YOU’LL NEVER BLOG ALONE – the day I discovered I’m a blogger and other stories

There are now over 400 food bloggers in Ireland. Though my food and drink website, Ireland’s first, has been up and running almost ten years I never considered myself a part of the blogosphere. Though the term ‘blog’ had been coined in the early noughties it certainly wasn’t in common usage, at least not here in Ireland. No, was ‘a website’, I reckoned. So I typed, scanned and uploaded blithely ignorant of the inhabitants of Planet Blog, multiplying like mushrooms around me. Until a couple of months ago, when a friend said “How’s your blog going?” and I thought “Blimey! Is that what it is? Hey, I’m a blogger!” Hardly a Damascene conversion but I did feel a smidge like Hans Anderson’s duck, the one who suddenly twigged he was a swan.

‘Blogger’ sounds so much cooler than ‘website proprietor’. Having assumed my new identity the next thing was to find out if I had family out there. Splashing about in the big pond that’s the web I came across The Irish Food Bloggers Association. Here I found kith and kin, people who, like me, enjoyed cooking something nice to eat and writing it up. Though I’m by no means the clubbable kind I joined up.

Bloggers are sociable souls. The IFBA run a fair few functions for their members, one of which was a food photography day organised with the help of Bord Bia. Though I’ve been taking photographs as a hobby since I was old enough to suss that the round glass hole goes at the front, I thought the event might provide opportunity to meet other food bloggers and, hopefully, hone up my photographic skills. The day was kicked off by the energetic and eminently likeable Donal Skehan – no mean food photographer himself, though commendably self-deprecating. Jocasta Clarke, a professional photographer with a number of food books to her credit and Sharon Hearne-Smith, a food stylist, gave a glimpse of how the pros do it and gave tips on improving our technique. Final turn was Damien Mulley a guy who seemingly regards himself as ‘the baron of blog’, advising how we might make ours more visible. Seems all we need is a penchant for picking fights with celebs and a snap of a naked lady wrestling a python – don’t ask!

During the intervals we munched lovely cakes, scones and tarts thoughtfully brought along by some of the attending bloggers, numbering forty in all. I was gobsmacked when Kristin Jensen, co-founder of IFBA told me the Association boasts 400 members and growing. That’s 400-odd people in Ireland alone, writing on the web about food! Contrast that with maybe thirty (and declining) in print media and you get some idea of the way things are going.

It’s not surprising that the food and hospitality industry PR machine has started to cosy up to the food bloggers. Some restaurants now extend dining invitations to the blogging community, hoping for a favourable review. Significant bloggers are included in junkets formerly the exclusive perk of mainstream journalists. Some are given or loaned products to test. Product reviews in blogs should maybe taken with a pinch of salt (of the freshly ground marine variety). Unless you’ve had a lot of practice it’s hard to give a bad rap to a free blender. There is, as yet, no food bloggers’ code of ethics.

Nigel Slater and our own Darina are the patron saints of food blogging. I’ve never been in another blogger’s house but I can imagine framed portraits of the pair hung above the fireplace, in the space a previous generation reserved for the Pope and J.F.K. Bloggers usually write in the first person. Suits me, I’ve always been an opinionated sod, I can do “I” and “me” with the best. Where I do go off message is that food bloggers do not tend to be savagely critical, conserving their small stock of napalm for the occasional blitz on battery chickens or food with millions of air miles. This grumpy, censorious old git will have to practice being nicer to his fellow humans if he’s to coexist.

For those who are tempted but haven’t yet dipped their  toes into the tide  of food blogging they’ll find the blogmood  upbeat, informal, very much heart-on-sleeve. Most blogs major on recipes, with a generous dollop of local, green and good-for-you. Food bloggers, by and large, have marshmallow hearts; they embrace causes like ‘Eat Irish for a Week’ – that is if they can bear to give up coffee for the duration!  For many, the blog is a hobby; bloggers usually have day jobs, kids or both so don’t expect daily updates. Culinary interests are kaleidoscopic – chilli worshippers, curry mavens, Mexican, Scandinavian, Korean, Italian food tifosi. There are a lot of bakers, mostly excellent and a good few soup specialists. Vegetarians and vegans are well catered for. People with dietary restrictions or allergies will find kindred spirits. All foodie life is there.

For my part, I’m delighted with my new found chums. I’ve ploughed a lonely furrow since I left Food & Wine Magazine. Now I’m coming to realise that, as Rogers & Hammerstein (nearly) put it “Blog on, blog on and you’ll never blog alone…”