Are Food Bloggers Qualified to Write About Food?

Recently, in our review of Otto Pizzeria, a commenter noted that pizza was a sacred beast, and that “acting like we [knew] better” was unacceptable. It’s a refrain you sometimes hear repeated among local chefs and the owners of local food-oriented businesses (even though such comments alienate what I would think to be a fairly important demographic for their business); that food bloggers are self-important idiots, with no training or education, spouting off on the Internet about food, without the needed qualifications and background, be it in the food service industry, a professional career in print media food reviewing, or otherwise, with no right to comment on the food prepared in their kitchens.

So the question is: Are food bloggers qualified to write about food?

The short answer is: Probably. I’ll elaborate.

Does a food blogger need to have a background in the restaurant industry in order to write compelling reviews and opinion on food? While a bit of back-of-the-house experience may provide a writer with some different insights into the process of food preparation and presentation, I don’t think having been a dishwasher somewhere necessarily makes them more qualified to write about food than anyone else.

Anyone who eats out at a restaurant, anyone who gets their coats on, shuffles out the door, gets the car parked, and basks in the company of strangers for 90 minutes, while sipping cocktails and throwing themselves at the mercy of a stranger, a stranger who cooks, for that person, their take on delicious food, has the right to comment on that experience. Some people will do it informally, and in just a few words. Those people drop a few notes on Yelp or Urbanspoon and get on with their lives. Others get into more heated discussions on Chowhound, using a bit of a longer form to get their ideas across. Some type their thoughts into their blog, giving an opportunity for even more at-length discussion of a particular topic, whether it is a restaurant, a recipe, or the weather. The best dining patrons are so good at thinking about food that they write their thoughts down on paper, and those thoughts get published in a newspaper and read by hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people.

These people, though the outlet for their thoughts, and the scope of their audience, may be different, all have one thing in common: They don’t want to shovel any old thing into their mouths, and wait for their next meal. Food is not about fuel, for them, and they relish the opportunity to think about what they are eating, about why they enjoy the things they like; it is our job to notice the flourishes a chef puts into a dish, as well as the way the restaurant, the waitstaff, hell, even the kind of day we were having, made us feel about our meal. Food writers at all levels put great thought into each chew, and I would think a chef who takes care in his food, would appreciate a customer who takes care to notice.

If anything, amateur food bloggers are at least as passionate, or perhaps more passionate, about their subject than professional reviewers. A restaurant critic for a major newspaper enjoys meals that are either comped or paid for by the paper, a tidy paycheck, and local or even national recognition for the cleverness with which they craft a metaphor about the flavor of a certain cheese.

Food bloggers see few of those rewards: We eat out more than most of our non-blogging peers, paying for meals out of pocket. The demand for fresh content on a website means that we aren’t visiting a restaurant 3 or 4 times, and then lounging around in our jammies for days, smoking a pipe, while we consider whether the pico de gallo on our halibut was “piquant” or simply “poignant.” We need to be constantly cooking, dining out, writing, editing, and moving right along to the next piece. We often spend thousands of dollars on fancy photo and lighting equipment. We spend hours responding to comments and writing each day, to publish our work on a website that we spend more hours designing and maintaining, which, in the grand scheme of things, nobody reads.

For us, perhaps more than any other category of food writer, a real love of subject is key to why we do what we do. Often, I don’t know my ass from my elbow, and I don’t think I’ve been shy about mentioning that. I don’t know how to properly butterfly a chicken. I don’t take very good photos. I’m still trying to learn the finer points of talking about food without describing it. But at least I’m thinking about it, and trying to figure out why I like the things I like. Hopefully, some of the people who read our site might find that our tastes align in some areas, even while they diverge in others. Anyone who is willing to think constructively about food, about why they like the things they do, about the way food makes them feel, has the “right” to write about it, and again, I would expect chefs to welcome a customer that passionate, thoughtful, and considerate about what they are eating into their restaurants with open arms.

Photo: lesleyk

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the taco-centric blog "Eat More Tacos," and the junk food-centric "Spork & Barrel." His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

19 Comments

    1. Hi Joyce: A couple of things. First, a comment we received on this blog a few weeks ago. Second, a discussion among local food bloggers, that we apparently missed. And finally, comments from local chefs and the owners of a food-related business here in Portland.

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  1. Food blogging has made the professional reviewers obsolete for me. I like being able to follow various folks, and over time figure out who I am most likely to agree with, disagree with but be thoroughly entertained by, and most times I even learn something and get a good laugh along the way. The right is for anyone who cares enough to do it, another little internet miracle, great article!

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    1. I think that’s spot-on, Suz…I think you can approach the way you consume opinion a few ways. You can trust in an “expert,” or you can follow a few amateurs, and find out whose opinion you seem to consistently agree with. No matter what, we think getting a variety of info from a few different sources is vital to helping form an informed opinion, and we hope we can play some role in that. Thanks for reading!

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  2. I was going to say “Well said”,but I got beat to the punch. But,I agree 100%. (Not that I blog about food) But,who better to criticize,than the normal everyday people who eat the food. Not some pompous schmuck with a degree in herbology.

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  3. You put into words what all the wine prevented me from articulating on Saturday night- I wish you’d been there [Dawn & Adam’s dinner, that is]. I don’t want it to swing the other way and say we’re better than professional reviewers- although I do like your hypothetical critic sitting around in his jammies with a pipe. I simply like food, want to know more about it, and discuss it with those who may or may not agree.

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    1. We’re sorry we missed it, for sure! It sounds (based on an email exchange with Dawn) like there was some good discussion. And no, I would also never want to claim that a newspaper reviewer and a food blogger are always on equal footing in terms of talent or experience, just that our reasons for doing the writing we do are often similar. Also, we get to swear a lot more. Thanks for reading!

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  4. I couldn’t agree with you more Malcolm. In fact, just the other night, when I was eating out with my mom, she asked me if I had ever asked permission to take photos of a restaurant or do a review. I thought about this over the course of the meal, in a different context. If I were the owner of a restaurant, I wouldn’t want to give my permission to a food blogger if they asked if they could review it. I mean, I wouldn’t want to give it, because I wouldn’t want to be asked. I’d rather them just do as they please. Food bloggers aren’t getting as much credit as we should. We’re a special breed- you nailed it when you talked about how it’s our money and our effort- and how more or less, it’s our hobby.
    For the chefs that think our reviews aren’t as credible as what the New York Times might have to say, I laugh. The New York Times would be 20x more critical of every single element in the restaurant, than I would be. In fact, out of almost every single review I’ve composed, I make sure to say at least one great thing about the place. The New York Times? They’d shred the place to pieces. If anything at all, Food Bloggers should be commended on our appreciation and our voices- seeing as we’re not so blinded by what is considered “proper” food. I know what I like, and you know what you like. If a morsel of Coq au Vin that’s been prepared tastes good to me, then I’m not one to be critical of how long the chef braised the poulet for.

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  5. “If a morsel of Coq au Vin that’s been prepared tastes good to me, then I’m not one to be critical of how long the chef braised the poulet for.” Well stated, Erika. That’s not to say that a little criticism isn’t appropriate here and there, but we don’t have any interest in writing a “smear” site. No one wants to read about where NOT to go, they want to read about the places that should be getting more attention. Thanks for reading!

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  6. So the question is: Are food bloggers qualified to write about food?

    The short answer is: Probably. I’ll elaborate.


    Oh, so in other words if I want to write online why I think a certain restaurant’s food is crappy, I have to go to the government for a license to practice my 1st amendment right then?

    News flash for you liberals, this is still in some ways the United states of America. Not Europe. We have the first amendment in place for a reason. If you don’t like someones blog about food don’t read it then instead of instituting a nazi style regime. Otherwise feel free to move to Europe or China.

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