It's all about trust and ethics in food blogging

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Kat Kinsman, editor in chief of Tasting Table, says in the media, food has become the new entertainment. "Everybody eats and everybody has a point of view," she says.

Melissa Clark: Why has food become so important to people in the media? What are they looking for?

Kat Kinsman
Kat Kinsman

Kat Kinsman: It's the only subject that you can cover that absolutely every single person has something to do with. Everybody eats. Not everybody is fetish-y about it, and that's OK.

I do a little game with myself if I'm traveling. I try to talk to three different people who I've never met before. The inroad is always food. Somebody has eaten today. Somebody is thinking about where they're going to eat. Everybody has a stake in the game.

MC: But I've noticed that over the past decade or so, food has become even more important. There are always food sections, there are always food magazines, but lately there's just been this snowballing effect. Everybody wants to read about food. Why do you think it's become so important?

KK: It is a new entertainment. Not everybody feels that they can keep up with music or politics or any of these things. This is a thing you can achieve in the comfort of your own home. You can show a little bit of who you are through what you serve. It is inherently a generous act. Everybody has a point of view. Everybody is correct. You can't argue with somebody's likes. Everybody eats and everybody has a point of view.

MC: Do you think that because there are more people blogging about what they're eating every day that it makes it more accessible, that people feel like they can join the conversation more easily?

KK: In some ways I feel like social media can make all of this a little bit off-putting. I talk about this Pinterest phobia.

[Don't fear us: The Splendid Table on Pinterest]

MC: Do you have one?

KK: I don't pay a huge amount of attention to Pinterest because I realized the reality versus the perception there.

One of the morning shows did a survey recently about Pinterest anxiety that mothers have in particular. They feel physical anxiety from seeing the other things that other mothers and other people out there are achieving in their own kitchens, whether it's classroom cupcakes or some sort of dinner they have made. They back off from trying this at home, and that actually really makes me sad.

I think if you can eliminate some of the visual elements of social media and have people just talk about food, it whets the appetite, it inspires, it includes. I think that's a very positive thing.

MC: How important are the recipes? Across the web, recipes are the entry point into a lot of different websites and different blogs. At The New York Times, that's the way we're developing our audience. We are putting recipes out there to try to get people who are interested in cooking at home, aside from all of our other food coverage. How do you find that works for you?

Caramelized Onion Dip with Feta, Spinach and Walnuts
Tasting Table Test Kitchen recipe: Caramelized Onion Dip with Feta, Spinach and Walnuts

KK: Recipes have to be bulletproof. Absolutely. They have to, have to, have to work.

This is my first test kitchen, and I'm so thrilled. I was at AOL before I was at CNN, and at both places we relied on chef's recipes and cook's recipes. I love vintage cookbooks deeply, passionately, and we would test things out in our own kitchens. But that's not the same as having a team who is in there trying these recipes out and making sure that they absolutely work. They 100 percent have to.

If you see something on Tasting Table, it has been tested and re-tested. There is trust built up there. That is why I really do argue in favor of the bloggers who you know meticulously test things, who develop recipes on their own, who are not changing one ingredient from an established recipe and calling it theirs. I believe in intellectual property being intensely important and originality. When I cook from things I find on the web, I go to established sources, other bloggers I trust, or places that I know test over and over.

MC: The idea that people are taking other people's recipes -- you see that a lot, that's something that comes up, the ethics of blogging. Do you think that there's a difference between the ethics of food bloggers and food journalists?

KK: In my ideal world, no. But I think there are different kinds of bloggers. I think you just really have to pick a lane about what sort you're going to be. There are bloggers who I trust absolutely and implicitly because they are staking their own reputation on what they put out there online. They are going to fact-check themselves. They are going to keep themselves honest. They will disclose if there has been any sort of influence or freebies.

There's a different kind of food blogger, too, ones who really are heavily influenced by products, trips and freebies. I think that they can be just as valid as long as they fully disclose where any of that comes from. I need to feel a level of trust.

I always say it's sort of like porn: You know it when you see it. If people want to have an ongoing relationship with their readers, there needs to be a trust level there. A lot of bloggers are actually signing pledges and petitions.

"Somebody has eaten today. Somebody is thinking about where they're going to eat. Everybody has a stake in the game."
-Kat Kinsman

The Association of Food Journalists has an ethics policy, and I think they're encouraging more bloggers to do that. I think some of that is just a matter of education because there's absolutely no barrier to entry to becoming a blogger. Some just don't know, "Hey, wait, I wasn't supposed to do that? Or if I did take that, I need to mention that?" Because it's not something that comes about in your everyday life. Unless somebody tells you, you might actually not know that.

MC: Who are the food bloggers and the food writers you really love to read?

KK: For food writers, Francis Lam I will read. He can write absolutely anything. He could write a Gowanus Canal water report and I would read that. He is somebody who has gone to various outlets, and his prose is perfect no matter where you go, and it's playful.

Michael Procopio from Food for the Thoughtless has these really idiosyncratic, fantastic stories to share.

@shitfoodblogger is my favorite person on Twitter who really skewers the food blogging community and is a treat each and every day.

From This Episode: 
Bulletproof Recipes
Published: 
January 30th, 2015

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