Ten years ago, I started a blog. I didn’t do so with a concrete purpose at the time, and simply used the website as a repository for my thoughts. When I began, I wrote about a greater diversity of subjects, but food rapidly became my primary topic of choice. Through this blog, I learned to cook, met other food-interested individuals, and discovered the restaurants I’ve come to love in this city.
Always ready to eat
Although the decade passed quicker than I’d care to admit, so much has changed in the food scene since 2006. Through snapshots of local food trends each year, it’s easy to see how far Edmonton has come. That said, I still think there is some room to improve – here are my 10 personal observations from 10 years of blogging:
- Consistency is the key to blogging: one of the questions I’m frequently asked is how I manage to keep blogging. In the beginning, reaching certain milestones was a personal challenge (one that was incidentally posed by Mack, who at the time was just a friend). Soon after, I started posting bullet points of interesting items I had come across, including food-related news. These items eventually warranted their own posts, and Monday night Food Notes was born. Without this weekly driver, it’s unlikely my blog would have lasted as long. There have been periods where I’ve been delinquent in writing regular posts, but those pesky Food Notes were always there, requiring my timely attention. These past ten years, I’ve seen many blogs come and go, and the best advice I can give aspiring bloggers is to develop a schedule, and keep to it.
- Social media was a game changer: in 2006, Facebook was two years old, and Twitter was founded that same year. It’s astonishing how social media has changed when, how, and with whom we share our food experiences. Those Food Notes that I mentioned used to rely exclusively on print media. Now, the vast majority of news is gleaned using the #yegfood hashtag on Twitter, providing an immediate and very public forum of discussion. Attitudes have also shifted drastically about food blogging and photography in restaurants – back in 2008, an incident with a manager at a local restaurant proved just how unprepared establishments were for citizen critics. Now, meals are captured for the masses on Instagram and Snapchat, and sites like Yelp and Zomato allow essentially anonymous reviews at the touch of a button. While restaurants have had to adapt to this new reality whether they liked it or not, tensions flared up again as recently as last week, so it’s clear that there’s still some work to be done.
- There are few degrees of separation in the food community: for a city of a million people, the food community is incredibly small. The advantage to this, however, is that this environment creates opportunities for learning and collaboration, something I’ve personally experienced. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to work with several chefs to bring ideas of pedway and parkland pop-ups to life, among others. I’ve also found that the community as a whole is quite supportive, which is how a tiny festival can grow into something previously unimaginable.
- Money isn’t everything: some of the tension between food writers and restauranteurs involves the perception that writers are chasing free meals, and only those with deep pockets can afford to win over social media influencers. The truth is, many of the most endearing, perennially popular establishments in Edmonton such as Duchess Bake Shop didn’t start with an expensive splash. They have endured with a formula of quality products, good service, and consistency.
- Edmonton loves chains: the birthplace of Boston Pizza and Earls, Edmonton can’t escape its history of creating concepts that resonate for the average diner. Casual upscale chains dominate the mid-range restaurant scene in the city, in spite of the fact that similarly-priced independent restaurants offer more choice and better service. I have to credit their popularity to marketing, long-standing familiarity, and unfortunately, to urban sprawl – power centres are prime real estate for chain locations.
- Suburban restaurants on the rise: sprawl is also the reason behind the spread of independent restaurants across the city. When I started blogging, the vast majority of restaurants worth writing about were located in central Edmonton. Now, we have restaurants as far as Beaumont’s Chartier garnering attention.
- Food trucks are here to stay: food trucks were on the fringe ten years ago, relegated to serving pedestrian food at industrial sites. Today, they have become mainstream, populating every outdoor festival, market and street fair in every corner of our city. Some may remember when Drift had a dispute with a brick and mortar restaurant back in 2012 about the right to vend on a particular street, and though complaints come up from time to time, food trucks are now an integral part of our food culture. What the Truck?!, a festival that began six years ago to promote food trucks, may actually not be relevant in the same form anymore.
- The independent coffee scene was born and raised: it’s really been a joy to watch independent coffee shops blossom over the last decade. The third wave started in Edmonton with Transcend in 2007, became anchored downtown with Credo in 2009, and expanded into a coffee district, featuring five independent retailers within a two block radius. I don’t believe we’ve hit our threshold for great coffee just yet, and hope to see even more cafes pop up in the next few years.
- Local food still has a ways to go: my blogging journey and understanding of local food are deeply connected. My first real foray into farmers’ markets was led by Seasoned Solutions’ Gail Hall, and my desire for proximity to the City Market was one of the reasons behind our move to 104 Street. Over time, I was hoping local producers would garner a higher prominence in mainstream conversations, and gain a greater market share of grocery dollars. There are some positives to highlight over the past ten years, with the establishment of more farmers’ markets, cooking classes aimed at demystifying local products, and urban agriculture education at Northlands. But, with the rezoning of agricultural land in the northeast, and the vague policy developed as a result, we’re not as far along as we could be.
- Stand tall, Edmonton: as I mentioned on a podcast last year, Edmonton is often given the short shrift, overshadowed by Calgary. We’ve got fantastic chefs, producers, and food businesses that can stand on their own merit, and we shouldn’t be afraid to share the wonderful things happening in our city.
Pedway pop-up in 2012
The first What the Truck?! in 2011
Ringing in the City Market in 2009
Thanks for reading over the years – your support, words, and kinship for food have meant a lot.