Months have passed since I attended the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC). There have been some excellent and often entertaining posts from other bloggers who attended—many of them from my gluten-free friends. But exactly what I wanted to say on IFBC did not come easily to me … and then life intervened, as it always does. Oh, I was tweeting away with the best of them at the event itself before and after sessions, and even during some sessions (for good and naughty reasons). Plus, I shared IFBC and Seattle photos on my gfe Facebook page right away. Still I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to share here. Sometimes words don’t do adequate justice to an event, so I just get overwhelmed trying. I also have a tendency to want to document such happenings chronologically, which can be both tedious and boring. So, still playing catch up as part of my 25 Days to Christmas, I’ve finally decided that I’m just going to share some thoughts here … in no particular order. They are not brief (no surprise there!), so you might want to grab a snack and a beverage, but I do think that they are a quick read.
1—If you could bottle the feeling of energy and camaraderie at a food bloggers’ conference, you’d have the ultimate “feel good—I can do anything!” elixir. Not unlike the VIP mint that was the equivalent of three martinis in the Rock Hudson/Doris Day Movie, Lover Come Back, but I digress. Everyone who attended IFBC and has attended these events in the past knows exactly what I mean. It’s quite the heady experience. Heidi (Adventures of a Gluten-Free Mom) kept referring to herself as a groupie, because she was so smitten after meeting her gluten-free blogger friends in person. as well as others prominent in the food world. (You must check out her photo with Morgan Spurlock!) We all worry before we attend that very first food blogging conference that we might not fit in and that these people in the food world might walk on water—the food equivalents of Anna Wintour, so to speak. We wonder who we’ll talk to, if we’ll say the right things, if we’ll take the right clothes (okay, I worry about that for every event!), and more. But blogging can bring people together and more importantly food is common ground for everyone—blogger and non-blogger alike. The overall vibe and interaction at IFBC (and other food blogger conferences like BlogHer Food) was just so good that quite frankly we didn’t want the event to end. If you are a food blogger and can participate in such events, I recommend participating to experience #1 if nothing else.
2—Morgan Spurlock, noted documentary filmmaker and more, is extremely quick witted, and very motivating. After an highly entertaining tête-à-tête with his interviewer (whose name I cannot recall and I can find nowhere online, but who did a superb job), Morgan’s closing statement to do more than “preach to the choir” got everyone thinking. I’m still thinking about it and trying to act upon his advice daily. What else can I do to spread gluten-free awareness and, in general, an appreciation for real food for all and as part of my gfe approach for those who need to eat gluten free? I have some ideas percolating and so far have just tried to be out in the “world” as much as possible, but feel free to share any ideas you might have in comments.
3–Always have your camera with you. Because you might have missed out on a photo opportunity with said Morgan Spurlock at his actual presentation, but you just might catch him; his wife, the equally famous and wonderful Alexandra Jamieson; and their adorable son in the hotel lobby. This situation is exactly why a smaller camera stashed in your purse (even one that you use as backup) is ideal. (See photo at beginning of this post.)
4—Don’t be obsessed with taking every photo with the most high dollar camera out there. Wendy (Celiacs in the House) actually WON the photo contest at IFBC using her compact and fairly inexpensive Canon Elph. Yippee for Wendy! Yes, I’m still excited for her. The gluten-free bloggers did a great job of hooting and hollering when she took the stage to accept her prize—a beautiful chef’s knife.
5—The passion always shines through in presentations. Those are the ones that will stay with you long after you’ve unpacked your clothes and settled into your daily routine at home. I continue to hear Penny De Los Santos moving words and see her vivid images in my mind. I want to “make pictures” as Penny urges more than I want to take photographs. Pictures convey everything and move the viewer/reader. Penny’s advice is to trust your instincts and shop thrift shops for suitable props for your food pictures. However, she also urged all to give themselves specific assignments. She said that you have “to work for your pictures” and “push yourself.”
6—Sometimes the photos taken (and even published in most cases) by the professionals will surprise you. I’m not a great photographer and the camera I got as a replacement for my previous camera has let me down repeatedly. However, I still found myself looking at some of the photographs taken—oops, I mean pictures made—and thinking, “hmmm, I’ve discarded photos similar to those.” For one thing, I was surprised how many overhead shots were deemed worthy. I was also surprised at Penny’s guidance to not get too close to the food when making pictures … “let your food breathe.” She also advised that you should only use the hand shot once. Period. I thought that photos of a hand holding a scrumptious food, like a delectable muffin, were cool, so I know I’ve broken that rule!
7—It’s both a very encouraging thing and a shame when you have to fend off other folks to ensure an adequate supply of gluten-free food. If we had the Dr. Rodney Ford inspired Gluten-Free Planet, we wouldn’t have to worry about that. But, for this event, we ended up asking people if they had to eat gluten free, posting signs, and just guarding the table. Someone said in her family the gluten-free folks were called gf’ers as in “those gf’ers!” So we said yeah, we’re just a bunch of gf’ers. Then I added another similar, two-letter acronym as a prefix. We got a good laugh out of the irony that others were finding our food so appetizing, but in reality, it shouldn’t have surprised us. The gluten-free food served was real food, and real food is just incredibly beautiful and delicious (the forbidden adjective!).
8—Protein is always a must for breakfast. Udi’s gluten-free muffins taste great, but eat a few with no protein and you’ll be ready for a nap (no matter how riveting the speakers are). Stash some nuts or nut butter packages in your conference tote bag, just in case. (If you’re crashing daily after breakfast, be sure to add protein to your breakfast. Women typically do not get enough protein. Lean protein is a good thing!)
9—Group photos are so much fun, but there’s always one person who is not happy with their image and would like a “re-do.” Sometimes that person is me!
10—It’s fun to have company in one’s room at Hotel Monaco, especially if his name is Romeo. Oh, what a clever way to take care of your program members, Kimpton Hotels!
11—Always thinking ahead when it comes to food. This advice is not what you think. Don’t let great gluten-free food from the conference be carried off uneaten. Diane (The W.H.O.L.E. Gang) was smart enough to ask and get permission from Shauna and Danny to “stuff her pockets” with their amazing bread. So on the flight home she sat beside me and ate their amazingly good bread while I sucked one of the Justin Nut Butter packages dry. It was not one of my favorite moments. LOL However, Diane was the one who packed such a fantastic package of naturally gluten-free food for our flights—her homemade La Cecina, Justin Nut Butters, hummus, sliced cucumbers, and more. So, I really couldn’t be upset with her foresight.
12—Kaili McIntrye, Wheatless in Seattle, who was one of the caterers at IFBC is a delightful person and a true gift to gluten-free folks. Her crostini and goat-cheese stuffed pastries were my favorites of all the beautiful and tasty items she served. As she shared on her Facebook page, everyone wanted her food, not just the gluten-free folks, so she had to keep increasing the servings she prepared. She, too, was quizzing folks if they had to eat gluten free and asking them to step away from the table and return after the gluten-free folks had been fed.
12—There truly are such a thing as super nice porta potties. The much talked about porta potties at IFBC were spacious and clean, with flush toilets, running water, flowers, framed pictures on the walls, and mints on the sink. When lines were long, I even resorted to one of the very basic porta potties, which were equally clean because nobody was using them. Although I’m not necessarily a fan of antibacterial hand cleaners, I did appreciate them being available after such visits.
13—Always quiz about a food’s gluten-free status until you find your comfort level. Patrolling servers at the Friday opening event stated that lamb “pops” (think lamb chops eaten Renaissance Faire style) were gluten free. However, when Melissa (Gluten Free for Good) inquired of the chef at his display booth and serving table; the chef stated that the lamb pops were not gluten free. I was glad I had not eaten any. But, I certainly enjoyed a host of other foods (and beverages) at that event.
14. It’s never much fun to eat standing up, but it’s always fun to break the rules. Melissa spied the two empty chairs on the small dais and decided we should sit down. People were chuckling at us because these chairs were clearly reserved for others … more important others. A short while later, Morgan Spurlock and his “mystery” interviewer settled into them. I still can’t understand why the POM Wonderful server (think of a young lass who could model for Victoria’s Secret and you’d have the right image) did not serve us non-stop POMtinis as she did later to Morgan Spurlock when he occupied the same seat.
15. Numerous articles about the gluten-free diet being a fad or a trend have made me dislike those words … a lot. There was a Q & A at the end of the Spurlock interview and the next trend in food was pondered. One of the answers was foraging. Foraging is a viable option in some areas and one enjoyed by quite a few whole food proponents. However, it’s not one I’d feel comfortable doing in my own neighborhood where I can’t control the use of my neighbor’s lawn care products, etc. Trends tend to be short-term, so even the best answers on returning to whole foods more and more just didn’t sit well with me. I don’t want to look at trends; I want to look at permanent changes and improvements. Finally, I was grateful that gluten-free food wasn’t mentioned as a trend. That might have gotten all of us gluten-free bloggers up off our “seats” on the floor!
16. Theo Chocolate is incredible!!! We received Theo Chocolate in our swag bag and after lunch each day. The only flavor that I did not like was a fennel variety. I was even more impressed when I heard the company’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Debra Music, speak and learned about how Theo Chocolate is a fair trade company and is actually changing the way the chocolate business is done. Read about their history and practices here and more here. Last, while historic chocolate factories are really beautiful and fascinating places, one is not necessarily the best place to hold a multi-day conference with several hundred people.
17. Even when you know that you are about to have a spectacular meal made by Shauna and Danny, using recipes from their brand new cookbook (Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef—now out, of course!), you will want to eat something tasty while you wait and you might even want to eat more when you are done. You know how talking about food and looking at photos of food can make you hungry? Well, imagine hearing about food and seeing food from some of the best in the world. You WILL be hungry! So the gluten-free bloggers still hit the food trucks, which were available for the bloggers for lunch that day. The top two visited by the gluten-free bloggers were the Mexican and Thai food trucks. Mexican food is often gluten free and the same holds true for Thai (love those rice noodles, but be sure to steer clear of gratuitous soy sauce).
18. Everyone says stupid things, especially if the “everyone” in question is me. Chances are good that a person, even a very famous, very busy person, can remember if he had an article published in another well-known magazine. (Yes, Diane, you were right on that!) I approached James Oseland, Editor in Chief of Saveur magazine, after his presentation. Oseland’s wealth of travel photos and narrative demonstrated—as De Los Santos’ presentation had also shown—that food is a common language. You may not be able to converse well with the local folks in another country, but you can share food and the joy that comes from sharing good food. Everyone clearly enjoyed his time on stage. Oseland also sent a lot of admiration and respect out to the blogger community for doing what we love. That was quite well received as you can imagine! So, I thanked him warmly for his presentation. Then I told him that I’d read one of his articles last month in magazine x. He replied nicely but quickly, “No, you didn’t.” Of course (being “Miss I’m So Sure”), I kept going. “I was sure that you wrote that article I read.” James Oseland, shaking his head while trying to be polite: “I haven’t written for magazine x in years.” Of course, I was sort of shaking my head (I hope that was only in my mind!) and wondering how I’d screwed that one up. But, Oseland kept smiling and being very gracious, and Wendy snapped a photo of us together. As you can see, he was holding Shauna and Danny’s new book. At the time (pre-publication), she had a total of two copies and she gave him one of them! After returning home, I was able to find the article I was referencing in magazine x. There was the author’s name, Colman Andrews, and his bio—former Editor in Chief of Saveur magazine. As Mr. GFE likes to say in such circumstances … “Close, but no cigar.”
19. Presentations work best when the presenter is not ultimately trying to sell something. The presentations that felt like a sales pitch did not work. The ones where the speakers spoke passionately on their topic and/or offered more of a step-by-step guide/tutorial were much better received.
20. There was, and remains, a lot of guidance—as well as a lot of disagreement—on how much and what type of content bloggers should give away. From the IFBC presentation, specifically, I find one of the sanest, most reasonable voices in this area is Dianne Jacob. (FYI–The revision of Dianne’s well-respected book, Will Write for Food, was released in July.) While I don’t always agree with Dianne, I love the spirit of discussion that she brings to the table. If you are a blogger, I also think you need to trust your gut on this topic.
21. Even when you have an outstanding conference, the time you’ll treasure the most is the connections you make and the time you spend with friends away from the conference. I spotted Carrie (Ginger Lemon Girl) with her husband, Michael, as Diane and I walked to our table at the hotel restaurant, Rezas. Smiles and hugs all around! The day spent at Pikes Market with Diane and Wendy was truly treasured time. Diane and I are “old buds” now, but we had never met Wendy before. As you can imagine, we never stopped talking! The same was true when we met Kim (Cook IT Allergy Free) and Heidi. We caught up to them in the hotel lobby and were pretty oblivious to the others who were also waiting in the packed area. There was the joy of meeting one another for the first time and getting to know someone new and terrific, but there was also the comfortable feeling that results from already knowing someone quite a bit through their blogs and other social media.
A kickoff outing to Flying Apron that afternoon brought so many of the gluten-free bloggers together. While many of us headed out from Hotel Monaco via bus, Stephanie (Wasabimon); Emily (formerly Coconut Gal); Dr. Jean Layton (Gluten-Free Doctor Recipes) and her family; Jeanne (formerly Four Chickens, now the Art of Gluten-Free Baking) and her daughter; plus Shauna, Danny, and Lucy met us there. We took up most of this vegan bakery moving furniture around and making ourselves at home, but the staff was non-plussed. And, who knew vegan pizza could be so good? All of us were talking excitedly with multiple conversations going on the majority of the time, so it was hard to take everything in. We were really all taking part in a “crash course” to get to know each other. The bus ride there and back was half the fun, especially when our group sat in the “extendo” part of the bus that did its own thing on the curves. Crazy, but fun!
When were able to get most of the gluten-free bloggers together for dinner on our last night; it was heavenly. That wasn’t just because of the food and service at Tom Douglas’ Palace Kitchen, although we all agreed that was divine, too. Kim, Carol (Simply … Gluten Free) Wendy, Heidi, Diane, and Melissa were at our table as well as non-gluten-free, but still very welcomed, Susan (Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy). Carrie and her husband were dining on their own. (It turned out their trip was also a pre-anniversary celebration, so they also sought out couple time on their trip.) But, as fate would have it, they ended up at Palace Kitchen and sat right beside us. Unfortunately, Lexie (Lexie’s Kitchen) had already headed home. As so many agreed, those few hours dining together at the Palace Kitchen was the time we’d been waiting for … time to just relax with a glass of wine (and even champagne—thank you, Diane!), share a fine meal, and chat. That evening was way too short, but it was a gift.
22. The gluten-free blogging community is outstanding in so many ways. Dedication, quest for excellence, compassion, understanding, and creativity are the main reasons that come to mind. In addition, every single gluten-free blogger I’ve met to date has been warm and welcoming. If that comes through to you on their blogs, it’s because it’s not superficial, it’s genuine. I’m so honored to be part of this group. And, we’re all so fortunate to have you guys as readers. You’re why we do what we do—sending you all a huge thanks!
If you want to read more about IFBC from the perspective of the other bloggers who are included in this post, click on the individual links within this post and once at their sites, search on IFBC. Tomorrow, I’ll be back with some more “current” stuff!
If you want to check out my previous posts for 25 Days of Christmas, just click on the links below:
Day 1 – Gluten-Free Holiday Giveaway Galore x 10—Giveaway of the new book, Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?, plus gluten-free treats and fun stuff. Open through Wednesday, December 15.