Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Being seen at the Zine scene

Punk wasn't just about music, it included design, fashion and journalism. It led to a movement of home-made magazines, ready to fill the gap of the stuff that wasn't being published in all the straight press. Some of them were fairly rough, traced painstakingly on blue carbon copy paper... This was before photocopiers remember, before scanning, before digital photography...
But the energy and passion rippled off the folded pages, decorated with hand drawings, fiery opinion pieces and interviews. Out of the 'zines, Sniffin' glue' by Mark P. was probably the most well known. I also remember that heady moment, imaginary fists punched in the air, a feeling of having won the war, when zine ZigZag banished long haired whiskery hippies from it's front page and embraced the new wave with it's first punk cover.
Along with the punk style roots of do-it-yourself home restaurants, the 'zine scene has spread to food.
How do we read about food at the moment? The newspapers carry articles, but they tend to be rather short, lacking the space to explore food writing in detail. The Guardian Word of Mouth blog, one of the most popular food blogs in the world, is carrying the banner for lively up-to-the-minute democratic food writing, sometimes even plucking talented and regular commenters from anonymity and urging them to write articles. There are glossy magazines which publish luscious photographs, wonderfully styled and detailed recipes but confusingly will carry ads for junk food on the next page. And of course there are blogs, new ones starting every day, covering every aspect of food from the cup of coffee at your local caff, the dinner they made last night, the restaurant they started in their front room, to Michelin starred restaurants and trips to El Bulli.
But there is something to be said for the tactile pleasure of holding a work in your hand. Otherwise why do books still sell? In terms of comprehension, we read differently on the net. Even with books it is said that we retain only 10 percent of what we read (1). I'm sure this proportion is even less when reading off a screen.
So I am excited about the emergence of two new food zines (what to call them? chow-zines?nutri-zines? No, that sounds like a sweetener). Guardian writer Tim Hayward has started a zine, a rather upmarket one, called Fire&Knives, the first issue due out in November. He describes it as giving
"established writers a place for work that would not be published elsewhere; new writers a place to show themselves and experts in other fields an opportunity to write about our favourite subject"
On Monday night I attended the launch of Galleyslave, a stylish and witty pirate-themed 'zine from food journalist and broadcaster Joe Warwick, it's strapline 'putting the wind up the London restaurant scene'. Printed on folded broadsheet size recycled paper, Galleyslave carries articles on new restaurant openings, gossip from the restaurant world, and classified job ads, a section entitled 'Slave Auction'.
The launch was held at Hix, Mark Hix's new restaurant and bar in Soho. We were served fantastic cocktails, cleverly based on the pirate theme, a rum punch and a gin punch. There were bowls of pirate eyepatches on the bar. You could tell that the food was pretty stunning, even though we only got to try the canape version.
In particular I loved the goujons of battered fish served on a bed of sweet mushy peas. The chips, and readers will know how important chips are to me, were out of this world, served on huge platters with a bowl of mayonnaise in the middle. Standing with some food bloggers, positioned accidentally by the kitchen where the wait staff emerged with the plates of food (2), I noticed that one of these large trays of chips had been left casually on a table of four thin girls. I can't abide waste of that nature, so quickly relieved them of the platter.
Mark Hix, who I tried to talk to, explained that the chips were blanched in water, then in oil, then given a final fry.
Your intrepidly scoffing reporter here, however, got rather upset on this evening. Why? I was introduced to a food writer, Sharp by name, sharp by nature, who snorted with derision when she found out that I was a blogger.
"I NEVER read blogs" she harrumphed. "NOT interested AT all"
"How very 20th century of you! " I quipped lightly, thinking her overreaction was in good spirit, joshing like.
I can't remember exactly what she replied, as I was too busy reeling backwards from the venom spurting from her tongue, but it was something along the lines of
"Go away you nasty blogger, I'm trying to talk to my friend Joe and you are interrupting".
Thinking, well perhaps that was a bit rude of me, I took a step back and went up to her a little while later, apologising... Jesus, I never learn do I?
" I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to be nasty. I do understand how you feel as a print journalist. My dad's a journalist and I'm a photographer, I have exactly the same problems getting paid. Things have changed, but I think we have to adapt..." I gabbled, the words tumbling out in my attempt to appease her.
She eyed me steadily, I thought I was being given another chance. How wrong I was, she was merely gearing up for another mauling. One of the best of the food bloggers, an aspiring journalist, came up to us
"Oh you two have met, oh you will get on soo well, she's amazing this lady she..."
"Er well we've already had a bit of a spat" I ventured
I then go on to explain the dispute when this lady spears me with a look saying
"EXCUSE ME, I think (this food blogger) knows me quite well enough and my views on the subject and doesn't need it repeated by you. Now I'M HERE to speak to my friends"
and swivelled on her heel, turning her back to me.
The young food blogger was pulled away to talk to somebody who'd just come in and I was left on my own, feeling stupid. I hardly knew anybody there.
I'm always going to places on my own, thinking it will be fine, I'm a brave lass like that. I have social skills, I can talk to pretty much anybody. But suddenly I was projected back into the nightclub scene of the 80s when I used to feel like the loser at fashionable clubs. I didn't realise then that much of the arrogant behaviour was fuelled by cocaine and other drugs. The atmosphere of this launch reminded me of the 'greed is good' selfishness of the 80s. I stood back stung by the sight and sound of professional networkers using their metaphorical stilettos (heels and knives) clawing over each other's backs to talk to someone higher up the food chain. So I cried. Yes, that bad lady made MsMarmitelover cry. Hot humiliated tears spilled onto my pink dress with it's peekaboo cleavage.
I was going to leave but Joe Warwick and his lovely kind girlfriend offered therapy by way of more cocktails.
The whole food blogging scene has become quite cliquey, there are practically gangs; not so much the 'crips and the bloods' but the 'chips and bloods'. Food writers lurk in restaurant doorways, spit in each other's food and turn the knife slowly. It's surf and turf wars. Thrusting new bloggers are giddy with perceived power the result of PR emails inviting them to tastings and desperate for the recognition that getting into print will give them. Older established bloggers are bothered by young upstarts ...
"Some of these young bloggers in their 20s, know very little about food..."
Whereas print journalists are threatened by all bloggers, young and old, as evidenced in Nick Davies book 'Flat Earth News' and his talk which I blogged about last year. Murdoch is trying to think of a way to make online journalism pay. You can download everything, music, film, tv, photographs, your latest school essay, for free off the net.
But how is the 'talent', the people who make the content, going to live when nobody will pay ?

(1) I found this quote.. "Memory: We retain: 10 percent of what we read; 20 percent of what we hear; 30 percent of what we see ?50 percent of what we hear and see; 70 percent of what we say; 90 percent of what we say and do "
(2) Standing by the exit hatch is always the best place to position yourself at parties, in order to avoid that terrible condition known as 'canape stress', where you see a platter tantalisingly bobbing through the crowd, invariably empty by the time it gets to you. It's even worse for veggies I can tell you. Coming up to the Christmas season, you'd be surprised how many hosts and caterers don't think of those that don't eat meat. Shut up at the back, you. Vegetarians do count.


  1. I'm quite interested to see Fire and Knives, although I'm not sure I can afford to order a copy! I fall in and out of love for the blog scene - sometimes it's all very friendly and chipper, and other times it's very cut-throat and "I know more about this than you so shut up". which is a shame, as we all have a shared interest so we should be able to get along.

  2. That sounds horrible. I simply don't understand why people can be like that. As you say, once, perhaps it was just a mistake, twice, no... you can't forgive that.

  3. Marms, if I may- all published writers possess a flagrant degree of grandiloquence. It stinks and we have to accept it; without the self-importance they might as well join the likes of Matthew, John, Luke et al. I'm tempted to suggest that if you can't beat them then join them, and even if you did I know you well enough that you won't look down on others. I guess a whetstone is hardly needed in that woman's Christmas wish list.

  4. It must be something in the air this week. On Tuesday evening I walked along a road when I suddenly and spontaneously declared, out loud, "why are people so aggressive!?!"

    No wonder you shed a few tears with that level of unprovoked aggression spat at you for no good reason other than to make the 'so-important' food writer feel
    superior. It's playground bullying.
    I feel sorry for her. How awful to be an adult that behaves like a nasty insecure child.

    And I don't like journalists at the best of times, as you know!

    Feel better please :)

  5. you're right - it sounds so 80's and to me, very like the fashion world too. All we can do is rise, rise, rise above it and know that we are better people. Food is supposed to be linked directly to love and nourishment - the old hag sounds like she needs some of both!

    Don't cry my sweet, piss on her roses!
    green drawers x

  6. Jeez- I am feeling slightly relieved that I am out in the sticks and not part of the 'blogging scene' that seems to have taken hold in the capital.
    There is absolutely no excuse for being highly unpleasant to a complete stranger, even if you feel 'threatened'. And unless you were carrying a huge cleaver I'm not exactly sure why she should feel threatened to begin with. I would just put her in 'cow' category and leave it at that.
    On the wider issue of bloggers v.print media, I'm also not convinced about the 'threat' levels that have been mooted either. A new form of media emerging will also lead to change, think that's inevitable. And while there is still some novelty factor to blogging I think a few will probably continue to be plucked out from the crowd to join the realms of professional writer. But think motivations for blogging and journalism are very different- and result in rather different 'outputs'. Am at risk of writing essay so will leave it at that but do agree that finding a mechanism that will still support the 'talent' in a new media age is tricky but not insurmountable.

  7. Oh yes, also wanted to make crucial point of saying well done on making sure those chips achieved a fitting consumption-based end.

  8. Oh dear, that's very unpleasant. What a horrid time you've had from certain women recently. Not cool.

  9. Firstly, do you know what I had for lunch today??? The fish fingers and mushy peas at Hix! They were lovely. Excellent chips as well--they actually serve them wrapped in (presumably yesterday's) menu.

    Secondly, you know (more than most, methinks!) that this is a moment of karma. Noted journalist will no doubt have to write a piece on underground restaurants at some point shortly. Aha! And you will no doubt be your normal terribly wonderful self and noted journalist will ache with embarrassment.

    Thirdly, at least you, in your pink dress, looked cute while you cried. That is always very important. Were you were wearing lip gloss? Also very important.

  10. haha Krista, you made me laugh!. No lipgloss but a bright pink/red matte lipstick from Nars.
    Lizzie, I was just feeling a bit vulnerable that night; if I'd been with friends she probably wouldn't have upset me so much.
    Fastest Indian: yes wonderful chips should not be wasted on size 8s.
    Green Drawers: The hag is an interesting figure in mythology, powerful, shape shifting. A hag can squash the energy out of a person, a state known as 'hagridden'. It's a shame that in Western modern culture that the hag is not treated with adequate respect.
    I feel this is at the root of this woman's hostility.

  11. That woman sounds like a right cow. How someone could have such an inflated sense of self-importance I do not know. And while I'm on that subject, I find this is increasingly becoming a problem amongst bloggers. I am continually amazed that some bloggers take themselves so incredibly seriously. It makes me laugh but it also really irritates.

  12. The journalist must be feeling really insecure to be such a cow. She's probably threatened by women generally - anyone who may be younger/more talented/thinner/richer/better looking than her. How awful to be on the brink of obsolescence.

    The food blogging and journalism scene in Australia is equally as cliquey. There are many lovely individuals but I too have flashbacks to feeling like the badly dressed Antipodean backpacker that I was on her first trip to Heaven in the '80s, when I go to such gatherings.

    Glad to know I'm not alone :)


  13. There's no excuse for rudeness, and such people should not be entertained, no matter who they are/think they are.

    In my experience, that sort of aggresiveness normally hides seething insecurity and a fundamental lack of self-worth.

    There are bigger questions here though, aside from one person's lack of manners, around the relationship between new and old media.

    I try to steer a steady course. I'm a food blogger, not a professional writer. I've had some training, and I know how to write well, but I'm not a journalist. Nor am I a chef, either. I'm just an enthusiastic amateur on both fronts. I write my blog for myself, to motivate me to cook new things and to keep my writing eye sharp.

    If a few thousand people a month want to read it, they're very welcome, and if one or two of them cook something they like because of it, I'm absolutely delighted.

    Of course, I've been courted by the PR people, and they've all seemed to understand what I'm about and where I'm going. They offer me opportunities to try something out, eat somewhere, have some experience or other and I write about it. Their reward is a social media induced glow and some credibility at Google, which is just what they're after. I'm happy with that, but don't try and tell me I've got 'influence', because I haven't.

    I find the idea that the big print publications would be nervous about me and my little blog vaguely absurd.

    Are we a threat to them? Really?

    Maybe things are changing and the notion of 'publication' is radically different today from a decade ago. Maybe the onslought of self publication just feels like a slow death by a thousand cuts to print journalism.

    Let's just wait and see.


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