Disclosure : As an IFBC Citizen Blogger, I received a reduced conference rate in exchange for sharing three posts about my experience. This is the first of three.
If it wasn’t for a little race called Ironman, I would have attended the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) 2016 conference, held in Sacramento, CA. But wait! What does an Ironman race have to do with interfering with plans to attend a food blogging conference?
Well, actually, Ironman training made a great many decisions for me in 2016, from what available time I had, who I socialized with, how much and when to eat, and yes — even determining what conferences I could attend.
Last year, I spent 15-20 hours a week on top of my hours in the office as a private practice counselor, training for Ironman Mont-Tremblant. Every spare hour was spent in the pool or in the lake, riding my bike on a trainer or up and down hills, and running for hours. To do all those things, I also had to grocery shop, prep, and cook all my own meals and make my own race food. Over time, my needs grew to the point that I could not eat outside my home, and could not spare even a day of food sensitivity by making inferior food choices. When the IFBC 2016 dates were announced, I realized they were just too close to the dates of my race, creating some risk for the Celiac athlete to try new food combinations or sample beverages. It didn’t make sense to put my race in jeopardy, so I took the conference off my plate (pun intended).
When I heard that the IFBC would return to Sacramento in 2017, my mind was made up: I would come back again. This was an exciting development, because I was really kicking myself for having missed the 2016 conference at that specific location. This post is about why I’m attending IFBC 2017 as a “citizen blogger” for the second time. And it’s also about why you as a reader should care.
Three Reasons Why I’m Attending IFBC 2017
Reason 1: My Blog’s Topic Is a “Hard Sell”
As a baby blog of just over a year and a half, I know that what I write is a bit of a “hard sell”; that is, a special niche amidst a culture more interested in ferreting out the latest food trends, exploring decadent holiday food planning for the omnivore, and exploiting outrageous presentations of baked items that look as if they have been stolen from an an episode of, “The Great British Baking Show.”
Nope, this blog would not be about that. Just it’s opposite. This blog was going to be all about making food fun again for all those people out there who would be in holy tummy hell or in the hospital if they put even one spoonful of that gigantor mango and creme trifle in their gluten-free and nut-free pie hole.
But why would I need to attend a blogger conference to write about the food world in which I am now four gluten-free years in, and nearly 30 years allergen and intolerance “free from”? What would they have to offer?
Because at the IFBC, you learn all that it is that you didn’t know you needed to learn. Friends have been telling me for several years that I should write a blog, that I should start a business, and that I could really help a person change her lifestyle, heal her guts, and become strong again, and then go on to pick adventures with her new, healthy outlook on life. When I finally started that blog in late 2015, I had no idea what I didn’t know about the food writing world. It was one stupendous, overwhelming, “Duh!” moment.
As in, “Duh, Imei – you had better figure out what you don’t know.”
Like most things we really want, good food writing and exceptional food websites are not always as simple as sharing the link to your blog, giving away recipes, and starting an Instagram account filled with pictures of food. Writing a blog for a hard-to-sell topic is like invoking the majority of food blog audiences to declare, “I could never eat like that, since I don’t have to!” And they would be correct; that is, until they either realize that food is killing them (disease, illness, metabolic syndrome), or that food is stealing their energy (lack of vibrancy, sugar lows, poor sleep). You have to know who your audience is, what they need, and how to reach them.
Just like my running training, there are a lot of hill repeats when you have a hard-to-sell topic. However, I have my eyes on the allergy moms protecting their children, the allergy families launching their first born to college, the newly diagnosed person with an Autoimmune Disease who doesn’t know the first thing about living gluten-free to help manage some of her symptoms, or the mid-life adult who has decided to remove processed foods from his diet for good because he doesn’t like how he feels when he eats them.
We are millions of people, and millions of us are drowning in a cacophony of pseudo-science advice, MLM weight loss product marketing, and a hostile food producing industry hungry for your dollars. What’s a food blogger who encourages people to purchase the more expensive grass-fed meats, organic vegetables (mostly) and fruits, and to even bypass the sugary gluten-free certified foods supposed to do?
She is supposed to get educated, and get to work!
If you were to “get to work”, what locations on the West Coast (I’m in the Pacific Northwest) that has good weather, good food, farming communities, and a great reputation for food and beverages, draw a learning community? Why, Sacramento! With its pre and post-conference excursions including visits to an olive grove and a beef raising farm, Sacramento is a great location to draw even this lover of Fall weather to sunny Sacramento. With the conference located at the Sacramento Convention Center, everything becomes central, making it easy on participants from other states to fly in, get settled, and get down the fun and serious business of growing their work and their passion. Check out this Sacramento visitor’s site for some extra things to do and see in the area.
Bloggers like myself need to sharpen their craft, keep refining their mission, and learn about the many ways there are to target their audiences to create a more vibrant and enthusiastic community that completely “gets” what it is you want to do with food blogging, food education, and yet balance it in a world where there simultaneously exists both economically-driven food insecurity and over-the-top food decadence at their extremes.
Whew, that’s huge range of interest! Between refining my blog’s mission and attending this conference, I’m even more persuaded to stay the course in terms of my message, yet remain flexible to the new ways to deliver that message: podcasts, videos, cooking course, presentations and public speaking, cookbooks, and Social Media.
Reason 2: I Like Writing
I was first introduced to the IFBC in 2015, held in Seattle just as I had launched this blog, My Allergy Advocate on WordPress. Instead of the conference mimicking the many food and wine festivals that come through your typical city all summer long, the IFBC distinguishes itself by focusing on food writers, recipe book creators, food photographers, and the many other associated fields of food journalism that audiences worldwide clamor to join in community. By tracing the many tendrils that make up the entire food and beverage industry, participants receive an in-depth education on aspects of food that delight their audiences and attract new ones.
I enjoy writing, yet I know that blogging isn’t satisfying unless it contains good content. Yet, how do you define good content? Isn’t it a powerful combination of not only factual information, but also truth and integrity, emotional stories, and entertainment? Good food writing content should not only inform us about what to consider about food, but take our minds on food journeys across times both past and future. Good food writing jumps off the page and becomes a part of your life as you cruise the grocery aisles, pass by an outdoor farmer’s market, or enjoy a meal out at your favorite restaurant.
Good food writing is based on good writing skills. Where else do you go to hone writing skills, good food journalism techniques and ethics, and then learn to deliver them in the mis en place of the food culture of the day? Many of us have left college and graduate school long ago. My last day in graduate school was back in 2001 (yeah, I’m THAT old, ha ha). Attending the IFBC is like being back in school for a few days, my spirit running high on my love of writing.
Imagine hundreds of food bloggers, food enthusiasts, food producers and sellers, and food photographers and food publication representatives coming together to study and share from their collective knowledge about the farm to fork movement, the latest in cooking with medicinal herbs, and tried-and -true methods of classic food writing as they translate across the greater digital landscape.
I hope your brain is salivating the way my writer’s mouth is drooling right now. This community becomes the depository of everything I learn about food, nourishing our bodies and minds, and eating our way to the adventures where good health can take us.
Reason 3: Food and I Are In It For The Long Haul
Long after sweet potato ‘sammiches and kale chips become “so yesterday”, my Hungry Hamster guts, my Ironman and Ultrarunner spirit, and my Autoimmune Diseases and Food Allergies are locked in to a lifetime of eating unprocessed, naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, and seed/legume/bean free food, until there is a cure.
Natural foods and I are in it for the long haul, no matter what food publications come and go, and even if the highest level of nutritional science for the U.S. remains focused on a cereal-based diet. Therefore, I need to learn from the experts, from the newbies, and from everyone who has paved the path to food journalism ahead of me, because to be honest, there are only a few food bloggers who are like me, and only one that combines post-diagnosis action, an emphasis on clean eating, and a bonus round involving movement and activity to round out an entire blog about living with both AI disease and FA’s.
That one blog would be mine. And this is why you should care. I don’t feel that I need to focus on writing what everyone else writes about; instead, as my presentation coach Dr. Michelle Mazur constantly emphasizes, it’s imperative that I focus my content on everything that makes my work different from the rest. I am focused on creating food writing content that covers the moment of discovery and diagnosis, to healing and recovery, and onto those pivots that launch us into adventurous living.
Just two weeks ago, two male ultramarathon runners were in the final lap of a five-lap, 100-ish mile course called the Barkley Marathons. It’s a grueling, multi-day race, with an elevation profile that prevents most of the 40 participants from even finishing the first three loops of the course (affectionately referred to as a ‘fun run’). I mention this running event because one of the two final runners, Gary Robbins, has Celiac Disease, and he trains on a very regimented nutritional profile. He is able to do what he does not only because he trains hard and consistently, but also because he eats real food to fuel him without causing GI distress.
For me, food writing has become a passion. Perhaps, it’s becoming an obsession, and hopefully, a good one to use on behalf of all the people I hope to meet. I’ve become an evangelist for clean eating, “free from” living, and getting people outdoors and active, one bite at a time, and one step at a time.
In one week, I’ll be running my first ultramarathon, the Mt. Si 50 Kilometer ultra. It will likely require at least six and a half hours for me to finish, and longer if there is bad weather or if my guts don’t cooperate. My active life has become a part of my food blogging platform, and I might not have seen that connection for My Allergy Advocate if I had not put that together in the hotel lobby of IFBC 2015.
Kicking ass with food blogging and kicking ass at ultrarunning and long-distance endurance sports. Who knew the connection? Yet, you do not have to be into triathlon and running to enjoy the connection between healthy, free-from living and an active life. You still need to learn how to eat if you want to join a group hike, travel to an exotic, destination travel location, take part in business meals with a company, or take part in supporting your children’s endeavors if any of you live with food sensitivities, allergies, or chronic illness.
Whatever your activities, when you realize you’re in it for the long haul, I hope to be your go-to site for resourcing, emotional support, clever hacks, and of course, excellent food journalism.
Bon appétit, and let’s keep making food fun again!
Post-script: I took third place female finisher in the Masters division at the Mt. Si 50K ultramarathon, eating sweet potato puree with maple syrup, rice balls with bacon bits, water and electrolytes, and in the last five miles, real-sugar Pepsi for the kick to the finish.