State of Vancouver Food Blogs 2011 – The actual post…

by KimHo on April 8, 2011 · 84 comments under: British Columbia,Comments,Random

(Note: A month ago, I wrote this post but, upon further consideration and some external feedback, I chose not to publish it. Instead, I just hinted I had something to say. However, looking at how things have “evolved” in the last month or so… Well, let’s just say it ended up being a case of “I might as well”… Leaving with a bang??? Anyway, please keep in mind this was written over a month ago. Some dates might no longer be applicable…)

It has been a while since I have written a post of this type and I wonder if it is due. In the last couple of months, there has been quite a buzz in terms of popularity of Vancouver blogs, specially if we consider that major sites like Urbanspoon has targetted Vancouver itself as one of the places with the greates activity. But, what does that mean? Better restaurants? More food bloggers? Everybody has anything to say? So, in reference to Canadian’s government thoughts of removing the pennies, here are my $0.05′s worth… But, first an announcement as well…

When I first started blogging, I did it in part to have something to do, an activity of sorts. It was not a smooth trip: I had a couple of false starts which eventually molded into what it is today. Was there a target or a purpose? In a way, it was mostly for fun, something to keep myself busy. Furthermore, as it said, “it is not the destination, but the journey“. And, alas, I must announce that I have announced that this journey has reached what might be a long stop, if not the final stop. Yes, it has always been the journey; however, at the same time, I knew it would last only that long. After all, aside from revisiting the same places over and over, there are only that many restaurants worth visiting. And, have we mentioned that this activity is expensive (unrelated to HST and what not)? Regardless of why, once I flush the remaining pending posts (which includes a personal apology to a very dear friend of mine), I will call it quits.

I am sure a lot of people will be wondering why, not to mention some might be celebrating because this bastard will finally stop bashing everybody left and right. On the personal side, I was planning to “close shop” anyway by July this year. This is, to quote myself, by then, a life changing event would have taken place which would prevent me from blogging. Actually, that is not 100% true; rather, while I could continue blogging, I would rather not do so. However, looking at things around me, specially as mentioned as the subject of this post, it is my perception of the state of food blogs in Vancouver. To be more specific: It sucks and I don’t feel I want to play this game anymore.

Back when an Urbanspoon mention came out, an Urbanspoon Prime member blurbed in the Prime forums that quantity does not mean quality. After all, that’s not the lesson we have learned from all-you-can-eat and/or buffet places? However, I defended the quantity perspective in the sense that with more people voicing their opinion, readers will benefit. While I still stand by that opinion, there have been several a truckload of problems with Vancouver’s picture. I will point several of them here.

I am going to start with, once again, pointing the amount of food bloggers (according to Urbanspoon, over 300). But, wait, I don’t necessarily have issues with the amount of food bloggers per se but the quality of the posts. To me, blogging is more than just saying I went to restaurant X or Y and ordered dish A or B. Then, may be, whether you liked it yes or no. Actually, if you were to read my posts in the past, specially those from two years ago, they actually felt in those lines. However, there was a learning curve and, after some sort of false starts, my writing style changed. In fact, some people have mentioned my harsher attitude has changed (whether for good or bad is to be determined, but given the announcement above, who cares?). What has changed? I don’t only describe what I order, at times why I ordered it, but also a description of the dish and why I liked/disliked it. Furthermore, if I have some background about those dishes (specially Latin American ones), I am more than willing to provide those details. Then, based on my thoughts, I will mention if it is worth my moola to return or not. Granted, I am no food critic and I only order one or two dishes. However, I look at it at the perspective of a John Doe visiting a restaurant and said restaurant has only one chance to wow me. After all, with so many in restaurants in town, if you can’t deliver and provide a good impression, I can easily go to the next one. Unless, of course, somebody can prove me wrong which, at times, I am willing to do a revisit.

However, here is the core problem I perceive with a lot of the new blogs: lack of depth. While I will accept that I haven’t visited every single new blog and do find some of them actually “interesting”, for the most part, it seems they are taking pictures and then write something short out of it. Content? Oh, I went to such and such restaurant and had such and such dish. Every thing was great! (More often than not). You know what? If that’s what is being written, why I waste my time checking those sites? I might as well go to Yelp (which has its own issues) or DineHere (likewise, has its own issues). At least, it is a one stop shop.

If I have to wonder where or how all this started, I would guess social media has become so popular, where everybody can do it, so why not? If that’s the case, I don’t care. I started over two years ago before social media was as commonplace as nowadays. And, while it has its own good points, the problem is that such there is too much carelessness makes me want to stay away from it. In other words and, once again, I don’t want to play that game. Take for example, what Diana Chan who writes Foodology wrote in her personal blog.

After 4 months of food blogging, is number 13 on their Vancouver leader board of blogs. This is a major achievement because my goal was to be top 20 by Christmas, but clearly we have surpassed this amount. There are about 260 blogs about food in Vancouver! 13/ 260, thats pretty amazing!

That sounds good, a young woman like her should have high ideals. However, when a site she is part of, called Nocturnal Vancouver (link won’t be provided but you can easily Google it), start stealing pictures from known sites without given proper credit (rectified “after being notified”), that’s when we have issues.

To further “complicate” things, are the blaggers, specially those who have been for some extended period of time. I have mentioned them before and, once again, I will call them out. People like Richard Wolak (aka vanfoodster aka Vancouver Foodster) and Erin Ireland [oddly, food editor columnist for MetroNews Metro Vancouver (corrected by appropriate sources)] is what makes me cringe in pain and disbelief. On one side, Richard is known not to eat a lot of things and, in Erin’s case, she does not eat dishes with carbohydrates (to quote herself. Also, when we met for the first time and she wanted to go to Samurai Sushi; I convinced her to meet at Miko Sushi instead and she ended up eating mostly sashimi). So, you wonder yourself… If that’s the case, how can you write about this subject if you don’t/can’t actually eat said dishes??? Worst of all, why people actually read/listen to them?

To those who had to spend a bit too much time back in high school or university in their class(es) of logic or discrete mathematics, will have heard of argumentum ad verecundiam or argumentum ad potentiam, also known as fallacy by authority. In other words, somebody who is a well known public figure suddenly has (or believe to have) the knowledge and power, plus can make a judgement “just because he/she says so”. In Richard’s case, it is said he wrote a book about coffee (don’t drink much coffee so I don’t care) and, as for Erin, well… You can visit her site and decide yourself. But, wait, how about I do the homework for you? Take, for example, a visit by Mijune and Richard to the same place the same night: Mijune’s post vs Richard’s post (will open a new window). Seriously, tell me which one you prefer… In Erin’s case, this is a quote from her article on Lin’s Chinese Cuisine:

“(In reference to xiao long bao) … earn them an easy diagnosis of Asian comfort food, and of course, perfect delicacy for ringing in the Year of the Rabbit.”

Let me dissect that for you: XLB is Shanghainese and while it is in China, hence Asia, it does not automatically mean all Asian people will eat it.

This, of course, can be extended to people like Andrew Morrison of Scout Magazine, whom, I will admit, having worked in the front of the house does give him some insight of restaurant operation; but, you have to wonder his impartiality when he has been directly involved with the restaurants.

Can anybody possess all knowledge? Good luck at that. That’s why I am always open to criticism. In fact, I expect people to tell me I am wrong! It is not an issue of knowing it all but, if you don’t know, do some digging and due diligence before writing it down. If not, it becomes a case of a blind guiding the blind and, next thing we “know”, Mexican food represents all Latin American food. Oh, shoot… >_< Anyway, the killer part from these blaggers is that, aside from the fact they are clueless, they organize events for profit. In Richard’s case, one too many event to count. Notice that I am not necessarily against food bloggers organizing events. If there are good cause(s) behind it and there is disclosure, I believe it is kosher. After all, if the intend is to bring the two groups together, why not? But, when it is for $$$, you are doing PR work. If so, can you really be impartial and/or honest?

And, now, this brings the worst of all cases… Whenever you read written colums from local newspapers, i.e., The Globe and Mail or Vancouver Sun, you expect a level of quality as well as a code of ethics. That’s why these writers are usually the first ones hit when an economic downturn occurs. I mean, they need to have a huge expense account to eat at restaurants at least twice at different times of the day or on different days of the week to have a better grasp of what is going on. Me? Ha, again, I only have that much $$$. I am certain that restaurants have identified these writters and I am not surprised that dining anonymously is not easy for them. At the same time, though, I am certain they try their best to be impartial. However, what happens when that impartiality is brought to question? Since these writers write for the printed media, they have some level of control over it. Of course, editors, probably due to pressure from advertisers (including some of those restaurants) might axe those articles to save face. That might not occur with bloggers. While some of us stick with a well defined code of ethics, it is not something we all are bound to. So, would it be ethical if somebody shouts aloud a “will blog for food” and invite readers along? If you are scratching your head, that’s what just happened with Ben of Chowtimes (link not provided but I am sure you will find it).

Before anybody jumps ahead and tells me I am a hater or jealous of his popularity, don’t bother. Aside from the fact I have an extremely thick skin (“I am rubber, you are glue”), not to mention this might be one of many parting shots, my dislike for his behaviour is known and documented. To bring you down to memory lane, I wrote a post (will open a new window) called “Blogging, Perks and Accountability” almost 20 months ago, in which I called him out on the spot. And, guess what? Ever since, other than in one dinner, we haven’t seen each other face to face. Do I care? Absolutely not, as I have no respect for him. Of course, he will say that he discloses everything and what not. Believe me, ladies and gentlemen, that is pure BS. See, just like him right now, I was also part of FoodBuzz, a network of food blogs. Some time ago, they required all their members to do full disclosure as part of their community guidelines (you can check them here). That begs the question: if it wasn’t because of such changes, would they have *really* initiated their disclosures? And, if you look at the post before that said disclosure, would you have been able to tell it was (partially or fully) comped?

So, why bring him out of the sudden? Because I was made aware of a post where he writes:

I am proposing:

* A win for the restaurant
* A win for the lucky chowtimes readers
* A win for chowtimes

You see… it seems to us that restaurants spends big bucks advertising their AKC (Alaska King Crab) offerings in the papers. I am suggesting that the restaurant save the money for advertising one less time. Instead use the money for even greater exposure for your restaurant.

The restaurant need to think about this unique situation too. The Chinese restaurants advertises in the Chinese papers targeting Chinese customers. There are a lot of English speaking readers out there who would love to try this and chowtimes can deliver a whole new demographics to the restaurant.

So, what I am proposing is this. Any restaurant interested, to give chowtimes a table of 10 serving a feast centered around the Alaskan King Crab. For free of course with the cost coming out from not advertising on the papers for one day only.

For chowtimes, we will invite 8 lucky readers (chosen by random draw) to join us in the feast. I am sure this will be much appreciated by readers and will also draw much attention to your restaurant.

In return, we will blog about the AKC feast but of course the food and service better be good. This is because we will write honestly about our experiences and we will draw on the feedback of the other guest diners.

Does anybody want me to spell “sell out” for you? How the $#%^!#@$!@# can a claim be made about impartiality and honestly when you are already calling the food and service better be good? What makes you different from a PR person like Richard Wolak? Worst of all? When I checked that post, there were only a handful questioning the intent. The rest? Free food!

Alas, that really disappoints me. People have descended into our primeval stages and just think on free food rather than looking at the broader picture of the meaning behind it. I still remember going to events like Eat! Vancouver, where people queue up for samples at times almost elbowing others. However, even when they have some samples, they might not consume the portion served and toss the rest. Or, as I was told, in an open house of a certain restaurant where people were like vultures when plates of food came out.

Am I criticizing my readers? May be, may be not. I personally know some of them and, for the most part, they are good and knowledgeable folks. It is those who just follows the hype that makes me shake my head. You are intelligent people and you should know better…

With that said, how about some highlights? If you were to ask me whom you should read, who would I suggest? Again, there are fine folks out there still writing and can provide good perspective of things. Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list and it is based on those I frequent. So, without further ado…

  • Mijune (Follow Me Foodie) and Sherman (Sherman’s Food Adventures). I have known both of them for a long time and I admire both of them. In both cases, they are knowledgeable and, while I do have some differences (more Mijune than Sherman), they are honest about their thoughts. And this is despite they have participated in events (including the only one instance I have participated and where I have witness how they do things). I would like to believe they have influenced me for the better in some aspects.
  • The Foodosophy team, specially shokutsu and gastronomydomine (who goes around under other aliases as well!). Alas, I have never met them and, if I do have an opportunity to do so, I would certainly like to buy them a round. Not only their posts are well written but also knowledgeable. One of the post that have really inspired me was a conversation they had between the team members called Foodosophy of Sushi. Believe me, it is worth your time.
  • Chris – OK, I am cheating here. Chris is a fellow blogger from Edmonton but, if you read the way he writes his posts, it conveys simplicity yet delivers the message. Granted, our perspectives are at times but it does reflect what I would expect from a blog.
  • Matt and Joe from Vancouverslop. They are now closer to the media business side of things but they are still entertaining.
  • Other “older” (as in time blogging) bloggers, including Kevin, Gloria, Ann and Dee, Joyce, Victoria, Karl and (the still MIA) Jessica. While they might not be as descriptive as Mijune, Sherman or Foodosophy, they still provide good reads. In some cases, they do participate in media events (for example, Joyce) but they do provide disclosure.
  • Some general which just happens to swing (the same way I started) into food blogs or cooking, including Parker Pages, Doesn’t Tazte Like Chicken (who has gone MIA), Gratinee and TS/JS [eatingclub]Vancouver. Likewise, some oldies whom have gone inactive…

“Wait, what about the rest of the people in your blogroll?” Well, some of them do not necessarily apply from a Vancouver standard. For example, monchichi, whom I really like her style, is in the UK; and Mimi whom I have “met” recently. But, for the rest, it is in part, blogroll courtesy (Yes, Jenny, that includes you! :P ) and, well, just starting blogs.

And, just for fun, how about some final parting shots?

To Grayelf: If you know how bouncing light works, you will realize that, in the setting we were in, it didn’t really “bother” anybody – unless you were looking directly at the flash. Plus, don’t dare to criticize my end results when your own pictures suck.
To Raul: You a foodie? Despite I hate that word, you calling yourself that makes me choke. Why say you don’t like caesar salads when you don’t eat cheese? Attending all events and claim everything is good and, supposedly, willing to pay for it? Give me a break. The day you actually do it the same way most of us do it, THEN, maybe then… You might be popular but that’s about it.
To Melody: Don’t give me BS. You say you won’t write anything negative but only on the positive. That means your opinions are biased. Likewise, because of your tour company, you work closely to some restaurants. Would you bite that hand that feeds you?

So, that’s all for now. It was a long post. Probably too long. In the end, I hope it describes why I am uninterested in continuing and cut it short sooner than expected. But, if you got all the way down here, my only question for you is… What are your thoughts about the state of Vancouver food blogs?

Update: While I don’t mind/care people attacking me, attacking each other(s) will not be condone. From now on, all comments will be moderated. As you have seen, there has been attacks to me and I have approved it regardless, despite I have had the choice not to do so. If your comment does not appear, feel free to guess why.

{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

1 J. May 10, 2011 at 4:03 am

I agree with some of your sentiments. Though these aren’t exactly new issues.

I think something you’ve missed is that people blog for different reasons. Some people like to write lengthy analyses, others use pictures with short comments to document their outings. You might have a preference for one particular style, but that doesn’t mean readers are the same.

Personally, oftentimes I will skip the commentary entirely and just look at pictures to gauge portion size, ingredients and presentation because menu descriptions are often horrible.

Some blog with the intention of profit/free food/sponsorship… others blog because they love of food, some even do it for fun. Each satisfy a different niche.

The blog platform exists because anyone can do it. The side effect of this is there’s a lot of crap out there but without the crap, you can’t have the “quality” blogs either. It’s easy enough to ignore the ones you don’t like.

While I don’t like your “holier-than-thou” tone, I applaud you for voicing your opinion. People seem to be ingrained with the idea that they shouldn’t say something if it’s not nice but criticism (within limits) benefits everyone.

2 J. May 10, 2011 at 4:22 am

Oops… missed the previous comments that discussed the topic to death. Wouldn’t have posted otherwise :S.

3 ^_^ May 12, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Don’t let the lowly cloud your vision. I’ve always enjoy your blog plus several others endorsed in your above article.

If it is of any help, the food blog-world is not policed. Any idiot can make a fool of himself with deviousness. Journalism is wanting, noted when I first landed here 20 years ago. No, they didn’t fool me a bit. One can fool the western palate about xlb, but no one can fool me of crème anglaise – trained at La Varenne and Cordon bleu during my student days in Paris.

If you find other hobbies to blog, leave a message at Sherman’s or Mijuni’s. I still read their blogs periodically. :)

Bon courage!
^_^ happy

4 Susanna May 15, 2011 at 10:07 am

Thanks for writing this. I just hope more people will read it and open their eyes. I’ve also notice a change in food blogs recently and can see the lack of impartiality and bs. Is it the bloggers or the restaurants? Regardless, we see that once again power corrupts.
Thanks for your honesty and standing up for what you believe. A truly good resturant really does not need a blogger to get the word out.

5 monchichi May 19, 2011 at 8:39 am

Kim, don’t go!!!!!!!!! Oh no, what will I read now when I have some time to spare, and nothing to eat!!! I agree with you about this whole selling out thing, and though I have joked/hinted/even considered taking up blogging for food (we’ll see how it goes ;) I agree it’s hard to be impartial once you’ve taken up someone’s offer to eat for free! Guess if you really have very thick skin, then you could do it once or twice, but granted, you won’t get too many offers if you tell the truth more often than not! But all things said, you don’t have to go, though, surely? Can’t you stay and show them how it should be done? I read blogs, and write them, mainly because I love looking at pictures of food. I don’t really read the stuff too much (maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, what if no one reads the rubbish I write …) but anyhow I like reading yours! Come on, keep blogging!
Your friend in London.

6 holly May 19, 2011 at 11:23 am

I’m not surprised that you have decided to withdraw from the Vancouver online food blog community after having such challenging experiences. I respect that you have a strong code of ethics which kept you from crossing the line and always attempting to keep your perspective “pure” for the reader.

I have to admit that there is now a plethora of Vancouver food blogs out there and one must exercise discernment and one’s own sense of taste to wade through the “noise”. Sherman’s food blog still remains my favourite as I can relate to his background and I like his writing style. I just hope it can still remain within the casual dining realm, as that was the focus in the beginning. However, I understand there are only so many restaurants in this category.

Also, all the bloggers you mentioned as some of the more ethical ones, happen to be the ones I like to read too. However, I was surprises by your thoughts towards Chow times, which I occasionally peruse, but alas, to each his own.

I am sure you will still remain a food adventurer, but more on a private level. I enjoyed your blogs for the insightful information about food, culture, and especially when you did same food eat-offs, which were fun.

I hope that the people you have met and the friends you have made along the way made it all worthwhile. Best wishes in your future endeavors.

7 ^_^ May 22, 2011 at 10:38 pm

I’m sure that Kim H is fair and honest when he wrote this post. Although like most of you, I was not able to pint-point “it” at first. Only after reading KH’s post and the other post, it daunted on me that KH meant well and his honest intention had been misread by a number of people. The lack of transparency in our present system at all levels of municipal, provincial and federal, it does not sit well with many. One example is the Basis-Virk case. This writer certainly is doing more harm than good to his friend … so now we have to bride customer/supplier (albeit an internal one) to get things done, eh?

If Ben is reading, please remember not all who dump $ht on you is your enemy. A bird froze and fell on the snowy ground. A cow next to it dropped dung on the poor bird and kept it warm. Soon the bird was happy and started to sing. A cat heard the bird singing and promptly ate it up. Moral of the story, good friends are hard to come by. Recognize it and treasure it.

8 Murissa June 29, 2011 at 3:10 pm

I have to agree with you that the quality of writing suffers within many blogs. I recommend taking a creative writing course but I am biased as I am a CRWR major. However, as a blogger I find that the people who write poorly or very little at all attract a lot of viewers because many people don’t want to read a huge post. I have toned the length of my posts down but the integrity of my writing is important to me which is why I do not post every single day nor every single week. I treat it as an article I am writing for a magazine because I know I will be judged on the quality of my writing in the long run (of course I am guilty for writing a couple short announcements but few and far between)!

The Wanderfull Traveler

9 Kristi January 6, 2012 at 11:31 am

I would agree blogs have deteriorated the English language. I was recently at a seminar for small business people and the speaker, a self-proclaimed expert blogger and SEO specialist, said “Just write, it doesn’t have to be quality, just do it.” Unfortunately, blogging takes on many purposes, however, good information always gets the most followers.

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