So Beautiful, So Broken: Hunger, Pinterest and Food Bloggers as Activists

Curator's Note

Food Bloggers Against Hunger was an online campaign to support anti-hunger programs, designed by Nicole Gulotta, a food blogger and the founder of The Giving Table. The premise was simple: provide talking points, links, and a common call to action that food bloggers across the country could share with their readers, in posts that they “donated” to the campaign. Alongside the usual photographs and recipes, readers of the 250 participating food blogs found links to contact their congressional representatives in support of SNAP funding and anti-hunger legislation. Participating bloggers also encouraged their readers to watch A Place at the Table, the documentary from Participant Media (of Food, Inc. fame) that follows the hunger struggles of three food-insecure families in the United States. Food Bloggers Against Hunger was mentioned in The New York Times Diner’s Journal, was tweeted about by Mark Bittman, was directly responsible for 2,363 letters written to congress … and resulted in 16,478 pins on Pinterest.

Including the number of pins as a "result" in the campaign summary captures one of the tensions inherent between food blogging and food activism; while they share the rallying cry of local! organic! seasonal!, bloggers trade in Pinterest-worthy glamour-shots of their produce, while activists appreciate the politics delivered with their CSA. But do the tensions between food blogging and food activism negate the effectiveness of this campaign? 

Michael Pollan said recently "Here's an example of what can happen when people do connect the dots. When a blogger in Texas last year wrote about "pink slime" there was an overwhelming public response ... This was terrifying to the food industry ... There is great power in this." Each blog post in the anti-hunger campaign resulted in dozens of pins to Pinterest, yes.  But there is also the real possibility that each post helped someone connect the dots between hunger and our damaged food system; beautiful as the bloggers' images for the campaign may be, it is a story of brokenness that they are telling. 

Can food bloggers be food activists? I'm hopeful that even within the prescribed, photogenic norms of food blogging culture, campaigns like this one can bridge the gap between self-serving posturing and authentic thoughtfulness, between self-branding as a food activist and taking concrete action, between Pinterest and real political power. 


Great post Hannah, you look at a specific case of a broader question: at what point does public attention to a problem translate into activism? Calling attention to an issue in need of changing is certainly important, but is that important as an end in and of itself, or simply as a means to another end that involves action. The video itself seems to struggle with this question. While it clearly celebrates all of the tweets, pins, and blog posts, it ultimately refers to communication from political figures as the warrant that proves their action's efficacy. Changing attitudes is certainly important; when attitudes shift, it makes it easier to change practices. Yet in the last two months, we've seen dramatic cuts to SNAP go ahead. Like you, I'd like to be hopeful that food bloggers have a place in the larger food movement, but as with a lot of the more mainstream food movement, what passes for food politics seems to reflect decidedly bourgeois and white values. Where I think food bloggers have a real potential to contribute to food activism is in moving beyond their own stories to use their blogs as launching pads for stories told by people on the food periphery. It's great to hear a story of how Cory Booker, former major of Newark and now Senator of New Jersey, lived on food stamps for a week. But that obscures the stories of the thousands of people that rely on SNAP more regularly. While folks in the slow food movement chant local! organic! seasonal!, where are the stories from people that are too economically marginalized to afford anything other than the highly subsidized food available to them at the food bank (where in some cases banks receive points for distributing candy bars, allowing them to get other staple foods they can distribute). If the primary activist endeavor that bloggers have to offer is telling stories and bringing awareness, then it seems like their responsibility is to create opportunities for the silenced to tell their stories. Thanks again for the post, Hannah, it touches on a very important and relevant issue for those of us interested in thinking through the relationship between food media and food justice.

Thank you, Hannah, for this thoughtful commentary. I've glad that this reprise gives me the chance to respond to it. You raise an insightful question, "Can food bloggers be food activists?" Watching the video, it seems part of the answer lies in the nebulous category of "awareness." Social media, as Aaron observes, is a useful means for publishing stories and bringing attention to issues that might otherwise be overlooked or neglected, and the number of tweets, likes, pins, etc., does suggest that Food Bloggers Against Hunger raised awareness about hunger and anti-hunger programs. To this extent, the campaign does indeed look like a worthwhile accomplishment. And the stylized food pictures, the ones that bloggers' audiences have come to expect and enjoy, would have helped to drive those numbers and that accomplishment. Yet, like you, I wonder about whether this raised awareness is effective in ways we might hope, such as facilitating changes in government policy. I suppose this question raises one of Aaron's broader questions: to what extent does activism in the virtual world change the material one, the one in which people eat and hunger?

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