It was via Twitter yesterday that I picked up a link to a blogpost “Not so good today…”, written by respected food and cookbook writer and TV producer Anne Myers on her blog ‘I love Cooking’. In her story, she identified two instances of food bloggers writing irresponsibly in their recipes, not on their own blogs, but on the newly created website for MasterChef SA sponsor Woolworths, leaving the retailer with egg on its face, with two of its four guest MasterChef SA food bloggers being accused of unprofessional blogging.

To tie in with its MasterChef SA sponsorship, Woolworths created a Woolworths Pantry page on its website, and invited four food bloggers they felt to be at the top of their field to blog for them in return for payment: Alida Ryder writes the blog ‘Simply Delicious‘, and was named the top food blogger at the SA Blog Awards in 2010; Ishay Govender followed in her footsteps in winning the SA Blog Awards 2011 Food Blogger of the Year for her ‘Food and the Fabulous’ blog; Jane-Anne Hobbs is described on the Woolworths website as having ‘pioneered recipe blogging in South Africa’, now blogging on her ‘Scrumptious’ blog, and soon to have a cookbook published, she announced today; and Fritz Brand, who blogs on ‘Real Men can Cook’, is a more recent blogger with no known accolades (interesting is that Woolworths accepts his writing with grammatical errors, and he even misspells the Woolworths brand name on his own blog!).  Once a week the bloggers contribute their recipes according to a set theme, and receive credit for the recipes that are featured.

Strangely, no MasterChef SA branding appears on the Woolworths Pantry pages, only the ‘Cook like a Chef’ box appearing on the recipe pages, an adaptation of the in-store banners ‘Cook like a MasterChef’. The bloggers do not comment on the MasterChef SA programme at all, even though the initial Tweets of some of these bloggers led one to believe that they would be commentators for Woolworths about the reality TV cooking programme.

Ms Myers was very kind to the two Woolworths Pantry bloggers, in not mentioning their names in her blogpost, perhaps a weakness, as their names were revealed later in the day anyway. The bloggers concerned commendably showed integrity by declaring their discredited recipes in the Comments section of Ms Myers’ blogpost, and their responses are interesting.

Fritz Brand claimed ownership of the criticised Nutella Crêpes recipe, which called for five teaspoons of salt, four of which were to be coarse salt, according to the Woolworths Pantry recipe, which Ms Myers wrote was difficult to rub through the sieve, as required in the recipe.  Brand defends his recipe in the Comment on Ms Myers’ blog, stating that his recipe only called for one teaspoon of salt, and that Woolworths must have got it wrong in posting the recipe on its site! He also writes that he posted the same recipe on his own blog, without the four extra spoonfuls of salt.  The four mystery spoonfuls of salt were removed from the recipe on the Woolworths Pantry website after Ms Myers’ blogpost appeared!

Interestingly, a second Tweet about food blogger ethics circulated later in the day, with a link to Ms Govender’s blog, and her blogpost ‘Food Bloggers – The Cauldrons are boiling’.  Not knowing that she was under attack in Ms Myers’ blogpost, it sounded as if Ms Govender was having a general go at ‘bully’ food bloggers who do not have a ‘spirit of community’, who discredit others, who wave ‘their blog stats and self-importance around’, one not realising that she was in fact reacting to Ms Myers’ blogpost.  She called for an (undefined) ‘formal qualification system’ in the ‘food blogging business’ that builds ‘sensibility and comaraderie’ (sic), implying that only qualified persons may comment about other bloggers, one suspects she was trying to say.  Only on re-reading Ms Myers’ blogpost last night was it clear that Ms Govender’s blogpost was a response to Ms Myers’ very serious allegation that Ms Govender’s recipe for ‘Dark Chocolate Souffles’ had been plagiarised (an ‘almost word-for-word replica of the recipe’) from the website www.bonappetit.com. Ms Govender writes in her blogpost about ‘bully’ bloggers’ ‘crucifixion mentality’, without ‘calmly gathering facts and asking the involved people for their opinions’, clearly (but unfairly, in our opinion) accusing Ms Myers of this behaviour. On Ms Myers’ blogpost Ms Govender defends herself in writing that some standard recipes would appear very similar to others, that she has a background in intellectual property law and could never consider taking ideas from others, that she gets involved in community projects benefiting others, and is an example of the ‘spirit of community’. Ms Myers was harsh in her reply to Ms Govender, clearly not moved by it at all: ‘Ishay, defending yourself and pointing out your qualities and good deeds for the lesser priviledged (sic) will not change the way I feel about responsible blogging. I made it clear that I used the post in which the chocolate souffle recipe featured as an example of what I believe to be some of the causes of foodblogging’s detoriating (sic) credibility and vanishing visitors’.

As this blogpost is about food blogger ethics, it is interesting to observe how opinionated and previously fiercely independent Woolworths Pantry blogger Jane-Anne Hobbs, who describes her ‘Scrumptious‘ blog as ‘Recipes and inspiration from an independent African food blog’, has shifted in her definition of ‘independence’!  In her ‘About me and Contact’ page, she writes: By ‘independent’ I mean that my blog is not sponsored by anyone, and that I don’t endorse products or services in exchange for freebies, money or publicity. Because this blog is a freebie- and ad-free site, you can be assured that any branded product I recommend to you has been selected and paid for by me, because I think it’s interesting, tasty or exciting. Disclaimer: I earn my living by working as an independent food writer, recipe developer and social media consultant for a variety of clients.  Their products and services are never mentioned on this blog. Post Script; 20 March 2012: I’ve recently been appointed one of Woolworths offical (sic) bloggers for their sponsorship of the new TV series MasterChef South Africa.  I’m am (sic) paid to write blogposts and recipes for Woolworths, and will be reproducing that content on this site. You’re welcome to send me press releases, or invite me to launches, but please note that I don’t accept samples, ‘gifts’, ‘freebies’, or any similar inducements! We must commend Ms Hobbs for being the only one of the four Woolworths Pantry bloggers honest enough to declare her blogging for payment. Each of the four bloggers’ blogs carry the same Woolworths’ banner.

We predicted that MasterChef SA would be controversial, but did not expect a food blogger ‘bun fight’ to be the cause of such controversy, in addition to the MasterChef SA sponsor Robertson’s controversy, about which we reported last week.  It will be interesting to see which further controversies will develop in the remaining sixteen weeks of MasterChef SA!  The incident also questions the SA Blog Awards’ evaluation of top food bloggers!

POSTSCRIPT 3/4: In looking at the line ‘Cook like a Chef’ in the Woolworths ads linked to their food bloggers’ recipes one must ask again what the definition of a ‘chef’ is.  All four food bloggers are recipe writers but clearly not chefs.  One wonders why Woolworths would be dishonest in its advertising in projecting the bloggers to a more glorified status and so mislead their customers.

POSTSCRIPT 3/4: Woolworths Pantry has credited Bon Appetit magazine with the ‘inspiration’ for Ms Govender’s dark chocolate soufflé recipe subsequent to the publishing of Ms Myers’ blogpost, confirming that Ms Myers was correct in what she wrote!

POSTSCRIPT 4/4: For Week 3 on the Woolworths Pantry website, only recipes by food bloggers Alida Ryder and Jane-Anne Hobbs are featured, with none by Ishay Govender and Fritz Brand. The photograph of the four food bloggers is also no longer featured!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage