We Houstonians love to take pictures of our food. We love to talk about our food, write about our food, and we love to know what other people are saying and writing about their food. We love it all so much that food blogging/food posting has become its own micro-industry within our culinary landscape.
Of course, we haven't invented the wheel here. Food blogging is a massive global industry. One with millions of participants in hundreds of cities around the world. Any living, breathing person knows the internet is flush with enough pictures of food to make you never want to eat again (if this is news to you, we've got a hilarious cat video you're going to love).
Still, it does seem like the past few years have ushered in an explosion of food bloggers and "foodie" social media accounts. If you've spent as much time mindlessly scrolling Instagram feeds as this writer has, you may have noticed this pronounced uptick over the past few years. Unsurprisingly, the rise in Houston food blogging seems to be — at least in part — related to Houston's rising relevancy as a world class dining destination.
The city's growing reputation is an exciting reality, particularly for those of us who have long championed the Bayou City as an underrated and vibrant metropolis. Ten years ago, while bloggers in New York were a dime a dozen, the concept was nascent in Texas. Food writing barely extended beyond a small community of industry pros. Today, anyone with a smart phone can become a bonafide foodie with consistent posting and good lighting — or so it seems.
We spoke to two prominent Houston bloggers to get their takes on the seemingly endless droves of Houston foodies and how the community grew to where it is today.
"I started blogging about ten years ago," says popular food and lifestyle blogger Mila Clarke Buckley (@thehangrywoman), "it had its little tiny following but nothing that was monetized or even polished." The native of Connecticut who has called Houston home since childhood started out writing about her failed cooking experiments as she taught herself how to cook. For years, blogging was a "for fun" creative side project. Until two years ago when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. At that point her blog became a "personal mission" to show readers how she, and in turn they, could live a full and crave-worthy life with diabetes.
"That's where the steam picked up," says Clarke Buckley who's now more than 30,000 Instagram followers make her one of the most followed bloggers of any kind in Houston. We asked Mila to give us some insight into why she thinks food blogging has become so popular in Houston recently.
"The food scene has become something that is open but is also a little exclusive. It has this push and pull and I think having the bloggers gives it another layer of exclusivity." Mila sees the relationship between food bloggers and restaurants as symbiotic. One side offers exclusive invites and access while the other offers increased brand awareness and inexpensive marketing. She also credits the city's culinary diversity with generating large numbers of both blogger and readers. "You have all of these unique [cultural] perspectives that eventually you can identify with."
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Renia Butler is another well known blogger and president of the Houston Food Bloggers Collective. She has spent the past six years cultivating her own brand and blog, Gristle & Gossip. Butler has been an active Houston food blogger since long before national media outlets gave our restaurant scene a second thought. She's seen the community grow and has played a prominent role in that growth. While she has certainly noticed an increase in what she calls "micro-bloggers" (individuals with a single social media account and no formal domain) she contends that those accounts do little to affect her brand's value in the marketplace.
"I've found that restaurants and brands value partnerships with influencers that have both a branded platform in addition to engaging social media accounts," Butler explains. She doesn't worry about over-saturation on social media, nor is she overly concerned with the common practice of buying fake followers — a practice that might be seen as hurting legitimate bloggers. "It all shakes out in the wash," she says, noting that brands do their due diligence in vetting out fake followers before partnering with creators like herself.
The flood of foodie accounts to Instagram and the rise in dedicated food bloggers is likely a healthy reflection of the city's growing cultural foot print, both an outcome and a contributing factor. The more aware Houstonians become of their city's culinary offerings, the more likely they are to champion it. Likewise, the more creative minds get together to praise and critique a culture, the more that culture will grow within the mainstream. As our friend The Hangry Woman explained, the relationship is mutually beneficial. So go ahead, post that burger shot and do your part for the city.