I made a conscious choice a few years ago to keep this blog about food; the food I love and want to share with others; even something as simple as this slaw. It was a decision to continue with my original intent when I started cataloging recipes online in 1995. What was that plan? Well, it started as the easiest way to document and share the foods that I served to family and friends; the dishes that were favorites and the most well received. It was not only a diary and database for myself but the easiest way to let my sister and friends grab a recipe. At the time, a new fangled thing called the Internet made it much easier than having to sit down and write out recipes and sometimes even put them in the mail.
I’ve continued in that vein all these many years. There are differences now and certainly moving from a static website to a dynamic blog was one of them. Once you start to develop readers there is a often a greater sense of purpose; maybe even of responsibility. Of continuity. Of expectations. Once you start to develop relationships with other bloggers and corporate brands, all of those expectations deepen and like it or not, I believe that once anyone ‘expects’ from you, this effort begins to take on the realm of a job. Even so I enjoy this job; it is such a mirror of who I am and what I love to do and during the process I have developed true friends, great clients and some wonderful local opportunities and those are all good.
But lately I’m struggled a bit. Not with my own blog per se but with the ‘food blogging community’ that I find myself a part of. The struggle to keep quiet when I want to talk about something other than just a recipe. What changed? Well, I’ve been watching the transition of the environment for a long time but this past week it seemed there was a convergence of sorts of the worst that we have to offer. The underbelly that is not so wonderful.
First, news of a food blog conference that had potential attendees register but not pay so that the conference organizers could hand pick attendees from the list that resulted through that effort. I admit…that alone was shocking to me. While many heard early of their ultimate ‘acceptance’ to attend, others waited days, wondering their fate. While some hooped, hollered and tweeted and even built Pinterest boards to let the world know of their good fortune, others wondered in silence if they would measure up; if they were good enough. If they would be chosen. If you’ve ever heard the lament that being in the food blogging community is often like attending high school again…well, there you have it. What about any of that is not? Did any of those people in charge of this conference once consider how they would make some feel? Did they care? Did any of those with early notice of acceptance think for ONE moment how they would feel if not accepted, how their congratulations and pats on the back would look of they were not party to that hoopla. Apparently not. I’m grateful I had no intention of attending this event so this did not impact me personally but I saw it in action and I know people who were hurt and it made me both angry and sad. This is not representative of a ‘community’ in action at all. At least not a supportive one. I feel for those who have been hurt and therein lies part of my struggle.
Add to that a week of having to read relentless commenting on the lack of integrity among bloggers who ‘steal’ recipes and photos. How many times can this be rehashed? I’m at the point where I am more sick of the nonstop whining than I am the theft! Maybe because for all of the 17 years I have worked in the Internet industry content theft has been a part of it. It is a problem inherent with posting information on a website. The situation is no more unique and no more special for food bloggers than the other millions of users who know what it feels like. The biggest difference is that food bloggers seem to have a greater need to tweet about it and seek to get others fired up about it too. One respected blogger suggested that names be given and a mass attack be made on an offending site. Really? This is adult behavior? One person’s word, no judge, no jury and we’re off in a flash to flame someone? If it’s important to you; there are resources available to assist with getting information removed. But please consider that it does not behoove us in the eyes of everyone watching to seek attention from others for those efforts. We all know what it feels like (to qualify, I had a photo of a cocktail I made in November that has been published on no less than 200 sites as of today) but if everyone sought retribution or sympathy for content theft through the use of Twitter for every single abuse they suffer, it would be useless for much of anything else.
If you’re still with me, you might wonder, ‘What in the world does this have to do with slaw?’ Well, this recipe is actually my personal anecdote to the ridiculousness of claiming ownership of a recipe. I’m sorry if those words offend but I’m certain one of the reasons that a list of ingredients are not subject to copyright scrutiny is because of some mathematical equation much like this:
(Number of people in the world) X (Number of available ingredients) = Someone, somewhere, somehow has done the same.
While chatting on Skype with friends; I decided to make lunch. I pulled ingredients that I had available from my fridge and put them together in this slaw. I had no recipe, I had not searched for one online or perused any cookbooks, but years of cooking experience compiled with a voracious appetite for cookbooks, food magazines and cooking shows have turned me into a cook that seldom uses a recipe for most meals. I combined cabbage, carrots and green onions; browned almonds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds and combined those together with a quick dressing of oil, honey and soy sauce. As I sat down to eat, the conversation had changed to discuss this very issue. The plethora of people whining about someone taking their recipe. Now, don’t get me wrong. If I am inspired in any way from a recipe I’ve seen elsewhere, no matter how little I glean from their experience, I’m happy to mention them. But this notion of ‘owning’ a recipe is getting to be a bit much. Curious about the salad I had just thrown together, I did a Google search listing my ingredients.
Had it been done before? Maybe a bit. Google returned 11,400 listings they thought relevant to my query. Now, someone the other day mentioned that if you Googled and found a similar recipe that it would be the polite thing to reference said person as the recipe originator. One or all 11,400? Clearly there is a significant chance that something you think stunningly unique might have been done by someone else. And to that I say…who cares? I fully intend to continue to put recipes on this blog that I make even if it’s been done before. I have no intention of linking to someone I did not know before I pulled together a dish as if they were an inspiration; that’s simply silly. If I do make something that I see elsewhere, I will most certainly link to their site if they are an influence but I also have no intention of not putting the recipe on my site. This effort is about my experience and in the shopping and making and photographing I have given some ownership to the effort and I feel no obligation beyond recognizing someone else as inspiration; there is a very good chance they were equally inspired!
During my Skype conversation, I almost died when I was pointed to an older blog post from another respected food blogger and cookbook author discussing this issue. Two very well known food bloggers who I have seen use Twitter to launch mass attacks on someone they have decried as having taken their recipe both said, and I quote, ‘I used to copy and paste recipes until I realized I shouldn’t.’ The irony was too great. They used to do what they now felt comfortable attacking as wrong. Seems to be a clear case of ‘me thinks thou doth protest too much.’
Maybe you are wondering what my point is in detailing my struggle with this. I’m not even sure; but I sure do know this. It gets wearisome for many of us to see this continuous lament day in and day out. You might feel differently than I do and inclined to take it to the streets. But I do believe that one person’s righteous indignation and visible shouts of ‘hooray’ from others is not the entire picture. There is a growing feeling of discontent in this community; it’s not public but there is plenty of chatter. The perceived hierarchy, the mean girls syndrome, the relentless self promotion of many for whom money is obviously much more important than the culture of food. Enough so that any real sense of community is being eroded. Maybe my only point is simply to get it off my chest but maybe I could wish for this article to be real food for thought. That’s about all I could hope for. The culture of food is meaningful beyond ad revenue for many of us; it’s our history, our family experiences, a record of our culture and for many, a livelihood.
So I’ve done more than a recipe today; I’ve said my piece and I thank you for listening. So as not to disappoint, let me present you with a salad that thousands have loved. It is simple and in deference to the rules that are made that I’m in the mood to break, it is also simply ‘delicious.’
A Not so Unique Asian Slaw with Almonds, Sesame and Sunflower Seeds
For the Salad Ingredients
- 1 head regular cabbage, sliced thin (or use half regular and half purple)
- 4 carrots, shredded
- 1Tbsp butter
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 4 Tbsp sesame seeds
- 4 Tbsp sunflower seeds
- Chow Mein noodles (optional)
For the Honey, Soy and Ginger Vinaigrette
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 3 Tbsp Soy Sauce
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt butter in skillet over medium heat; add almonds and sunflower seeds and brown for 3-4 minutes. Add sesame seeds for one minutes. Remove browned mixture from heat to cool.
- Combine cabbage, carrot and green onion in large bowl with browned nuts and seeds.
- Combine dressing ingredients and shake or whisk thoroughly.
- Pour dressing on top of salad mixture in bowl and toss to coat.
- Salt to taste. This should have a bit of a sweet tang to it, so be careful to not oversalt.
- Serve on plates and top with chow mein noodles.