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”

48 thoughts on “BlogHer Food 2011: Observations on a Conference

  1. Thank you for the report of BlogHer Food. I’ve read so many negative recaps of the conference that I often wonder if anyone enjoyed themselves or learned anything from the event at all. I’m, of course, pleased that you liked our session as well. I had a great time meeting people and attending sessions, but I do wish I had had time to explore Atlanta more and experience the food and the neighborhoods. It’s such a wonderful culturally rich city.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Your session was fabulous for someone like me wha has tried to learn as much as possible about how to put things together here. Still working it. Yes, I can tell Atlanta has much to offer. It’s on my list to return when I can enjoy it all by itself.

  2. What a wonderful post! I can relate on so many points. I wish we connected earlier, but i am glad that we connected at all! So happy to meet you:)

    1. It was lovely to find you as late as I did! With so many people and things to do, it’s a wonder I found anyone at times. Best to you!

  3. hi Kelly! I always love your writing and posts … Glad you had a lovely time in Atlanta. How cool?! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Amy. Very cool. It’s so interesting to know people through their blogs for so long and then finally get to meet them. I met some relatively new people as well, so that was a bonus.

  4. hi Kelly! I always love your writing and posts … Glad you had a lovely time in Atlanta. How cool?! 🙂

  5. Hi Kelly,
    So great to finally meet you in person and hang out in Atlanta. I loved reading your observations. We will continue this conversation in San Diego!

    1. Ditto, Kalyn. I enjoyed myself and appreciate the company and suggestions for things to do. Looking forward to being your taxi service in August. My car seats 4 passengers 🙂

  6. Love your insight here Kelly! So wish I could have made it to this one and finally gotten to hang out with you. So close yet so far away!!!

    1. Judy, I wanted to twist your arm so bad. I’m thinking I’ll be a very old woman by the time your girls are grown and you’re able to get away. Loss for me : (

  7. I’m SO sorry we didn’t get to meet 🙁 I loved reading your recap… And Chels and I totally walked 40 minutes through the airport!! I finally said “where the heck are we?” and the guy ain front of me heard and said, “in the largest airport in the world.” Okayyy then 🙂 Glad we got in some exercise before the weekend!

    1. I thought I remember reading I had comrades on the airport walk. OMG. Was that far, or what? Definitely sorry our paths didn’t cross. Maybe next time! Are you ladies coming to San Diego in August?

  8. Hi Kelly, this is such a thoughtful recap with great insights about how to cope at a conference. I love your photography, particularly the ones of the market. It brought back good memories of a trip where I hardly got to see much of Atlanta either. These things are such a whirlwind.

    1. Thanks very much! I was amazed at the emotion your write-up generated. So many people had such different experiences. You are definitely right about conferences being a whirlwind. Sorry we weren’t able to meet.

  9. Kelly thank you so much for this wonderful, honest, and thoughtful recap. I went to FBuzz in San fran last year and I could tell many stories, and looking back on that conf now, and comparing it to your recap here, I find myself nodding in agreement with many of your points. And you hit the nail on the head with them. Love it!

    I would love to meet you sometime. I live in Hillcrest. Not sure where exactly you are (I donated to the bake sale but was traveling and still am) but sometime, would love to say hi!

    Your photography is beautiful, as well 🙂

    1. Thank you Averie. I do remember you were away for the bakesale. You must be on quite a vacation! We’re in La Jolla, and I always need reasons to get out and about. Let me know when there’s a group of foodies meeting and I’ll try to be there. Just missed one last night, so looking forward to a next time.

      1. Email me directly b/c you’ll have my email from this comment, but I didnt even know there was one last night? what mailing list are you on?

        I need to make sure everyone has the proper info for me.

        And yes, I am on a 20 day trip. And it’s been great 🙂 home in a few days…boo! But I can’t complain!

        1. I’m not on any list. Just see meet-ups on Twitter because I’ve added as many from the bake sale as possible. 🙂

  10. Thanks for this! I am just so excited you came to Atlanta so I can meet my long time blogging friend. I can’t wait to come out to SD and have girlfriend time with you again. HUGS!

    1. It would be so fun to spend time with you sans a conference. Lunch, some shopping at kitchen stores, and some power walks at the beach. Well, I don’t exactly power walk anywhere, but I pretend :). Hugs to you!

  11. Kelly, your recap is as thoughtful and honest and delightful as you are. I’m so glad we’ve had the chance to get to know each other in person after years of knowing each other through our blogs (can’t believe it’s taken this long given we live 20 min apart!). Glad you had an enjoyable time at the conference – I did too! 🙂

    1. Totally enjoyed finally getting to spend time with you, too, Kathy. You have such a GREAT sense of humor. Makes me grin thinking of that finely honed dry wit. We need not to be strangers here. Any time you need a foodie outing, let me know. I’m game.

  12. Great and thoughtful recap! I’m glad you had a great time at the BlogHer conference. Your pictures look incredible. I hope to go next year and it was great to read such a detailed account. One never really knows what to expect at these things so I enjoyed reading your experiences.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment — I appreciate it! If you’ve not been to a blogger conference, you might enjoy one of the smaller ones first. I hear they’re quite a different experience. Plus, planning ahead of time, getting to know people, and encouraging each other to go helps.

  13. It must be wonderful to meet fellow bloggers in person! I love Georgia. What a wonderful time you must have had. We have friends that moved from here to a community outside of Atlanta. The people are the best there – so friendly.

    1. It’s always great to meet bloggers. I guess to some extent, it’s like having had a pen pal you finally get to meet. We often know so much about each other which gets all of it out of the way so you can just have a good time when you finally do meet. Sorry I didn’t have the chance to meet you — yet 🙂

  14. Kelly, meeting you was one of the highlights of the weekend and I’m so glad we got to spend some time laughing and talking. Dinner Saturday night with all you gals was priceless! We’ll definitely have to meet up again sometime.

    1. Ditto! The next time I visit my sister, you better believe I’ll be knocking on your door to see your great garden and meet your lovely boys. I pull weeds, too 🙂

  15. I agree completely, that it’s harder and harder to be an older blogger at these conferences. I relish every moment of the quiet conversations, the dessert at the spinning restaurant at the top of the Westin, the chance to connect with a few people who have been online friends for years. I happily leave the noisy, crowded parties to others. Breaking down the conference into meetings with people you’d really like to get to know (something you can plan beforehand) really helps.

    1. Loved your suggestion about the spinning bar. Good company, and a peaceful way to end a busy day. There’s something to be said for enjoying one’s own company after being satisfied with what a day has been. I know you understand.

  16. Awesome write-up, Kelly! You really covered all the nuts and bolts of conference attending. Now I’ve got a reference sheet if I decide to take that trip to bloggy heaven..or helll, depending on who’s talking about it lol

    1. There are so many great write-ups of this conference. I still say my fave meet a blogger experience was going to Ohio to meet Lis of Daring Baker famedom & Helene. So much fun!

  17. great, great recap, Kelly. I can appreciate your candor and honesty in your experiences, good and bad. Conferences can be tricky for all the reasons you so validly stated. Now, I’m just kinda bummed we didn’t even get a split second to meet. I did catch up with a few gals and guy on Sat and night and glad I was able to put names to faces. 🙂 xo. Next time, right! 🙂

  18. So happy you met Carrie, even if by accident. Working with her has been nothing but awesome! Truly great recap of food conferences!

    1. Hahaha! I think I just blushed remembering that. I did think of you after I realized who she was because you’ve spoken so highly of her. Hopefully, she doesn’t think I’m an ass. Thanks, Helene 🙂

  19. From another blogger “of a certain age” I greatly appreciate this write up. I think we do tend to look at the whole scene differently and tend to arrive at these events with different expectations. We allow others their foibles, their nervousness in the face of the “blogging famous” or their over confidence and self-importance and we just try to learn what we can, meet whom we can and take it all in stride. This would truly have been too big a conference for me as I have only been to much smaller ones but I am looking forward to the experience of IFBC NOLA this summer. Thanks for a nice write-up.

    1. I like how you’ve put a gracious label on “it.” I’ll have to remember that when I’m busy making self-deprecating comments. I do wish I’d had the chance to go to a smaller conference as well. At least then I’d actually have to engage more. No excuses, right?

  20. Thanks for your comments on my conference recap, Kelly. Yes, I did enjoy myself there. And I appreciate seeing other POVs on BlogHer Food ’11. As my first food bloggers conference, there were times I felt like I wasn’t “important” enough to warrant speaking to . . . this coming from the original Motormouth of the South! (having previously lived in Atlanta for 20 years) Thank goodness for friends in Atlanta that ‘rescued’ me, as it were, for a Saturday night ‘after-dinner’ excursion. In all seriousness, the conference had its ups and its downs. Overall, did I enjoy myself? Yes. Will I return for BHF ’12? Ummm…hard to say. I’m a veteran of writing conferences from way back. There does tend to be a certain type of clique atmoshpere that is formed at these things, and that, for me, is the worst part about it. But I tend to rise above . . . as in all things in life. So this too shall pass. Once again, thanks for visiting my modest little place in cyberspace.


  21. I loved reading your observations on the conference and looking at your pictures. I wasn’t able to go to the Farmer’s market so it is great to see pictures from there. I’m so glad that I sat next to you before the welcome party and we were able to meet– It was so great talking to you and you are definitely someone from the conference I won’t forget 🙂

  22. Great recap (and thanks for the kind shout-out)! I loved your points and photos, but I laughed really hard about the Atlanta airport. I didn’t check any bags, so I was looking for the MARTA connection and walked the whole darn way with my 2 bags as well, ouch!

  23. First of all, I am honored to be mentioned in the first paragraph of your blog post. Wow! Maybe I am already famous! More importantly, finally meeting you in person was a definite high point for me. You graciously welcomed me into your group of blogging friends and made me feel included right from the start. This continued throughout the conference and showed me that you are a class act in every sense. Thank you for such a positive contribution to my first conference experience. I look forward to staying in touch.

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