and include videos, Twitter feeds, and photographs to expand the way content is presented to the reader. An initial core group of 23 blogs developed in the end of 1998/beginning of 1999, according to some sites maintained by individuals who listed all the blogs they were aware of. In August of that first year, Pyra Labs, a small dot-com company out of San Francisco, launched Blogger. (11) Along with LiveJournal, a blog hosting platform started the same year with an opensource codebase, Blogger made a big impact. Suddenly, instead of requiring significant knowledge in web design, HTML, and other coding languages used to create and maintain websites, bloggers only needed to know how to write the equivalent of an email. Blogger created templates, organized content, archived posts, and hosted the weblog. Users simply filled out a couple fields: a title for the post, and the content of their desire. And so, the blogosphere was born.

Blogger didn't take off immediately, as the dot-com bust put a dent in the Pyra Lab's assets. Nevertheless, the company survived and was popular enough that by 2003, WordPress, an open source blog hosting system, was launched among several other blog hosting companies. According to Technorati (today's much more sophisticated version of the blog listing websites), there were at the end of 2008 133 million blogs on the Internet posting an average of ten posts per month. (12)

The blogosphere has become so large, and is evolving at such unbelievable rates, that Technorati has published an annual "State of the Blogosphere" since 2004. This large statistical study analyzes blogs for content and demographics, creating the most detailed statistics to date on blogs. Overall, according to Technorati's report in 2008, the majority of bloggers are men; however, a Perseus report in 2003 suggested women write around 50% of blogs. (13) Furthermore, looking at a selection of food blogs on the web, there is a certain impression, supported by general observation, that in the food blog niche, the majority are women. European bloggers are the second-largest group after North American, and the largest age group of bloggers is 25-34 years old. Moreover, while most bloggers do not make enough money to live off their blogs, 25% of bloggers have a household income of over $100,000 a year and 75% of bloggers are college graduates. This means, the average blogger is from the Northern Hemisphere, is probably white, wealthy, and educated, and thus has the time, money, and resources to devote to regular, successful blogging (14).

Despite its thorough research, Technorati does not have specific data on food blogs. Their results indicate a typical blog covers on average three topics (such as politics, news, and health), and they included "cooking/food" among the topic of "other," which accounts for 43% of blogs. The most popular topic, at 54%, is "personal/lifestyle" which could very well also include blogs that write about food (15).

Another way to calculate a general idea of the figures is by looking at search engines and other aggregators. A few food bloggers (Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes (16), Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen (17), and Alanna Kellogg of Kitchen Parade (18)) put together a search engine for...

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