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Eat Drink Blog 2013 – reflections on blogging, ethics and corruption

Last weekend I attended Eat Drink Blog, the Australian food bloggers conference. This was the 4th year of the conference, previously held in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide – this year, 80 delegates came to Perth from across Australia. The organising committee did a brilliant job, putting together an interesting program, making sure sessions ran on time, and through sponsors ensured that delegates were well fed and watered – especially important for a food-obsessed audience on a scorching day. Like previous years, delegates were responsible for organising their own transport and accommodation but there was no registration fee. The conference was held in the exhibition space at Perth City Farm in East Perth. I was a speaker for a panel on Ethics and Working with PR.

DSCF2067Breakfast was provided by Jean Pierre Sancho (pastries) and West N Fresh (Greek-style yoghurt).

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The 5 Senses coffee station was hard at work all dayA coffee station by 5 Senses ensured delegates were caffeinated all day

DSCF2123The State of Blogging: with Ed Charles, internet consultant, journalist, blogger – Tomatom; chef Russell Blaikie, Must Winebar; and all the way from the US, Adam Roberts, writer, cookbook author, blogger – Amateur Gourmet

DSCF2144Morning tea was provided by Littlesweet Baking

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DSCF2166All day, scenes like this

5 Senses interactive coffee workshop with barista Charles 5 Senses interactive coffee workshop with barista Charles

DSCF2195Food Writing: Adam Roberts and Anthony Georgeoff, blogger – Man that Cooks, editor of Spice magazine

DSCF2209-2Food and Mobile Photography: Simon Park, photographer and blogger – The Heart of Food

DSCF2230Food Issues – Eating Local: Chef Sophie Budd, Taste Budds; Paul KilMurray, Urban Locavore; chef Kiren Mainwaring, Co-op Dining

Lunch was a magnificent artisanal spread of epic proportions put on by European Foods. The spread was gobsmackingly abundant. The lunch line was long and moved like a tortoise, but there was so much food we were never in danger of running out. Some of us even snuck back for seconds.

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DSCF2311My plate, round one

DSCF2348-2Mobile Blogging: Thang Ngo, food writer, commentator, blogger – Noodlies

DSCF2351Legal Issues – defamation, copyright and e-books: Michael Tucak, arts lawyer – Creative Legal

Sweet treats from Red Hot Spatula for afternoon tea Sweet treats from Red Hot Spatula for afternoon tea

My panel was late in the afternoon and I had been secretly worried everyone would have had enough of sitting still and we’d struggle to hold their attention. But my fellow panel member Phil’s deliberately confrontational style of delivery and my refusal to take it meekly made everyone look up from their tweeting. We’re polar opposites: I accept sponsorship and work selectively with food and travel companies, through which I’ve had some amazing experiences, which I’ve shared here on the blog. I always disclose when an experience, event or product has been sponsored. The posts I write as a result of sponsored travel or attendance at media events aren’t ‘reviews’. They’re my account of my experiences, in words and pictures. Phil believes that any form of sponsorship will corrupt and influence the blogger who accepts it, and questions the ethics of bloggers who accept any form of sponsorship.

theheartoffood-edb2013-7333Ethics and Working with PR: Me and Phil Lees, social media manager, food writer, blogger – The Last Appetite. Photo taken by Simon Park. You can probably tell by our facial expressions and body language why our discussion made people sit up and take notice!

A condition of my acceptance of any sponsorship is that I maintain editorial control. On my trip to Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand earlier this year, sponsored by Tourism New Zealand, I wrote about a bike ride I went on, focusing on my sore bottom, frozen fingers, the icy headwinds and the beautiful countryside all around me.

Did Tourism New Zealand tell me what or how to write about the bike ride? No. Did Tourism New Zealand tell me to write about the bike ride? No. Is New Zealand a beautiful country? Yes. Did Tourism New Zealand tell me to write about the beauty of New Zealand? They didn’t have to – I wanted to. Would I have gone to New Zealand if not for the sponsorship? Honestly? Yes, eventually. My travel wish-list is long, and like most people I haven’t got unlimited funds. If an opportunity to travel to one of those places should come up, of course I’ll consider accepting.

I turn down most opportunities that land in my inbox. I don’t say yes to everything just because it’s offered or just because it’s free – including invitations to dine at restaurants, sample free products and opportunities to travel.

If you question the ethics of blogging an experience or event that has involved sponsorship, think about this: We all attended a conference for no registration fee, which would not have been possible without sponsorship. Delegates and speakers ate and drank very well day and night thanks to the generosity of sponsorship. On Sunday, we split into three groups for three bespoke experiences – French pastry class, a visit to a mushroom farm and a cocktail masterclass, again, all for free thanks again to the goodwill of local businesses. Many of us tweeted and updated Facebook throughout the conference and some have since blogged about the amazing food, shared pictures of the striking wooden stage, the free coconut water, coffee and booze, and the awesome goodie bags we all took home which were filled with gifts from sponsors – so many gifts that they didn’t all fit into the canvas bags. If sponsorship is always corrupting, most, if not all of us were willingly ‘corrupted’ and enjoyed it. It’s not quite so simple to ride the high horse on this issue.

DSCF2397Opportunities from Blogging: Adam Roberts; Emma Galloway, cookbook author and blogger – My Darling Lemon Thyme; Max Brearley, freelance journalist and blogger – Pub Diaries

EDB committee chair Ai-Ling Truong, blogger – Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse

The conference dinner was a pop-up food truck extravaganza. A selection of Perth street food vendors got together at City Farm to put on a feast – at their own cost – for delegates. As Eat Drink Blog Pop-Up Venue sponsor, the Citibank Dining Program provided monetary support to cover the other costs associated with the venue hire and putting on the dinner event. It was relaxed and informal, and everyone was free to mingle, move around, eat and drink whatever they wished, at their own pace.

DSCF2421Buttys and Jumplings guys sneak in Delish Ice popsicles before the action starts. Popsicles were perfect for the balmy evening

DSCF2424Buttys food truck ready to feed us burgers and cheesy fries

DSCF2431Drinks were provided by Jax Coco coconut water, Eagle Bay Brewing Co, Galafrey Wines and a surprise Westwinds Gin station that proved extremely popular

DSCF2447Bangkok Jump Street gets pad thai with crispy wontons and pork crackling salads ready

DSCF2459Roy Chin knows exactly what I’ll order: duck jumplings

DSCF2464Bangkok Jump Street pork crackling salad was terrific, with a fresh chilli bite, fish sauce and the tang of lime juice


DSCF2466Marcelita’s empanadas – my favourite, pork and lime empanadas with guacamole

DSCF2470Cheesy fries by Buttys

DSCF2478Mushroom and gorgonzola pizza by Old Lira

DSCF2491Buttys juicy beef rib burger

My favourite used to be orange, pineapple and lime, but I now have a new fave, creamy iced coffee My favourite Delish Ice popsicle used to be orange, pineapple and lime, but I now have a new fave, creamy iced coffee

DSCF2496Food bloggers are a social bunch

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A key point raised by speakers at the conference that’s been enthusiastically tweeted and quoted by many delegates is the importance of being authentic. How authentic can you really be if you are consciously trying to be authentic? People blog for different reasons and express themselves differently. Within the category that is ‘food blogging’, there is a diversity of interests and approaches – and that’s a good thing.

I had fun at the conference and really enjoyed meeting and talking with other bloggers, especially the South Australian contingent on Friday night – but to be honest, I’ve never been one to join a group, or seek a community to belong to. When I started blogging, long before there was any semblance of a food blogging community in Perth, I just did what I enjoyed and what came naturally – I took pictures, told stories and shared my love for food with my readers. More than 8 years later, that still holds true. I’ve always had great dialogue with my readers because I’ve genuinely wanted to. I started out very secretive about my name and my face but I’ve become more open over the years, though I still deliberately keep some details about my life private. But one thing I have never done on this blog is lie. I aim to write responsibly and knowledgeably as well as eloquently and evocatively. My pictures and writing reflect me and my interests, which continue to evolve. In recent years, I’ve chosen to work with PR companies and businesses – this has worked for our mutual benefit. The way I blog is ‘right’ for me, and I’m comfortable with it; it’s not necessarily ‘right’ for everyone – and it doesn’t have to be.

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I took more photographs at the conference and pop-up dinner – see the full Eat Drink Blog 2013 photo set.

My chosen Sunday activity was the cocktail masterclass at The Classroom Bar.

You can read other delegates’ perspectives on the conference at the Eat Drink Blog website. One thing we did all agree on: the organising committee did an amazing job.

The 4th Australian food bloggers conference, Eat Drink Blog was held in Perth on 9-10 November 2013.

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  • Really thorough EDB post, Cyn – I think I took only about a tenth of the photos you did!
    But seriously, I think you’ve raised some interesting points here. You know how I feel about all of this and I totally agree that there is no correct way to blog per se. Just think how boring it would be if everyone blogged the same way!
    Each blogger has to do what he/she is comfortable with – that means different strokes for different folks. You’ve come up with a blogging style that works for you and your readers and I’m sure you sleep fine at night. I do, too. :)

    • Christina, well, you probably did a better job networking while I was busy taking photos :) I think there’s a fine balance between learning from and being inspired by others (which is important) – and comparing oneself to others too much.

      • Indeed. Why be a second-rate version of X blogger when you can be a first-rate version of you? Continually comparing yourself to other bloggers is definitely a recipe for unhappiness. Just do your thing.

  • Simon @ the heart of food

    I really appreciated that there were distinctly differing opinions on the matter of working with/not with PR from the two of you and that neither of you were apologetic for your respective perspectives. I’m very much aligned with your perspective on maintaining personal integrity, regardless of whether or not PR are involved.

    Nice work with the post and it was great to be able to catch up with you again :)

    • Thanks Simon. Yep, was great to catch up. Haha, there were definitely no apologies on that stage.

  • Gourmanda

    Thank you for the amazing photo post – it makes me feel like I got to be there! I really had to talk myself out of applying to attend as I just couldn’t justify the costs of flights and accommodation to Perth at the moment…hopefully I will be able to attend next year’s, wherever it is held.

    I agree with you RE the sponsorship as well – I commented on Christina’s post a few days ago that I do readily accept offers of famils (with full disclosure) as there are so many things I would like to try but I simply can’t afford to try them all.

    • Gourmanda, it was a very well organised conference. Not trying to rub it in or anything, but you missed out big time ;)
      I tell my readers whether something’s been sponsored, and no matter what, they still find the posts entertaining and/or informative – and can make their mind up what they take from them. If there was no value in what I was doing, I would have no readers.

  • I like this post and I agree with you. I also envy all of you who had a chance to attend Eat Drink Blog, maybe one year I’ll manage :)

  • Juji Chew

    Great post! :)

    I did also wonder, did all interstate speakers have subsidised travel/accommodation costs?

    People in glass houses…

    • No they didn’t. All interstate speakers, like all delegates attended Eat Drink Blog at their own cost. Some speakers we tried to invite would not come at their own expense but as a conference that does not charge an attendance fee, we had no budget, so we were not in a position to provide any support to speakers coming to Eat Drink Blog. The only thing that speakers had the opportunity to take up was the 25% discount off accommodation offer from the Goodearth Hotel but this was available to all delegates.

  • Helen (grabyourfork)

    I was watching the twitter stream and noted the apparent heat directed towards you. By all accounts you held your own with enviable aplomb. But really shouldn’t we focus on the more important things in life – like why isn’t there more pork crackling salad in this world?!?

    • A few people have said the same – that there are more important things to focus on. The minute the conversation stops being agreeable, of course…

  • demightyshiva

    A great post!! The key words are editorial control – not writing things that we do not believe or writing for the sake of making the sponsor happy. So good job my friend!

    • Yes. Why is it when a conference committee writes positively about the sponsors of their event, they expect us not to question their objectivity, but if I write favourably about a sponsored trip or event, my objectivity is questioned? In both cases it’s editorial control – both parties writing what they want and what they think – isn’t it?

  • Craig Hind

    Great post. I’m fully with you on this one.

    Great photos too. Some (most) of that food looked so yummy! Although I’m no longer a food blogger, I’m sure I would have found it very interesting to have been there for this.

    • Thanks, Craig. The food was fantastic (does that sound like a gush over sponsored food? :))

  • Dear TFP,

    You made some really good points about remaining independent and objective while working with sponsors.

    My view about Phil’s stance is that it is too ‘black and white’. Our world has moved on and we live in a grey world today. And we should celebrate this colour because it is the colour of creativity. I have followed your blog since I began blogging and your approach is one that allows flexibility without any perceive loss of independence.

    Keep doing what you do because I feel your passion.

    • Thanks. Yes. There is a lot of grey. There’s a lot more I want to say, especially in response to some of the public statements that have been made on this topic this week, on twitter and on blogs. Will do so if I get the time. Sadly, robust discussion in which people openly disagree on social media is interpreted by some as ‘fighting’ ‘backlash’ and ‘interrogation’.

  • I loved your panel Cynthia and you know what I loved even more? That you held your own. I think that’s the most important thing in this whole blogging thing, to do what’s true to you and what you believe. I thought you did a really amazing job of getting your point across in a cool and calm way, I’m not sure I could have stayed as composed as you did! xx

    • Thanks, Emma. I enjoy a feisty discussion (some will say ‘argument’). I agreed to speak on this topic because I wanted to have my say, and I was determined to not be intimidated or flustered.

  • Sandra

    Great post! Looked like an amazing conference , kudos to all the organisers and sponsors, i think its a wonderful thing to have an opportunity to network with others in your chosen ‘career’ so to speak. My favourite thing from this post are those cheese photos. Oh wow. Cheese. Drooool

    • Sandra,
      The cheeses were pretty spectacular and just screaming to be photographed.
      I actually hate ‘networking’ and (like many people, I’m sure) often feel shy and dorky about going up to people and randomly speaking with them, even though it’s clear that we have something in common as we’re attending the same conference/event. :)

  • girlfromaamchimumbai

    What beautiful pics as always TFP. It was great seeing you.

  • Cindy M

    >>>faints<<< Where to start??!! So much beautiful and, I'm certain, very delicious foods!! (except the olives…I hate olives). Those pastries, I'm drooling! The cheeses look so creamy, the meats are gorgeous (even if I'd have to skip that). Scotch eggs too? I see half a scotch egg (or it sure seems) on your plate.

    Is this your first time to speak in front of an audience, Cyn? I can't recall. I hope you're relaxed, that it's not stressful.

    • Cindy
      Yep it was half a scotch egg.

      My day job has me doing presentations to all kinds of audiences all the time (including disinterested and hostile audiences) and so I wasn’t nervous at all speaking in front of the bloggers at the conference.

  • hungryagainperth

    I think you just doing your own thing and being so transparent about it has led to your success :) When I started following your blog before my own blogging days I truly never even gave a rat’s ass (for a lack of better words) whether your posts were sponsored or not, because they let me discover a new place, product or thing that I probably wouldn’t have come across without reading it anyway. It was truly great to finally meet you after a long while of just online interaction!

  • Fantastic write up Cyn. The photos are absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately I failed to meet you on the day but I really enjoyed the panel discussion between yourself and Phil. Both of you raised valid points and I am so, so glad that you were firm in your beliefs and the representation of where you stand as a food blogger. I wouldn’t have had a smidge of the confidence and assertiveness that you demonstrated! I love all that you do here at TFP and I’m looking forward to the continued food and travel journeys that you undertake and share with us! x