Toronto loudly declares itself a world city, no doubt as a result of the deep cultural mix which has resulted in a vibrant and varied restaurant scene. There is no doubt that there is good food to be had in restaurants in the city – both “canadian” and authenically “ethnic”. With so many immigrants (and my parents are two of them) you can bet that you can get whatever you are looking for and if you look hard enough the food will taste just like it did when you visited (say) Argentina, Ethiopia or France. With a view to understanding the food scene in Toronto a bit better, having been away for so long, I googled “food bloggers in Toronto” and found a group of dedicated restaurant attenders who are passionate about dining out and, no doubt, to be trusted in their views of the restaurants they review.
I confess, however, I was surprised by three things:
1. The amount of cleavage on show. Do you need to get your tits out to be followed on line? To me (and maybe my values were formed in a different Toronto) this undermines your credibility as a writer.
2. The lack of knowledge about food and cooking. None of the top 10 food bloggers blog about food. They blog about restaurants and this makes them different from food bloggers in, say, the UK or Mexico. Food bloggers in these countries blog about food even more than about restaurants. At least, the top rated ones do. Food bloggers in these countries visit farms in Scotland to write about lovingly raised Aberdeen Angus cows, tour cheese makers in Somerset to develop a profound understanding of how to make good cheddar, visit markets in distant provinces to find the finest regional chilies in season, and eat on the street to taste test tamales in different locations in their cities. They don’t just eat at restaurants because they are truly passionate about food and want to educate and inform their readers, helping them to make better decisions about where and what they eat. Check out Mexico Cooks or What’s Cooking in Mexico or The London Foodie or Slow Food Kitchen if you really want to see what good food blogging is all about.
3. It was not that easy to contact all of these Toronto bloggers. I had to really search, and could not always find e mail addresses, twitter feeds and face book pages on which I could leave a comment. They made it easy for me to follow them, but not for me to engage with them. It was as if they did not want to listen to me but were perfectly happy for me to listen to them. Good bloggers make it really simple to find them. You can ask them questions, point them to something that may be of interest to them, and find links to all sorts of things on their blogs. In short, their blogs are not all about them – they are about food.
So, come on Toronto, are you serious about being a world city? If so, your bloggers better start writing about food: where it comes from, how it is prepared, what makes it good, healthy, and unique. Showcase growers and small producers, compile lists of terrific maple syrup producers, wonderful artisinal bakeries, cheesemakers, and dedicated farmers, for example. Help them grow their businesses by introducing new customers to them and, in general, raise the level of awareness and debate about food in Toronto. Above all, your bloggers should make themselves accessible and accountable. Until that time, they are restaurant reviewers but not food bloggers and food bloggers in other countries have moved way beyond that.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the Toronto “food bloggers” for being limited to restaurant reviews. They have a readership and their product is meeting the demands of that readership. The conclusion I draw from the information to be had on their blogs is that Torontonians are interested in going out to eat but are not interested in food. Is this because the financial crisis did not hit Toronto and so people have not had to learn how to cook out of sheer necessity, or because Toronto, as it does so often, is simply lagging and not leading (and has not noticed)? If it is the former, local, quality growers and producers have a long time to wait before they can enjoy the surge in interest in their products that their counter parts in most of the rest of the world have enjoyed. If it is the latter, Toronto will get there sooner or later but true foodies won’t be visiting until it does.