Has Food Blogging Jumped the Shark?

Marge Simpsons' Sous Vide Turkey

It finally happened: Marge, Bart, and Lisa created a food blog. It was a brilliant satire in a way that only The Simpsons can do, poking fun at just about every foodie-ism out there.

The episode came right on the heels of the International Food Blogger Conference. There’s also BlogHer Food, TechMunch, Camp Blogaway, Eat Write Retreat, and a half-dozen others. (I’ve actually started a list – please let me know if I’m missing any!) Many of these conferences are now in their third year, and are already selling tickets for their fourth.

My friend Irvin just did a terrific IFBC wrap-up post on How to Start Food Blogging.  I found myself nodding as I read his “Holy Trinity” of food blogging:  Gorgeous photography? Yep. Wonderful writing? Check. Rock-solid recipes? Absolutely.

Here’s the thing: That’s not nearly enough. Sure, if you started your blog in 2006, it might have been. But now?

Irvin claims that the photography/writing/recipe trifecta is 95% of what determines success in food blogging. Though I completely agree that new bloggers should be focusing almost all of their energy on those areas, getting those three things right is just the foundation.

(To be clear: Irvin’s post was filled with much more excellent advice than just that, and I hope everyone was taking copious notes on what he had to say.)

The trick is that food blogs have become ubiquitous. The Simpsons episode certainly drives that point home — we should definitely sit up and take notice. You’re going to need a heck of a lot more than just those three to stand out from the pack. If we’re all doing the same thing, our days our numbered.

Wikipedia defines “Jump The Shark” as “the moment in its evolution when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery.” (In case you hadn’t heard the term before: It comes from the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie tries to, well, jump a shark, in a failed attempt to bolster their sagging ratings.)

I’m fearful that if we’re all just focusing on food photos, writing, and recipes, we’re going to move “beyond relevance” – particularly as corporations are building recipe websites with huge databases that dwarf our our blogs.

The good news is that the things you need to do on your own site to distinguish yourself from the pack are the very things that are going to save us all from Happy Days’ fate. If you want to stand out to readers as unique and valuable, you have to be, well, unique and valuable. Being creative and contributing in new, exciting, and useful ways will lift all of us and keep us moving forward as a community.

The challenge, then, is to find a way to stand out and to add to the conversation. I believe that every post (and every tweet) should add value. Yes, a recipe is something of value, but at this point, do we really need another recipe for Kale Chips? (Guilty!)  How can you take those kale chips and turn them into something more than kale chips?

Another way to think about this is the simple “Who Cares?” test.  Ask yourself, “Who is going to care about this post?” You should have a good answer before you hit “Publish.”

Every one of us is different, of course, and we should all play to our strengths. I’m not the best recipe developer (not even a good recipe developer), so I don’t actually have that many recipes on Eating Rules. However, I’ve discovered that I’m good at researching a topic and synthesizing the information into a concise and approachable presentation, such as my two-part series on sugar.

Another example? Irvin’s Wordless Recipes. He uses those gorgeous photos to walk the reader through each step of a recipe. In so doing, he’s elevated his recipe above the “typical blog post” by inventing a way to present information in a compelling, enjoyable (and still eminently useful) way. That’s the extra 5%.

We’re approaching a tipping point, and it has the potential to take us in one of two directions. We can go up, lifting each other and our own blogs, continuing to add value to the conversation in our own unique ways. Or we can go down by saturating the market with stale, repetitious posts. I certainly hope we’ll tip in the right direction.

So ask yourself: What is it that can set you and your blog apart? I’m not talking about a gimmick; I’m talking about real, lasting value that you’re going to give to your readers and to the community.

Once you figure that out, your blog will find success – and you’ll help keep us from jumping the shark.

Simpsons screenshot grabbed from this annotated slideshow of the The Simpsons Food Episode.

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  1. As an avid reader of food blogs for me, it’s all about the recipes and the writer’s perspective on those recipes. While you do need to have good photos the blogs that have over art directed ‘food porn’ photos don’t really engage me. One of my favorite blogs My Little Expat Kitchen posts fantastic photos just using a simple point and shoot camera, her composition is good but it also gives her food a very accessible feel that coupled with recipes and a style of food that I love really makes me want to try and cook them. It is a very crowded blogosphere now but I will always read the blogs that have an individual, authentic voice without too much noisy advertising

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