What I read at #ifbc

Last weekend, I took part in the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle, a three-day fiesta of food, drink, writing, technology and information overload organized by Foodista.com.

The cavernous warehouse at Theo Chocolates was draped in black, lit by strings of lights crisscrossing the room along with a handful of vaguely gothic chandeliers. We sat on gilded chairs. A sea of white roses leftover from a wedding held in the place on Friday night may have lent a gentle floral bouquet, but who could tell over the scent an endless parade of amazing food ranging from Top Pot donuts to Skillet’s blue cheese hamburgers to sous vide salmon to vats of red wine.  

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock encouraged everyone to extend their blogs to offline events as a way to build community. James Oseland of Saveur confessed his addiction to food blogs. Debate arose on whether or not to give recipes away for use in books or use by companies. The incomparable Penny de los Santos inspired everyone with the way she lived life passionately behind a camera lens.

But what struck me most was the delicate fury that Twitter had on the proceedings. People greeted strangers they recognized from their Twitter photos. A steady clacking on keyboards and phones made up a kind of back beat as everyone “aggressively” tweeted the events. The blog BringtoBoil artfully describes the air during a session that I taught on writing with all five senses.

“My fellow participants shared aloud some gorgeous, evocative descriptions of these lemons. Kathleen wasn’t afraid to point out places where the descriptions bordered on erotic, even beyond the navels, protrusions, juices, and nipples. Because so many people in the room were already in mind-meld mode, the sexual tension in the room was palpable.  Reminder: we were writing about lemons.”

I could feel that on stage, too. Within the space of a few hours, the ubiquity of Twitter helped to develop a collective mindset. As a speaker, you normally look for physical cues from the audience; it’s difficult to tell what’s happening as everyone types intently, the light of screens reflecting expressionless faces. More than once, the audience laughed in unison at a silent joke. Penny de los Santos got a deserved standing ovation, but she almost didn’t need one since half of the room had already Twittered they were in love with her. (I’m fairly sure that I was one of them.)

In the past, I’ve left conferences in a daze, just trying to remember the names, faces and what was said. But when you go to a conference with 250 bloggers, you can locate reports on everything from what was in the swag bag to what people thought of the opening reception to a detailed list of food served to Publisher’s Weekly take on the event to a personal account of what one individual took away from the experience — all announced on Twitter. The ability to relive the experience, not to mention see it from different perspectives, made it all the more powerful. 

Most people don’t realize that I’ve been writing about the online world since 1993. I edited a magazine called Internet Underground in 1995-96, before I went on to work as an online editor for Microsoft until 2003. Twitter is often described as “passing notes in class,” and the concept of doing this online while gathered physically at an event isn’t exactly new. I remember a 2001 meeting at Microsoft where a huge group of people connected online via MSN Messenger, mocking and debating the various ideas offered in the heavily stage-crafted presentations. 

But we were tech world geeks. The folks at IFBC were food lovers from all manner of backgrounds. Yet, technology managed to bring them together as one in the form of a sometimes lusty, snarky, observant, charitable, feisty, bored or inspired beast. 

As one Twitterer noted at some point in the weekend: “So funny, people keep tweeting just what I’m thinking as I’m thinking it! #ifbc.” Exactly.

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.

Comments

  1. Great recap of an amazing weekend! Twitter was a fantastic addition to the chatter, bringing real time critiques and praise to new levels. Thank you for your session- I am re examining my own descriptions-looking for better ways to present a photo in words.
    Pleasure to meet you as well- Your book as been an inspiration to me

  2. The world of conferences has changed forever thanks to Twitter, hasn’t it! Love your take on the weekend. Kat, I really enjoyed meeting you and Mike and I will never look at lemons the same way again. : )

  3. It is interesting to read the different takes on the weekend, and what other people thought. Yes, Twitter played a big part at IFBC, more than I suspect anyone thought. It was the ultimate way to pass notes in class, if you will. Your presentation certainly gave me something to think about. It is not my style at all, my writing is painfully straightforward, but it is fun to challenge myself.

    • Kathleen Flinn says:

      It’s interesting that some people left the writing session thinking that it was meant to lure people into the land of flowery writing. That’s not how I write, either. I generally teach that session in the context of a weekend writing course in which I preach, above all, to stay absolutely true to your own voice. The best writers are often simply just good explainers.

  4. Kathleen, it was a pleasure to meet you this weekend. Last year, I spent several months in Paris and I had read your novel right before leaving. I lived in the same arrondissement as you did (on Boul. de Sébastopol) and I can’t tell you how much your book made me even more eager to go. How I wish I could go back for another long period of time! Some cities have a more powerful impact on oneself than others; Paris is my daydreaming escape. I went back to the city of lights three times already and for sure, it’ll be a part of my life forever.

  5. Kathleen,

    I also lived near where you did in Paris (and Marie too!) in the 2nd for nearly 6 years and so your book really spoke to me when I read it ages ago. I am thrilled and giddy that I got to participate in a writing session with you (albeit with 249 of my closest friends) and have taken away some valuable things to think about.

    I have to say I found the Twitter factor absolutely fascinating to be a part of and friends of mine watching from afar also did. It’s exciting to be a part of something so new and exploding and IFBC really proved the power of the social media.

    Mostly, I have come away with a bit smile on my face. Just being in the same room as all that talent – wow!

  6. Kathleen Flinn says:

    I agree. There was a ton of talent in the room. I loved meeting people and learning how many different ways their passion for food manifested into blogs.

    I swear, one of these days, I’m organizing another food trip to Paris. We should all go together, especially those who lived there. We can visit our respective former ‘hoods, eat, drink and tweet about it. Thanks for all your kind notes.

    Back to writing book No. 2.

  7. Thanks so much for the link.

    I too was amused by Twitter and not sure what to make of it. During my session on recipe writing, the tweets were pretty tame, but during the Nathan M’s discussion of his mega book, things got out of control! It was naughty but I felt bad about the presenter not getting the proper attention. Maybe that’s just our new ADD-oriented culture.

    Great to sit next to you for a while at IFBC. Good luck meeting that deadline.

  8. Kathleen, so glad you wrote about the twitter mania. I did a post, but there was too much to cover and didn’t really say much about the twitter usage (but do mention you with a pic). It was one of the first things I tried to describe to my husband when I returned home. I was enthralled at the almost parallel universe and the vibration it caused mixed with a live speaker, smart phones, computers and video. Then when the sounds of a Flamingo acoustical guitar started to sneak in – I thought my amazement meter would spark a fire.
    On other notes – I was already a fan (having read your book and gone to Culinary school past college age – well, for me past 45, even) and I am so happy to have met you in person. I’ve been a script writer and taught writing in theatre for years, so I’m a little thrown by the peeps who missed that your lesson was about “opening up your senses” for inspiration and not a formula for writing all things at all times. Weird. Anyway, thank you for your talents and I can’t wait to read your next book.

  9. lisa garza says:

    I just zested and juiced some flowery and fresh yellow fruits for some … lemon squares! I heard myself talking about the color, texture, sound and the perfume that is wafting through the kitchen … thank you!

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