Yesterday after work, Hook and I hopped over to the Ferry Building to hear Dianne Jacob promote the new edition of her how-to book Will Write For Food. Moved to action by the absence of any comprehensive instructional text about food writing (in all its various forms), Jacob took it upon herself to create such a manual. I read the first edition a few months ago and found the book’s structure helpful for the time-pressed or singularly focused reader; each chapter addresses either a different style of food-related writing (i.e., how to write a proper restaurant review, how to write a recipe, how to write food-centric fiction) or a step in the process of getting one’s work published.
As is my way, I read the book from start to finish, covering the chapters that might not pertain to me yet, but whose information might come in handy at some later date. You never know.
Jacob noted that the biggest change to the updated edition is the inclusion of a chapter about blogging. The practice of food blogging, as we know, has exploded in popularity in recent years; that said, roughly 80% of extant blogs lie dormant*. Jacob related her own difficulties with blogging (“After a time, I wondered, ‘How do you come up with things to write?'”) and cautioned food bloggers not to give away their milk for free, so to speak. Warned Jacob, if someone — an anthology compiler, say, or a cookbook author — asks to use a recipe or piece from your blog without offering monetary compensation, don’t let them! Word up.
Jacob also spoke briefly to the plight of freelance writers (i.e., that the recession is wrecking their careers), to the plight of underpaid restaurant reviewers, to the future of food-related apps. I agreed with all of her points save one: that Yelp and Chowhound and other such services are undermining the traditional print (now digital print) restaurant review. “If I’m in a neighborhood I don’t know and I’m looking for a restaurant, am I going to check Yelp, or am I going to see what Michael Bauer has to say?” mused Jacob.
A fair question. A frequent Yelp user, I’ll agree that I’d sooner use that service to find a quick bite than scour the archives of the Chronicle to see what Bauer has to say about each restaurant in a given spatial radius. But comparing Michael Bauer’s reviews to those posted by Yelpers is a case of apples and oranges, it seems. I don’t read Yelp postings for pleasure; I use them only for information and I take that information with a grain of salt. Yelp is helpful at best, hopelessly inaccurate at worst. Its users aren’t held accountable for their opinions, and Yelpers’ motivations are unclear: most want to provide what they view as an honest account of a restaurant (or bar, or dentist), but some posters are just curmudgeonly. Moreover, the writing on Yelp is atrocious! I can’t read more than five reviews in one sitting, lest my eyes liquefy and my frontal cortex explode. Srsly.
I read professional restaurant reviews for the same reason I read novels, essays, and features in the New Yorker: for the poetry imparted by the author, the expertise bolstering the author’s opinion, and the pleasure to be found in good writing. Yelp has its place, and Michael Bauer has his place, and those places are in different area codes.
Ah, but I digress. Jacob’s talk was informative, light, and brief, if attended by an audience of shameless self-promoters (but what can you expect)? Verdict: I’ll be ordering the updated version of Will Write to check out Jacob’s tips on blogging. In the meantime, don’t expect any changes here in Garkyland: I’m comfortable with things just the way they are.
*So says Jacob. Though the stat wasn’t cited, I believe it.