GOOD

Food for Thinkers: Online Advertising, or Where Toaster Strudels and Chez Panisse Meet

Kristen Taylor examines the incongruous side dishes of corporate copywriting that adorn most food blogs.

Kristen Taylor is the founder of Galvanize.us, a mobile app you can use to hide real gifts for your friends, and Culinaesthete, a new magazine of stories and food launching in February 2011. She blogs at kthread.com and has been known to throw elbows on Saturdays at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket.

For GOOD's Food for Thinkers week, Taylor looked at the incongruous side dishes of corporate copywriting that sit, critically unremarked but—the advertisers hope—not unnoticed, next to many a food blogger's lovingly homemade posts.


Have you looked at the ads on a dedicated food blog recently?

Does it seem a little odd that, for example, David Lebovitz, the talented and self-deprecating pastry chef formerly of landmark Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, would have ads for a free month of Toaster Strudels on his site?


He didn’t cherry-pick the ads, of course; like many top food bloggers, the site uses an ad network that selects the advertisers, often in coordinated campaign buys. Toaster Strudels are a Pillsbury brand, owned by General Mills, and that ownership is where this story begins.

In early 2009, Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes wrote a post on Food Blog Alliance that listed her considerations for choosing an ad network. As far as the networks themselves go, the main options are imperial Federated Media, underdog Blogads, the stylishly teal Martha’s Circle, predictable BlogHer, generic Google Adsense, and lifestyle tier groups like Glam Media that, they boast, "help publishers leverage the huge explosion in the social media space." Note for those who are keeping track: Natural Path Media, which was the organic player in this roster, was acquired summer 2010 by Six Apart, who then merged with VideoEgg to form Say Media in the fall.

After these networks come recipe aggregators like FoodBuzz, which have their own ‘featured publishers’ (they sign bloggers to exclusive contracts). The original food porn aggregator Tastespotting and copycat FoodGawker are part of a network launched in 2010 called Platefull, which is owned by General Mills and describes itself as “a carefully selected collection of General Mills-vetted sites, all with high editorial standards and proven content.” The top Platefull site list includes linkbait Epicurean.com and two food community sites aimed at different demographics, EatBetterAmerica and Tablespoon, which both happen to be staffed entirely by General Mills employees. Unsurprisingly, recipes featuring General Mills products appear more often than not.




In other words, with Platefull, we're talking about a Big Ag corporation that has launched its own advertising network and two community sites designed to look, at first blush, like independent food recipe aggregators.

But won't anyone think of the mommy bloggers? Turns out the "carefully selected collection of General Mills-vetted sites" includes some 700 of them in their own special network called MyBlogSpark, which wins the award for Log-In Button of the Year. (The year in question being 1998.)


An AdWeek article about MyBlogSpark calls the site "a formal network to feed [bloggers] free products and enable them to run giveaways for their audiences," and mentions that many MyBlogSpark members forget to include their affiliation with the network when posting breathy reviews for products they access first, and for free.

Some of the more prominent members of the food blog community are concerned by the disconnect between the processed products in the ads and their own editorial focus on, say, local food and scratch baking, but for those food bloggers who make all or part of their income from blog ads, what could replace these industrial, processed goods?

Enter Food Pharma.


With increasing online presence in the holiday season and now in the new year, Medifast ads are appearing on an incredible number of food sites. Instead of a free month of Toaster Strudels, these ads often feature two free weeks of Medifast food products, the great majority of which contain Supro soy.

We might borrow Michael Pollan’s terminology and call these "edible foodlike substances," rather than food, as the heavy processing of Medifast products certainly rivals that of those products with extended shelf life on interior supermarket aisles. They are no more appropriate of an accompaniment to the average food blog post than, for example, the ads for Jimmy Dean D-lights Turkey Sausage Muffins that BlogHer is currently running in heavy rotation.

But if we rule out the offerings of major food coporations, with their global reach and massive marketing spend, what advertisers could fill the space?


Here's an idea: Steep discount services, widely hailed as the future of commerce, have already begun to advertise restaurant deals on food sites using browser cookies to target the site visitor’s geolocation. But if advertisers can show me nearby restaurants, couldn't they also show me nearby green markets?

Before you dismiss the cyberutopianism inherent in that, remember that many cities and towns in the U.S. let private companies bid to manage their farmers’ markets and events. Gourmet stores and upscale grocers still pay for ads in local circulars and print newspapers. Services like Foursquare already allow enterprising market vendors to offer specials when someone arrives at the market and checks for market tips on their phone. There is a pot of advertising money there, waiting to be tapped.

All that remains is for someone to collate local market and specialty store listings and launch a network. Then food bloggers would face a genuine choice about what kind of food they would rather promote. Just imagine: For those on the farmers' market network, the closest thing to an advertorial (horrible word!) would be a blog entry where a blogger happened to use the same heirloom vegetables featured in a farm ad on their sidebar.

It’s possible that 2011 could be the year food blogs advertise, for the first time, food.

Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than 40 food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?

Follow the conversation all week here at GOOD, join in the comments, and use the Twitter hashtag #foodforthinkers to keep up to date.


Articles

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.

Health

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Cocostation

Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger

Dizaul

Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head

Speakman

Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor

Zomchi

Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

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The Planet