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"X" is for XX

There were no restaurants beginning with X on the List, and we only went to two beginning with Y. So for this and the next "reflection" entry, we decided to give each of us our own post. Here's Nichole's.

Food blogging is the path to a career in professional food writing these days. At a 2011 UW Humanities panel-before-talk with Pulitzer prize winner (and our hero for beginning his food career by eating an entire street) Jonathan Gold, someone asked him how to break into the scene. It used to be by establishing a reputation on CHOW or other forums, he said, but now you pretty much have to start a blog.

I think this is true. The expansion of social media and its conflation with business has had a big impact on EiMAtZ since JM and I started journaling together in 2004.

When I used to tell people about the blog, they would ask "Which letter are you on?" or "Who makes the best crab rangoon?" or "What's the worst meal you ever ate?"

Cold grill

Now it's usually "How much money do you make?"

This is disheartening. Not because of the answer (pretty much "none"), nor because I won't talk about money, but because I'd rather talk about food. And yet, it's a smart and relevant question.

In 2009, the FTC cited the rise of blog/ad networks as one reason to revise its guidelines on sponsorships and testimonials, which hadn't changed in decades. Since then, when it comes to getting paid, it seems bloggers have been damned if they do (see the 2010 Milwaukee Press Club-winning article, "The Future of Journalism"), damned if they don't (see the 2011 She Posts GOOD READ-featured essay, "When it’s OK to Work For Free (Really!)").

The truth is, even if I had the talent to write about food for money, I don't have the hustle or the guts (ha!). I think JM has the talent, and he's the most trusting, generous, and brilliant collaborator and generator of good ideas that I've ever met (I might be biased). So when blogging changed, we had to figure out what we wanted to do. The answer for us was to stay amateur.

We decided to take the FTC guidelines very seriously and be as transparent about money as we could. We started posting a list of any freebies we got and gradually took fewer and fewer offers.

Partly to make myself look better, mostly to make myself feel better, and despite it being totally Pharisaical, I also started disclosing our hunger-fighting-related charitable giving. We joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation in case we should ever need legal aid - something we never worried about before bloggers were considered viable targets for lawsuits.

Plus, it just feels all weird now that there are publicly private dinner clubs and pop-ups and PR people PR-ing things and mixing it all up with social media and celebrity/notoriety appeal. The lines between customer, resource, colleague, and friend are blurrier than I can usually make out.

Somewhere in Letter O I looked around at these changes and my own reaction to them and realized the project wasn't as much fun as it used to be. But what was I going to do, quit?

Food writers, whether professional, aspiring, or amateur, rarely talk this openly about these peripherals (at least, I haven't had too many conversations about this stuff - so maybe it's just me). I do wish more food writers would share why they write. I loved reading Marcelle Richards' and Kate Hopkins' essays on that.

I also wish material connections were more transparent, because restaurants are businesses, with business-related interests and yes, politics, and I have this romantic idea that it's a good thing to be an informed consumer and to use my money in accordance with my values.

Tab and grounds

So what happens next? If we keep posting, we'll probably take down the Google ads because it's hypocritical to have them. If the perfect paid side project landed in our laps, we might go for it. If courteous professionals ask to re-use our stuff, in the future we might ask them to donate to a food bank for us. But the blog itself will stay free.

All that is to say, writing EiMAtZ has not been about money nor launching a writing career. It's about JM and me answering the where-to-eat question with the happy side effects of teaching us about where we live and providing opportunities to meet and eat with all kinds of people. I am here to make friends, or to try, preferably around a real table. So where friendship has truly begun to grow, I want to say thanks for all the presence.

Our grades thus far:

A 328
B 310
C 113
D 16
F 2

GPA by first letter:

1st PassCumulative
A 3.11 3.32
B 3.15 3.20
C 3.25 3.22
D 3.20 3.23
E 3.03 3.05
F 3.24 3.26
G 3.21 3.30
H 3.16 3.20
I 3.40 3.38
J 3.13 3.09
K 3.08 3.17
L 3.23 3.24
M 3.32 3.23
N 3.15 3.15
O 3.23 3.20
P 3.09 3.12
Q 3.39 3.39
R 3.19 3.23
S 3.14 3.18
T 3.19 3.17
U 3.03 3.08
V 3.48 3.52
W 3.21 3.21
X n/a n/a


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Good call, and great explanation. I think when amateurs try too hard to emulate big media they lose part of themselves and slowly but surely become part of the establishment that they really should be providing a counterpoint to. But everybody wants to be a bigshot these days. Glad to see you’re keeping it real. Just keep doing what comes naturally to you and I'm guessing you're going to be just fine.

I like your style MadisonAtoZ. It's all about the food and the friends you meet :)

I think of AtoZ as a journey, not as how close you are to Z. I hope this journey will continue taking you exactly where you hope to be!

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Listen to The Corner Table podcast "Remembering Restaurants," aired December 24, 2020, where Chris and Lindsay talk with us "about the menus and memories left behind when restaurants go away."

Madison Food coverInfo about our book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is here, or read it for free thanks to the library - print & ebook.



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