Food Blogger Ethical Guidelines

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Recently there has been a spate of interest in the ethics of food blogging with a variety of people weighing in on the topic from food blogs like Varmint Bites, FoodWoolf.com and Spicy, Salty, Sweet.com to an organization like The eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters. The Code of Ethics developed by food bloggers Brooke Burton and Leah Greenstein can be found here. The one developed by the eGullet Society can be found here. Though I find neither document to be perfect for all parties or situations, they are both laudable efforts to fix a problem that I'm not really sure needs to be addressed. I have always made every effort to conform to the spirit of these codes and don't see any reason not to be transparent about it. As such, given my longstanding membership in the eGullet Society, I have signed on to the eGullet ethics code for online writers.

While the eGullet Code is pretty complete, I want to take it a little further and explain my point of view for anyone who may not already know it and who may be interested. I don't post from the point of view of a food critic. I don't write about every restaurant that I visit or item of food that I eat (although it may sometimes seem that way). I am first and foremost a culinary enthusiast, which means that I tend to write about the experiences that turn me on. That doesn't mean that I don't approach those experiences critically. I do and I do discuss elements of food or a dining experience that I find less than titillating within a generally positive report. However, unless I have a particularly egregious experience or am particularly disappointed by a generally highly regarded culinary experience, I tend not to write about things that don't excite me. I am not here to try to ruin anyone's livelihood.

I will accept comps to try various products or even a meal. If I like it, I will write about it. If I don't, I generally won't, except as stated above. If everyone is raving about a particular restaurant and my experience differs, I will write about it to express a dissenting opinion. That is true whether I pay for something or it is comped. I do not and will not write positive things about an experience, a business or a person because of a comp or a personal relationship. I make no effort to be anonymous though I generally am, since I am not particularly well known to most establishments. I write about my experiences, some of which may be a bit more special because of relationships that I  have, but I try to make those relationships (developed from mutual respect and never from financial considerations or a quid pro quo.) as transparent as I can in my posts.  

I hope  that the point of view expressed above has been clear all along from my writing. I apologize if it hasn't.


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5 Responses to Food Blogger Ethical Guidelines

  1. Tana Butler says:

    Comments are working now. I might say more later.

  2. Frodnesor says:

    I’ve been kicking around the same issues – http://www.foodforthoughtmiami.com/2009/05/cracking-codes.html – and, while I think the intentions of these various “codes” are good, the details are sometimes unworkable. For instance, the eGullet code includes the following:
    “No quid pro quo. Before accepting an invitation for a free or discounted product or service, the author advised the provider of that product or service that favorable coverage would not be provided in exchange for the comp, and that all reports on the product or service would represent the author’s actual opinions.”
    Sometimes, at places where I am a regular, the chef will sometimes send out a dish gratis. I may write about some of these places. The chef may well have no clue that I write, only that I help pay the rent. How awkward would it be to say, before taking a bite, “Chef, I’m not going to provide you favorable coverage in exchange for this comp”?
    I have similar issues with some of the components of the “Food Bloggers’ Code of Ethics” that prevent me from simply being able to sign off on it (to say nothing of the fact that these “codes” and “badges” are all entirely self-regulating and thus sort of pointless anyway).
    It’s ultimately pretty simple, I think – be honest, be fair, be transparent. I’ve always found your point of view perfectly clear.
    On a technical note, the “eGethics signatory” “badge” you’ve got at the top of this post doesn’t link to the eGullet ethics code, as I think it’s supposed to since it says “click for more information”. eGullet needs to give people that want to use this the html code to cut and paste into their page, so they get not just the image but the link as well.

  3. John Sconzo says:

    Tana, I’m looking forward to your comments.
    Frodnesor, thank you for your comment as well as the excellent discussion on your own fine blog. Your points are all salient. The issue of “quid pro quo” and restaurant comps is one, which I think is handled by a blanket statement like the one I made above. If a chef knows me and reads my blog, they will know that I have addressed this question here. If they don’t read my blog or are unfamiliar with it, I assume the comp is simply good will that they would provide to any enthusiastic customer and not intended to influence a report. If they don’t know me, then it is not an issue. I agree that the bottom line, with or without a posted ethical code, is whether a blogger is transparent and fair, which I believe the bloggers that I follow are.
    As for the badge at the top of my post, I could not get that to be anything more than a design, element, lol. The badge that is posted on my page does link through to the eGullet Society’s code.

  4. Trig says:

    Excellent. I’ve just subscribed and changed the bit in my sidebar accordingly.

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