BlogHer Food 2011: Observations on a Conference

Like so many others, I recently returned from a conference this past weekend, weary, but thoughtful, and most appreciative that bad weather didn’t hinder my getting home in a timely manner.  BlogHer Food 2011 was quite the whirlwind of activity even though I missed a party or three — and a pork crawl if you can believe it — enjoying the many experiences from others’ vibrant tellings of dancing, rockin’ loud music, and won raffle gifts.  Hearty congrats to Lori of Lemons and Lavender for winning a shiny new Kitchen Aid!  To be fair, I did arrive late Thursday after unfolding myself from a commuter jet where I was wedged against the window by a mountainous man who was happy to have my aisle seat for the flight from Houston to Atlanta, too late to consider attending the first bash, RockHer at the Hard Rock.

I’ve been mulling over my BlogHer Food experience and comparing it to the only other food blogger conference I’ve been to — the first FoodBuzz Festival held two years ago in San Francisco. Time got away from me before I could write anything about that conference, which had sessions only about food, and since many days have passed already and others have had their time to write about this year’s BlogHer Food, I’m left to consider a different angle.  I’m no novice to conferences in general because I’ve attended many related to my career in education.  Most of them involved work instead of the variety where the attendees crowd into rooms to listen to a presentation or watch a demonstration, so from that perspective, it was nice to be part of an audience to absorb something if needed.

I did absorb, because it’s a challenge not to when you’re me, and of course, I have something to say about my observations, which you shouldn’t take too seriously unless you want to.

My Top Ten List of Conference Observations:

  1. There is something to be said for “being in the business” for more than a year. Before the conference, you’ve probably had time to make a few plans so that when you finally arrive, it feels like you actually “know” people.  You recognize them from various and assorted avatars and website photos, verify this by allowing your eyes to dip to belly button level to read the badge swinging from their necks, and yes, feel comfortable giving them a hug.  This isn’t easy when the huggers in question are packing laptops, cameras, purses, and swag bags.  On the whole, people were easier to recognize at this conference than at FoodBuzz where I recognized only three.  The exception would be when I walked up to someone I thought I recognized inquiring whether she was “the chicken lady” to which she laughed, pointed to the table full of books on display, and mentioned she’s on the cover of one of those cookbooks.  Thank goodness for people who have good spirit in addition to abundant talent.  I appreciate you Carrie Vitt. I really do!
  2. Getting to the conference late and leaving early doesn’t exactly allow for time to get to know a city on any level. I didn’t leave the hotel for more than 24 hours after I’d arrived which doesn’t quite allow one to get a real taste of Atlanta, does it?  However, that spinning bar on the 80-something or other floor of the Westin Peachtree is quite the experience as a consolation, and if you’ve got a small group to enjoy dessert or wine with to rehash the day’s sessions, then it’s a good end to a busy day.  One glass of wine = 360 degree view of Atlanta’s night lights.  Cheap.
  3. To share a room or not share a room?  That is the question. I was lucky to have had Elise of Puma Life to share room costs and am so happy to thank her for her graciousness in rooming with someone who is older than her mother.  Someone stuck on west coast time.  Someone who likes the light on to read before falling asleep, who tried well into the night to connect to the hotel’s Wi-Fi without having to pay and failed, and who probably snored.  Definitely.  Not once did she complain.   Nice person.  I had a room to myself for FoodBuzz at a discounted rate of $199 after thinking I’d have a roomie then as well.  Ouch.
  4. It pays to familiarize yourself with the airports where you’ll be landing. Sure.  I know this.  Remembering I could take the train from one extreme of the Atlanta airport to the luggage area on the opposite side would have been great.  But burning a half-hour’s worth of brisk-walking-while-hefting-a-bag-without-wheels calories helped position me for two solid days of sitting and eating.  Not.  I mentioned to the cab driver that Atlanta must have the biggest airport on the planet, and he responded, “You didn’t take the train?”  No.  I’m just a stupid tourist happy to not have worn the silly wedgies she purchased on a whim which would have left her feet howling in pain and leaving a trail of blood from the airport to the hotel.
  5. On sessions.I truly enjoyed “Branding and Design 101 for Food Bloggers” by Sabrina,The Tomato Tart, and Irvin of Eat the Love.  My highly visual self benefited from the organization of their presentation and the examples these two talented designers provided, right down to the imaginary blog they created using all the methods discussed.  Very, very nice, and so helpful.  I also enjoyed the session on “Finding Your Visual Voice” and being able to understand, again with visuals, what the presenters had to say about their own work and where it comes from.  Stephanie of Desserts for Breakfast is particularly talented in delicately lighting a subject in low light conditions and the result is remarkable.  A gentle reminder to follow my instincts instead of shooting for traffic.
  6. On panels in general. Most human beings maintain interest and retain information when visuals are provided.  Powerpoints are easy to put together, especially considering one can be emailed between panelists so each can add his or her two cents.  It keeps a presentation on track, adds a bit of interest, and sends the message some thought was actually put into the presentation and that an audience was considered. When a panel hasn’t prepared, it shows.  Any panel, anywhere.
  7. Getting to meet great people and spend time with them is priceless. But my blog earnings don’t come close to covering the rest of the costs even though some can say theirs does.  (That’s another topic completely) Conference ticket — $350.  Air fare — $300.  Shared Hotel Room for 3 Nights —  $257.  Taxis — $75.  Food & Drink — $125.  Not cheap, and none of it is written off as a business expense, because I don’t earn enough money doing this to be able to write anything off.  Ever.  No, there’s no saving grocery receipts because I took photos of our dinner and posted it, or restaurant bills generated by reviews in the planning, no recouping camera equipment costs, or anything else.  I wince at the idea of it being an expensive hobby when it feels like a job on most days, but that’s what my accountant says it is.  So thank goodness for getting to spend time with great people and being able to afford it.
  8. Sometimes, room service is a good thing. Skip the party.  Opt for a quiet hotel room.  A friendly book, some wine, and fried calamari with aioli instead of dessert which makes complete sense at 11pm, right?  Sort of.  Just eat half of it.  And speaking of hotel rooms — you can’t always believe what Trip Advisor says.  I’ve planned several extended vacations using Trip Advisor and always take what I read with a grain of salt because let’s face it:  some people are just high maintenance.  Unfortunately, I’d never seen quite that many bad reviews of a hotel, so called the hotel ahead of time just to see if they knew about the reviews. They hadn’t even though someone representing the Westin had responded to a few of the bad reviews. It was an interesting experience, and luckily, our room was fine.  The view was great. The elevators interesting.  The Wi-Fi, not so much.
  9. So you’re not a spring chicken. It takes a bit of steel times two to show up for anything related to blogging as far as I’m concerned, because the average age in any gathering — on-line or in reality — seems to be about 28.  They’re sort of movers and shakers.  I used to be too, but now I only notice it when I’m trotting down the stairs.  Thirty was almost 25 years ago for me, and although it may be surprising to many, I’d never go back.  Aging gracefully has always been important to me, and I pull it off on most days, but not when I travel, so thank goodness for cosmetics.  They help take care of all the puffy staying up too late and smiling like an idiot all day problems that make Day Two bearable.
  10. Admire from afar — or not. Maybe you’re not famous.  Maybe you are.  Whatever that means to you, don’t let it ruin your experience which, when you get down to the nuts and bolts of life, is what you make of it, right?  I choose when to introduce myself, and when to watch others do it instead.  I don’t like lines in general, and waiting in one to say hello is not especially high on my list.  I think it has something to do with my imagining what the person the line is waiting for will think when I, after 89 others, finally arrive, leaving him or her with glazed eyes and not really noticing who or what is extending a hand.  But that’s me.  When my two older boys were little, they would annoy one another from time to time and sneer, “You just think you’re famous!” as if placing a mighty blow.  I never really understood where they got this, but I like what Seth Godin has to say about it.  It’s worth clicking.  Wish I’d said it.

If I was able to spend even a bit of time with you at BlogHerFood in Atlanta, thank you so very much for that.

Many thanks to the wonderful people at Urban pL8 who served us fresh, healthy food from appetizers to dessert on Saturday evening.  Paleo, vegan, gluten-free — it was all delicious!

Urban Pl8

Photo of our dinner group at Urban pL8 in Atlanta courtesy of Liz of Meal Makeover Moms.


At Terrace for breakfast courtesy of Joe at Meebo

At the Curb Market

I could have shopped and shopped

Lots of eats there

Prezzie from a friend, swag, and treats for me

If you’re interested in the lively discussion that continues regarding all things related to BlogHerFood 2011 and Atlanta, visit the following:

Katy of katy she cooks — “27 Things I learned at my first food-blogging conference.”

Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen“Friday Night Photos:  Farmer’s Market Envy and Thoughts on BlogHer Food 2011”

Irvin of Eat the Love“BlogHer Food 2011 in Atlanta Recap (with links)”

Veron of Kitchen Musings “Quick recap of Blogherfood 11”

Susan of Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy “45 Stories High”

Lana of Bibberche“Gone with the Wine”

Heather of Southern Pink Lemonade“BlogHer Food 2011 Recap”

Sues & Chels of We are not Martha“BlogHer Food 2011”

Andrea of Andrea Meyers“Atlanta Botanical Garden”

Jeanette of Jeanette’s Healthy Living“Blogging Friends and BlogHer Food Atlanta 2011 Recap”

Valerie of Bon Vivant“I Came…I Saw…I Conquered”

Kimberly of Poor Girl Eats Well “BlogHer Food “11”