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(article, Liz Crain)

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Food blogs can bubble with substantial ferment. They can also be loaded with junky fillers. Sometimes separating the two takes so long that I give up, still hungry for a virtual nibble. 

In Blog Feed, I’ll forage for satisfying food blogs. One week I may list the wildest specimens; another, the tastiest recipe-driven pickings. All I bring with me is a hunger for fresh and brazen food writing.

In addition to weeding out bad blog tendencies (hyperbole, snobbery, and just plain lousy writing), I ask bloggers to reveal the nitty-gritty: what it’s like to write about food on an empty stomach, or what it’s like to have an online audience. 

In this way, I’ll take you with me behind the blog.

h3. Vegan Lunchbox: A sense of humor is essential

[%image Shmoo float='right' width='250' caption='The little shmoo.'] Blogs that are built to last are usually playful enough to laugh at their own expense from time to time. 

p(blue). Blog: Vegan Lunchbox
Average posts per month: 15
Blogger: Jennifer McCann
Age: 35
Blog place of origin: Kennewick, Washington

Even if you’re not vegan, this mom’s amazing dedication to fun and healthy meals for her little “shmoo” — her son’s nickname — is a treat to behold. In fact, web readers voted hers the best food blog in the category "family/kids" for 2006. 

In September 2005 McCann, a self-professed vegan activist, began snapping photos of the colorful, creative school lunches she packs for her son. Treats have included soy pups in a blanket, chickpea noodle soup, quinoa timbales, and heart-shaped cookie-cut vegan salami slices. Now, hundreds of entries later, McCann has a cookbook out titled Vegan Lunchbox. 

What's the funniest response you've ever had to your blog?
I've had some very strange questions from readers asking for help or advice on veganism, food intolerances, or feeding kids. I think the oddest was from a woman who asked if cooking with her own breast milk for her family would be considered vegan. I said I guess it's not unethical if it causes you no suffering, but ... why?

[%image lunchbox float='left' width='200' caption='A lunch for shmoo.']

How do you respond to stick-in-the-mud responses from readers?
Oh, when the blog first became popular, it was really tough. I allowed anonymous comments back then, and you know how people can be. It's a vegan website, so there was a lot of "eat meat, you freaks!" kind of stuff. And also a lot of criticism about my son's lunches — you're feeding him too much, you're not feeding him enough, you shouldn't combine fruits and vegetables in the same meal, you're awful making him eat so many vegetables, shame on you for feeding him cookies! 

Really, I've heard it all. And then readers would get into flame wars with other readers over some aspect of the lunch or veganism in general.

Eventually I had to disallow anonymous comments. That took care of at least 80 percent of the rude comments right there; it's amazing what people will say when they don't have to identify themselves. That said, I hasten to add that the vast majority of the comments I receive are truly delightful, fun, and heartwarming.

h3. Cookin' in the 'Cuse': Topic diversity is key

Generalist food bloggers seem to fare better in the long run than topic-specific food bloggers because their framework is more flexible. Plenty of food bloggers juggle full-time employment and family commitments in addition to their blogs, so it’s nice to have a little topic leeway at the end of the day.

p(blue). Blog: Cookin’ in the ‘Cuse 
Average posts per month: 8
Blogger: Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows
Age: 40
Blog place of origin: Syracuse, New York

For Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, an Episcopal priest in Syracuse, New York, the beginning of the year is March, when she starts sowing seeds in her kitchen garden. Cookin’ in the ‘Cuse celebrates the local farm-to-table food scene in central New York, but also reaches out to a much wider community of folks interested in local vs. organic food, conscious consumerism, and good old home cooking. 

[%image cuse float='left' width='150' caption='Baskerville-Burrows cooking.']

What's the strangest entry you've ever posted on your blog?
My post about bacon cookies — which are incredibly delicious and addictive — gets the strangest reactions from those who haven't had them before. 

What do you do when nothing of interest presents itself for your blog?
Cookin' in the ‘Cuse is over one-and-a-half years old, and occasionally I don't feel particularly passionate about writing. When that happens, I'll usually go back and scour the news for interesting tidbits, or I'll get in the kitchen and cook something — that'll usually inspire me to take a photo and write a post.

h3. Chocolate in Context: Passion outweighs product placement

Trawling the Internet for this first Blog Feed, I discovered what I’ll call Chronic Product-Review Condition (CPRC). This occurs when blogs start out passionate, then fall into the pit of monotonous product reviewing. 

Topic-specific food bloggers often become inundated with free samples from PR firms and manufacturers. The lure of free food, the lack of original entry ideas, and general blog malaise often combine to induce CPRC. 

Chocolate in Context, however, is a product-oriented food blog that manages to keep this bought-and-sold burnout at bay. 

p(blue). Blog: Chocolate in Context
Average posts per month: 4
Blogger: Emily Stone
Age: 28
Blog place of origin: Melbourne, Australia, but moving to New York, New York

Emily Stone doesn’t claim to be an expert in all things chocolate. She’s just a passionate cacao explorer circling the globe and taking note of everything from chocolate Guinness brownies to hot chocolate at home — Stone is a native New Yorker — and abroad. 

[%image chocolate float='left' width='200' caption='Emily Stone in the kitchen.']

The lively and funny Chocolate in Context, which originated in Guatemala in 2005, is studded with loads of international chocolate recipes as well as plenty of conjecture on issues dark and white. 

Do you have a code of ethics when it comes to product reviews?
I accept free product samples, but I'm also aware that I don't really get them for free. I'm participating in a reverse transaction — instead of buying the products, I'm selling potential publicity on Chocolate in Context. Sometimes that's what I do. Other times, people in the chocolate industry become my friends, and then the products that they send are more like gifts than anything else. But most of the time, I pay for my own chocolate, and I plan to keep on doing that.

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.

chocolate, l

lunchbox, l

cuse, l

Shmoo, l

reference-image, l