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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.