On Blogging From Home
“Do you have a food blog?” As a scholar studying the intersections of food and digital media, I’ve been asked this question many times. In addition to signalling genuine interest in my research, the question might also imply that blogging is a well-known creative pursuit, one located somewhere along a continuum of ‘hobby,’ ‘side gig,’ and ‘career’. Many of us might know somebody who knows somebody who has a food blog. Although I myself don’t manage a food blog, my research evaluates the degrees of separation between my own position as a scholar and the bloggers I study. And I do engage—evidently—in the activity that we call blogging.
Sort of. For full-time bloggers like Marjorie of A Pinch of Healthy, blogging means a “LOT of work”. Marjorie summarizes a wide range of labours, in which the most obvious aspects of food blogging—cooking, writing, photography—are comparatively marginal:
Marjorie’s comment that much of this work will never be seen by readers certainly holds some truth. However, as scholars of digital labour have argued, the disclosure of typically unseen labour and resources is itself part of the work of “maintain[ing] an authentic, transparent and honest image in relation to readers” (Brydges & Sjöholm 132). A blogger has to be both ‘real’ and professional, exuding an aura of relatability and expertise (Novoselova & Jenson). The prevalence of ‘how to’ guides like Marjorie’s help to sustain this balance by offering a “behind the scenes” (Brydges & Sjöholm 128) look into the activities of writing, developing, testing, editing, and so on.
I myself have no websites to design or lawyers to consult, though the crafting of a blog post still involves the work of note-taking, summarizing, arranging, editing, and formatting. The process of blogging in this Sherman Centre context also affords me the valuable opportunity to reflect on, and to share, my research in progress. This backstage access to my research activities dovetails with my own status as a work in progress: I’m a junior scholar, a researcher-in-the-making, and my familiarity with the conventions of blogging as a genre help me to convey (with varying degrees of awareness and reflexivity, I’m sure) a scholarly and bloggerly persona. This is not unique to blogging; I undoubtedly arrange myself as somewhere between ‘relatable’ and ‘expert’ in the classroom, for example. Yet the format of a blog post makes the “aesthetic labour” (Brydges & Sjöholm) of arranging and presenting myself more overt precisely because I know that there are other people doing bloggerly things in other venues—people and venues that I study, cite, and examine throughout my work.
To be clear, I don’t mean for this comparison to function as a condemnation of either blogging enterprise. I don’t believe that the passion behind food media projects is irredeemably neoliberal. I certainly don’t believe that a shift in the tone, form, or venue of academic work signals a backslide into self-branding. Yet I do believe that it’s important to reflect on the numerous ways—including the name of the thing I’m doing, the associations I have with it, the contrast (and continuity!) with my ‘regular’ academic work—a blog post is not only about enacting and communicating my research but is also a “research window into understanding the contemporary negotiation of the ‘project of the self’ in late/post modern times” (Hookway 107).
But these are also very particular times, as we well know, and I find myself reflecting in new ways on the common ground between my own labour and that of food bloggers. Bloggers have long been familiar with the notion of ‘working from home’ and of home as work: a site of aesthetic scrutiny, social media updates, and recipe testing. My own blogging activity is not so omnipresent, yet it is—always, but especially now—also born from the particularities of a work-from-home world.
As we’ve social-distanced and video-conferenced our way through recent months, the increased time at home has been punctuated by reminders of the unpredictable visibility of those very same spaces. Alongside speculations on the significance of celebrity bookshelves and the consequences of Zoom background choices, viral media clips have shown young children interrupting their work-from-home parents. That these clips have offered levity and commiseration is heartening, an opportunity—as academic Dr. Clare Wenham noted in a coauthored piece published shortly before her daughter, Scarlett, interrupted a live BBC interview—to better appreciate and accommodate unwaged domestic labour. However, the afterlife of Dr. Wenham’s interview as a spectacle of solidarity also fails to recognize the limited terms of what is being shared: the perceived messiness of the home/work boundary is premised on the persistent disavowal of home as a space of work in the first place, as feminist scholars and activists have long argued. The capacity of virtual meetings to be interrupted also highlights the privileged positions of those activities; health care providers, grocery store clerks, and meat processing plant workers can’t be interrupted while working from home because they aren’t, and haven’t been, and may never be, working from home in the first place.
At the same time, and as we witness the mainstream exposure of the particular forms of systemic racism at work within food media, staffers of colour such Ryan Walker-Hartshorn (assistant to former Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport) describe their experiences of workplace marginalization, income disparity (and deflected requests for raises), tokenism, and of the expectation to perform “personal errands” (Zhang) that extend beyond the job description and into the realms of home and weekend. Low and deferred compensation, the blurring of work and home, and the exhausting exposure of ‘unseen’ labour are not unique to food bloggers but are markers of “how the choice to engage in food entrepreneurship stems from and is shaped by where one is situated within the hierarchies of race, class, and gender” (Nettles-Barcelon 257). As I reflect on these stories from Walker-Hartshorn, Dr. Wenham, Marjorie, and others, part of my blogging-from-home labour is that of learning, and unlearning, the “myths” of creative work (Duffy) that cover over these differences.
Works Cited and Consulted:
- Brydges, Taylor and Jenny Sjöholm “Becoming a Personal Style Blogger: Ghanging Configurations and Spatialities of Aesthetic Labour in the Fashion Industry.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, 2019, pp. 119-139.
- Davies, Madeleine. “Bon Appetit Editor-in-Chief Adam Rapoport Resigns Following Allegations of Racist Culture [Updates].” Eater, 8 June 2020, https://bit.ly/2Pt5XWh.
- Duffy, Brooke. “Amateur, Autonomous, and Collaborative: Myths of Aspiring Female Cultural Producers in Web 2.0.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 32, no. 1, 2015, pp. 48-64.
- Duffy, Brooke. “Gendering the Labor of Social Media Production.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 15, no. 4, 2015, pp. 710-14.
- Federici, Silvia. “Precarious Labour: A Feminist Viewpoint.” In the Middle of a Whirlwind, https://inthemiddleofthewhirlwind.wordpress.com/precarious-labor-a-feminist-viewpoint/.
- Gregg, Melissa. “The Normalization of Flexible Female Labour in the Information Economy.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 8, no. 3, 2008, pp. 285-299.
- Marjorie [A Pinch of Healthy]. “How I Turned My Food Blog into a Career.” A Pinch of Healthy, https://www.apinchofhealthy.com/turned-food-blog-career/.
- Nettles-Barcelòn, Kimberly D. “Women and Entrepreneurial Food-Work: Second Acts, ‘New Domesticity,’ and the Continuing Significance of Racialized Difference.” Food and Foodways, vol. 25, no. 4, 2017, pp. 251-262.
- Novoselova, Veronika and Jennifer Jenson. “Authorship and Professional Digital Presence in Feminist Blogs.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 257-272.
- Zhang, Jenny G. “New Report Details Pervasive Culture of Racism at Bon Appétit.” Eater, 10 June 2020, https://bit.ly/3fxkSt6.