Blogging is as old as the personal home page, and it's now Britishly official (from the O.E.D.: "To write or maintain a weblog"). Since that dubious day in 1998 when Matt Drudge and Monica Lewinsky became household words, not only have bloggers become part of the culture, they are now driving some of the biggest stories in print and broadcast. Witness "Rathergate," in which "nerds in pajamas" (apparently so dubbed by former CBS news executive Jonathan Klein) were the first to float doubts about the authenticity of documents regarding President Bush's National Guard service just hours after they were aired on "60 Minutes."
The food world too has its nerds in pajamas. Formerly unknown writers such as Julie Powell, who famously cooked her way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and wrote about it on her blog, are proving their chops online and acquiring reputations even before six-figure book contracts from Little Brown and writing assignments from Bon Appetit.
Unless they are print stars who start blogs (such as James Wolcott or Andrew Sullivan), most bloggers don't break through to the mainstream, but their ideas and impulses travel like the smell of steak from a neighbor's grill. Bloggers, like poets, often tend to write as much for themselves as for one another, and they refer and link to each other frequently. In fact, sometimes the food blog network resembles nothing so much as a giant writing workshop with no one grading papers. But the wealth and variety of stuff out there in the blogosphere is a testament to the liveliness of food writing and thinking that is simply not found in magazines and newspapers.
Blogs are websites maintained by individuals who supply regular, diary-like entries, along with links to other sites. (Popular food sites like chowhound.com and egullet.com are not blogs but community message boards.) Because the links can be so interesting, combing the blogosphere is akin to shopping in a fabulous and unorganized used bookstore: You never know what you will come across. While browsing food blogs, I found some fantastic stand-alone messages, including: a colorful "table of condiments that periodically go bad" (web.mit.edu/dryfoo/www/Info/condiments.html), where I learned: "Hollandaise, 1 day; Miracle Whip, 3 months; Sugar, 2 years; Cheese Wiz, N/A." I found a site that lets you read some excellent Thai recipes while listening to Thai elevator music (www.chetbacon.com/thai-html/thai.html). I also found the story of a man who tried for an hour and a half to cook a goose egg with a hair dryer and two cellphones (www.funjunkie.co.uk/comments.cfm/article=b52e8c8f-28c1-48b d-a4b9-25ffacdeb81a).
On the other hand, there are blogs whose greatest appeal is that they sort through the cacophony of food writing on the Web for you. Though its focus on New York City limits the appeal of its diary section, thefoodsection.com provides links to the most interesting current food stories from around the world. Last week, links appeared to a Reuters article about Dutch farmers using Tabasco sauce as a pesticide; an illustrated guide to 16 apple varieties from epicurious.com; and a story about Kentucky's Bourbon trail from the Houston Chronicle.
The wildest, funniest stuff is found, not surprisingly, in the blogosphere's outer reaches, by people who come and go erratically ("Web page not found" or "link expired" are common messages when hunting for fun food stuff on the Internet). Here, bloggers bring the simmering antipathy between print journalists and themselves to full boil. A anonymous non-food blogger who takes the moniker "eurotrash" and the persona of a wild and foul-mouthed girl on the town is a Tama Janowitz for the new millennium. Her (his?) rantings on New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser are as unfair as they are hilarious (upsaid.com/eurotrash/index.php?action=viewcom&id=243). This is the blog wilderness, defined by its distaste for mainstream journalism: The niceties do not apply here.
Closer to the center are more responsible -- though often disgruntled -- writers who maintain regular, dependable sites chock-full of useful information, albeit info that does not go through the same fact-checking as what you read in print (if any).