oh the hell with perfect photos of perfect food

egg muffins

Sometimes I don’t write a post here because I feel like the photograph doesn’t match my standards. You never could have told me, a dozen years ago, that I’d have to think about something called Pinterest or Instagram to lay down words on the page. For that matter, you never could have told me that I would rarely see my sentences on an actual page.

I still remember the moment I first put my fingers down on a computer keyboard. It was 1983, and I had just returned from an awkward year in London. Happy to be back with humans my own age after a lonely year, I joined every activity I could enjoy. I played softball, joined the ASB, did the Academic Decathalon, and even started a Beatles club at my school. (Don’t laugh. We had 85 members. After school, once a week, we gathered in a classroom to watch A Hard Day’s Night or listen to bootlegs.) And I started taking writing classes. It cracks me up now but one of my writing classes was called Manuscript Writing for Publication. My friend John Darnielle was in that class too. (Now he’s the lead singer of The Mountain Goats. It seems we put something in that class to use.) And I started taking journalism, carefully researching little stores about my giant Southern California high school. Someone at our hour high school won the International Math Olympiad in Czechoslovakia. That was a story I wanted to write, especially because that kid was the most socially awkward person I had ever met. He made me feel positively like a debutante. So I typed up stories, pounding the keys of the old typewriters, trying to make that k stick to the page. But somewhere in the year, a clunky computer arrived in the room. A Macintosh SE, to be precise.

Do you remember those? They were giant beige behemoths, so slow that they took two start-up disks, inserted again and again and again, one after the other, to warm up the computer and coax it to show us a home screen. I thought it was phenomenally cool. How could I type, finally as fast as I wanted, and then press a button to send something to the printer next to it? And then watch my words appear, in gaudy blue font, on a page? I thrilled to it, right away, that year I was determined to no longer be shy and live in my books alone and start talking to people and do more than gather good grades like trophies to be put on a high shelf. I knew this was something I wanted, right away. None of my newspaper stories were any good that year. I don’t have any of them saved. But I started pounding out words, making sentences, starting stories and finishing them, writing so many bad stories that eventually, slowly, oh so damn slowly, my writing started to match my taste.

(If you are any bit creative, and you haven’t read this Ira Glass quote about what it takes to become the artist you want to be, then read this.)

And there I was, seventeen years old, and starting to breathe out and become myself, but still desperately twisted in on myself, trying to be popular. Writing was my out.

Jump forward twenty years. Writing is like breathing for me. Sometimes it’s stertorous, sometimes I forget it, and sometimes I feel every single word coming out of my mind and falling onto the computer screen through my fingers. But I still don’t feel good. I feel like I’m 80 years old, instead of 38. I feel like my brain is wandering through a fog most afternoons. I feel achy and tired and my gut is wrapped in pain and I don’t know the way out. So I write and write and write. And then, I’m diagnosed with celiac and the entire world opened into happiness and energy. And words. So many words. They’re all here, on this site. Writing has always been my way of exploring, of understanding, of spitting into the wind and saying who the hell cares if it even makes sense. I’m just here, flying my fingers across the keyboard as fast as I can go.

Except, when I don’t. Except when I eat good food and forget to taste it and think instead of how it would look in the right light. And when I can’t find the right light —— where is the camera? why haven’t I bought a bounce yet? I still need to figure out all the right tools to make this a professional studio. but it’s still just our dining room table —— I stop enjoying the food. I stop wanting to write.

When I stop writing, I’m not happy. It’s pretty simple. A few days without cooking and Danny’s hands are shaky, his movements are frantic. A few days without writing and I pace the hall between the living room and kitchen, looking for something to do with my time. I check my phone too many times. I wish for it to be the end of the day so I can go to sleep.

When I first picked up a digital camera, I felt the same way I did when I touched that clunky computer in 1983. My fingers thrilled to it. I pointed it somewhere in the room and looked for light. It’s always the light I want to find. But somehow, picking up the much more expensive digital camera now has become tangled up with making photographs look good enough for Pinterest and making sure the recipe I’m posting has the right hashtags to gather enough views to make sure we have enough readers to keep growing.

And I’m right back in goddamned high school, where everyone is pretty miserable and trying so horribly hard to fake it to everyone around them.

Food blogs remind me of high school.

And I cannot stand most of the food I see on Pinterest. A perfect three-layer cake, the chocolate frosting impeccable between the golden layers, not a fingerprint on it or an imperfect swirl where the knife finally lifted from it, the slice resting delicately on an antique plate, the fork balancing just so, the towering whole cake behind it in soft focus, the light perfectly guided to illuminate the entire scene, not a thing out of place, not a hand reaching, in fact no trace of a human in sight. It’s just fake, all of it, this perfect food. I’m so damned tired of perfect food.

Worse yet, I read people’s status updates on Facebook and hear them crow about the kid’s Halloween costume they have made, saying, “I’m so proud! It’s good enough for Pinterest!” We’re still stuck in that same sorry state, doing everything for appearances.

Something insisted this morning. I read Laurie Anderson’s beautifully brief obituary for her husband, Lou Reed. “Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.”

I threw the phone up the stairs and moved to the kitchen. I put some butter in a pan. There were sliced red peppers and slivers of breakfast radishes and ribbons of leftover collard greens to put into the sizzle of butter and stir. We had nothing left in the herb drawer except the tail end of a bunch of parsley. Throw them in. I filled the skillet with vegetables and pushed them around with the spatula until they were soft. Soft dollops of them in a muffin tin, topped with smoked salmon, and eggs I beat up briskly to the beat of the music playing in the background. 18 eggs for 12 muffins. Maldon salt. A hot oven. 20 minutes later, we were eating.

But before we ate, I made us wait for the muffins to cool so I could pull them out and arrange them attractively on a wooden board. I took 25 photographs of them, bending awkwardly, trying to find the right light. And then I stood up and stopped. My kid was hungry and I was making her wait to get a photograph that would please invisible masses. Fuck it. Fuck Pinterest and pleasing and being perfect and even the notion of how this site should be.

I snapped this photograph from my shoulder, not even looking through the viewfinder. Here’s a not especially attractive photograph of egg muffins.

Let’s eat.

171 comments on “oh the hell with perfect photos of perfect food

  1. Kathryn

    I LOVE this! None of us are perfect! I will say though that those egg muffins look perfectly yummy!

  2. pamela

    Thank you for a post I wish I had the nerve to write. Yeah, it’s high school too much of the time. Those muffins look damned good though.

  3. free from fairy

    Wow! If that is not a lovely picture then I dont know what it! I am no photographer and I cannot compete with all the amazing food blogs out there! I blog because I want to help other people who have allergies, intolerance s or coeliac disease. I dont have time to take beautiful pictures…I cook to feed my family with simple, healthy freefrom food…and they are waiting for it!! If you can bear horrible photography you may enjoy my blog!!! Freefromfairy.blogspot.co.uk. I love your post!!!

  4. kim

    Shauna, I fucking love you! In the days when it all the GF cooking and searching and shopping for my son who has CD gets too much you make me smile. Thank you x

  5. Marisa Miller

    Not related, are you coming to Sacramento on your way to somewhere else more enjoyable on the potluck tour? We are so progressive and not, all at the same time here, but the history is rich, the farms are everywhere, Hank Shaw would probably take you foraging, and I would love to come say hello!

  6. hilary

    Ok, I loved this post — but the funny thing is, that “imperfect” photo drew me in a lot more than the “ready for pinterest” ones. I almost always like your writing, but I love the imperfections and the “this is a meal I could imagine eating just now” aspect.

  7. Monique Houle

    You are absolutely right. When I think of all the times I had to re-warm a meal because I was not happy with any of the photos. Pinterest quality photo is out, imperfect photo is in. Amen.

  8. Paulette

    They look mighty fine to me. Whenever I post something I have created I am hyper critical. But hey, lets post them anyway! Those who look at the creation and in the case of food, say MMMMMM in response enjoy the image. They are not checking for perfect lighting. Artificially beautiful food pics are artificial (and lets face it who knows how much photoshopping goes on). These look great. I love your post. Yes, lets just enjoy!

  9. Anna

    Yes! I am so not a perfectionist, but creating is my fuel and my passion. I write and post on my blog and a few people read it. I create for my tiny business and make a little money. I would love to reach more people and many times have tried to make it more styled and what I thought would catch more eyes. But I believe the most important part is the creating (and not being afraid to share even if it isn’t perfect). I wish more people felt free to create without worrying that it was “good enough.”

    1. shauna

      Yes! I went through a phase, and I dip back into it sometimes, where I think I have to appeal to more people. And then I miss the messy, freeing process of just writing. I realized I hadn’t written a post in months that was off the cuff. With the planning for our trip, and then being on it, and then writing about it, I got a little blocked up. Creating is one of the best acts of being alived.

  10. Ginny

    I am anti-Pinterest! I teach Zentangle classes, and one of the tenets is that there is no wrong or right way to do a pattern. Therefore, you can’t make a mistake. I have what I call “The Hall of Dang!), which is examples of things I have totally screwed up and can laugh about. I show this in one of my classes. Have you ever taken a class and had the teacher show you examples of his/her first efforts? I never have. Who needs a perfect straw with a bit of raffia tied in a bow around it?

  11. Terri

    Thank you so much for this honest and courageous post, Shauna! I know you aren’t looking to be called courageous, but there is no other word for such honesty from someone whose writing and website contribute to her family’s income. I was just a beginner in the blogging world when health issues forced me to stop writing a few months ago. I couldn’t even stand long enough to cook for my family, let alone stand over test recipes for thirty minutes with my camera. Everything was put into perspective. Now, I am on the mend and I appreciate the real joys of writing and sharing food with loved ones and friends so much more. Thank you again for this post!

  12. Jane

    Back in the day you’d just bookmark stuff you liked. Privately. I don’t understand Pinterest. Or Instagram. What is the attraction of documenting the minutae of your life for strangers? It’s a bit too “out there” or self obsessed for my liking. Blogging is a totally different kettle of fish but it does drive me nuts the wailing about audiences & content. Write what you damn well want to write (which you’re now doing — yay!) instead of what you think your audience wants you to write. If they don’t like what they’re reading they can look away.

    Oh and that looks like a perfectly fine photo of what sounded like delicious breakfast muffins. In fact you’ve inspired me to make some for this morning’s breakfast — thanks!

  13. Melissa "Melicious" Joulwan

    Brilliant!

    Thank you for putting into words how I, too, feel about writing. I remember that switch from typewriter to computer, too… the swapping of the disks! The tossing out of the white-out!

    Can’t wait ’til we’re in the same place at the same time to geek out about words and food and family.

  14. Robyn

    Hallelujah and amen.

    I started a cooking blog, and then sheepishly quit it after a few months, because I felt like it was so … lame, or unpolished, or scattered, or something, compared to the many,many highly-produced ones out there. It felt not good enough. But I miss it, and you’re inspiring me again. Thank you.

    Your snapshot still make me want to reach in and pluck a muffin off the board, by the way. And you should drop F bombs more often!

  15. B. Morgan

    While I may agree wholeheartedly about the sentiment, you have just lost a follower due to the lack of decent vocabulary.

      1. Juniper

        I understand where the first commenter is coming from. Obviously you have the right to express yourself forcefully on your own blog, but it is very out of character for you. The family-friendly language is why I feel –well, used to feel– comfortable reading your blog with my precocious five-year-old on my lap. The same five-year-old who just asked, “mommy, what does f–k mean?” Awkward. Thank you for changing it but the timing couldn’t have been worse.

        1. shauna

          I’m sorry that you were reading with your five-year-old and had to explain that. But honestly? I have a five-year-old. I would never read a blog post out loud to her without reading it first. This doesn’t purport to be a children’s site. Even without the language, this isn’t a piece for a five-year-old.

        2. shauna

          Juniper, I have a 5-year-old who reads too. She’s going to pick up words. And given that she can read now, you might not want to let her sit on your lap and read blogs anymore. Everything is a teachable moment. When Lu asked about that word, because she saw it somewhere, I said, “Well, it’s a word people use to express themselves forcefully. And sometimes, in very few situations, it’s just the right word. But it’s an offensive word to most people, so don’t say it out of the house. Or much at all.” So maybe something good can come out of it. But again, I wouldn’t suggest this is a site for a five-year-old to read anyway. I don’t let Lu read it or other blogs.

        3. Juniper

          Agreed. I just wasn’t expecting that word in huge letters from a previously safe source. I’ll switch you to after-bedtime reading. She will miss your pictures but I thank you for your advice.

        4. shauna

          Oh I’m not going to be doing this on a regular basis! This post has been wanting to come out for a long time. I was also surprised at the language. But it insisted.

      2. Lynn

        Oh, for crying outloud.…Shauna’s daughter is sitting on her daddy’s lap and his sweatshirt says “Bacon gives me a lardon” so you can’t possibly think the F-word is so awful. Shauna can write whatever she dang well pleases here, folks. Get over it. And I’m all for ignoring Pinterest and Facebook and all that other junk that makes you look at your own life and feel less-than. I love your blog because you have never, EVER, pretended to be anyone or anything other than who and what you are, Shauna. That is so totally rare in this day-and-age.

  16. Jenn Sutherland

    Amen, sister! I put up my first post in 2 months last night, solely because a friend asked for a recipe based on my Instagram photo of dinner. I’m tired of perfect photos — I don’t have the patience for it. Mark is the better photographer among us (clearly), but he’s not around when I’m cooking most of the time…I’ve decided not to care, because it’s the words I miss. If a dark, yellowed iPhone photo is the best I can do, cooking in the dark of fall evenings, so be it. It’s the thoughts and love for the story that matter. It’s time to evolve.

  17. Victoria

    Be brave.… do what stopped me from blogging, lol. Take pictures that totally show your horribly messt stove.

  18. Nicki Inch

    Those muffins look perfect to me, they look delicious and I’m sure Lou loved them. You have nothing to prove to me. I follow you because of your passion, your honesty and because I truly enjoy your writing style. I love living my perfectly imperfect life…and in all I’ve been able to determine of you and your family …so do you.

  19. Pam MacKenzie

    Totally agree ~ when I saw the picture of your muffins on FB I thought, yum, AND, they look like something that I can make, we all can make!! Sick of making something & it looks NOTHING like the picture in the cookbook, ha!
    Thanks & love your writing too.
    Well said.

    1. shauna

      Having been through several cookbook shoots, and loving the people who made those happen, I can say that it’s an unbelievable process to make a dish look as good as it does in a cookbook.

  20. Robin

    Reminds me of my favorite prayer ever when my sister insisted on praying before a meal while her baby was crying in the high chair. My wise brother-in-law prayed “God’s neat, lets eat”, lifted his head and said “now feed that baby!

  21. Rita@thissortaoldlife

    All of this applies to our niche (home blogging) as well. A while back I pledged to take real pictures only. No hiding cords or moving clutter from one side of the room to the other or any other kinds of staging. What you see is how I live. Feels a million times better! We need to see and celebrate the real beauty of the real lives we’re living.

  22. Adina | Gluten Free Travelette

    Yes so much to all of this. This kind of honesty and look into real life is why I’ve been a long time reader of yours. I read food blogs and use Pinterest to get ideas for my real life and selling some sort of fantasy where everything is perfect isn’t real life and isn’t relatable.

  23. Wendy

    Thank you for this! It is so refreshing for someone like you, with the audience you have to express frustration with perfection. What, it’s not enough to be a great cook, recipe developer, writer, partner, parent, etc., but also to take a certain type of photo as well? If you have the time and love it, great. I just hate that it seems to be a requirement now. I love to cook and I love to feed my family and friends. I love to share recipes and tips with them too. But I just don’t love taking photos. I tried, and wished I’d get more into it, and felt bad about not caring about it enough, and was ridiculed by my teenaged daughter with whom I shared the camera for not trying harder to master the manual settings of a DSLR. I learned that I don’t want to worry about the poor light by the time dinner is ready in the fall and winter, and mostly, I just don’t want to stop the flow of the evening. And, frankly, if I continue to have only 20 people read my blog because my photos are mediocre, that’s OK too because if I inspire two more friends to cook at home, I’ve achieved enough. I’m now photographing with my iPhone and my daughter has sole custody of the Nikon.

    1. shauna

      Good on you! It is ridiculous, isn’t it? We’re expected to be all these things at once? Silly. Let’s just do what we can.

  24. Maureen Briglio

    You ok Shauna, you sound gluteny.…LOL..I get the point though! Here Here we don’t give a hoot about your pictures, I love the real food shots…they are what I appreciate and mine are going to look different that yours, so there! I love taking pic of my meals in progress from ingredients to dish, then I post on FB, I eat alone! but sharing food is satisfying even if in cyberspace!

  25. Annie

    My favorite way to do this is to line the muffin pan with prosciutto and then fill with the egg mixture and bake. OH MY GOODNESS it’s amazing! And it’s not pretty. Just damn fine food

  26. Jenn

    haha! For what it’s worth the most popular photos on pinterest aren’t actually the most well-executed photos on pinterest. So I never really understood the standard of perfection that made something “pinterest worthy”…
    And yes, food blogs are totally high school — all the way down to all the petty clique crap and drama llamas I spent so long convincing myself I didn’t need back in high school. It’s why I don’t think of myself as a food blogger; instead, I’m simply a photographer and gluten free home-cook who “happens to have a blog”. At least for me personally, it’s an important distinction.

    1. shauna

      Exactly, Jenn! The photographs that grab my heart are so much more spontaneous and unusual than the popular ones on Pinterest. Then again, look at the Explore page on Instagram and you just want to stop it all. I love your photographs. And I still don’t call myself a blogger. I’m a writer, a recipe developer, a cookbook author, and I keep a website. That’s how I say it.

  27. Melissa

    How refreshing to read this post. The pressure i feel some days when I am putting a post together is awful because I feel the photographs and aren’t good enough to attract people. Thank you for freeing me from that feeling.

  28. Faith (musicandeyeliner)

    Hi, I’m a new reader of your blog — and new to gluten free eating! I’m lucky to not be diagnosed coeliac, but I do have an allergy to wheat. This blog (& others) have been amazingly useful for me, and I wanted to say a huge THANK YOU!
    Thank you for your effort, time, energy, great writing, gorgeous recipes, inspiration, beautiful pictures…
    But there is real beauty in imperfection…which I think you’ve captured here. I love this post, and I agree so much with you! Food is to be enjoyed, smelled, tasted, chewed, slurped, sipped, devoured! It may look pretty, but really, that’s not important. A rugged looking cake or loaf is usually the best, where the cook is putting heart and soul into selecting ingredients and mixing — not worrying about symmetry or icing!

    This is great x

    1. Tagati

      Hurrah! You stated what was on my mind when I read Shauna’s words this morning.

      Perfection is not the end; good food made with love and enjoyed is!

      Mahalo.

  29. Hasu

    You. Are. Awesome. Your words. Your photos. Many times we search and search for what we imagine perfect to be. We say, we’ll be satisfied and happy when it is perfect. But, it never happens. We usually miss the moments of perfection that are presented to us moment to moment. You didn’t miss it at all. It is perfect just the way it is.

  30. Kezia

    Thank you for this. Since when did good food automatically mean good lighting and props and backgrounds? I love being inspired by great food photography but it does seem almost a prerequisite to being a food lover — you can’t be good enough unless you take flawless photos. What you said about food blogging being like high school — well I’m high school age and this is so true. This post is what I needed to hear!

  31. julie franken

    Shauna:
    Loved your post and this photograph, reminding me of your earlier photos. Digital and the know-how of photoshop can be so seductive. I’m a lover of the beauty and the inevitability of imperfection, too, and yet I sometimes I just can’t stop fiddling. Your post was a breath of fresh air. I am going to try these egg muffins. And a special thank you for sharing the meditative Laurie Anderson quote.

  32. sheila

    You go girl!!

    I love your writing. I love your cookbooks. I love this post.

    And I don’t know if this matters, but I think it does, I’m not even gluten-free.

    You have a voice that rings with honesty and integrity — this is what comes through for me. And yes, I love looking a pretty pictures — but that is not what keeps me coming back.

    Keep fucking writing.

    xoxo to you today.
    Sheila Petruccelli

  33. Jordan

    Interesting post, but isn’t just pinterest that is the culprit. I started blogging after the passing of my grandpa to share some of our family’s stories of food and the memories surrounding it. I tried, sometimes successfully but most of the times not, to get my photos which I thought were rather good on foodgawker. Awkward angle, among other criticism, is what I hear a lot. I wonder if these people judging the photos know anything about photography. Pinterest is useful as anything can be pinned and gawked at even my awkward angle photos, but what I don’t like is how people always say, “this is a recipe I found on pinterest” when really the recipe is from a cool hardworking girl with something to share and to say!

    1. shauna

      Oh yes! I completely agree. I think it’s an entire weird system that has developed the last 10 years. Bleh.

  34. Elizabeth

    I get your posts for your writing rather than your food, which also is fantastic. The photo was perfect. The food looks delicious. Anytime you move towards what “feels” right, is always the right way for you to go. Be kind to yourself!!!

  35. Jessica

    I just read this to my family out loud because I chuckled when I read it to myself. They all cracked up as well. We are a family that revels in non perfection; some of the best things we’ve done happened because something went wrong. Our best family photos happen when everyone is laughing not just smiling.Take those quick photos and then enjoy the amazing food.

  36. Jaimie

    Holy hell on Earth, you just said all the things I think every moment of every day but forget to write down for fear of appearance. Kudos, bravo, you’ve given me a new outlook on the bravery of my writing, my cooking, life.

  37. farmerpam

    I’m proud to say I’ve never been to “pinterest”, I don’t “twitter”, or “facebook”. Hell , I don’t even own a cell phone. Can’t stand those contrived photos on most food blogs. Just. Be. Real. Fuckin A, you go girl!

  38. Kirsten

    Love this photo, it looks like things that come out of my kitchen. I don’t like the perfect photos — they don’t inspire me to cook which surely is what it’s meant to be about?

  39. Elle

    I have to say, I find myself falling victim to the same mindset semi-frequently. It somehow seems a disservice to post a grainy picture of an amazing recipe … but then again who’s really judging? :)
    Here’s to less than perfect photos and more delicious recipes!

  40. molly

    Billy Collins, today, on NPR: “We all have 200 really, really bad poems in us. It’s best if we just get them out in high school.”

    Amen to you, to this, to kitchen table “studios” sticky and crumb-covered and smudged and marker-stained, and to egg muffins.

    xo,
    M

  41. Story

    Yes! Thank you! The photos just don’t matter as much as the people you are sharing the meal with. Photos aren’t perfect. Neither are people.

  42. Pat Machin

    Well done for getting back to what most food writers (whether bloggers or in print) probably started out doing. One of your replies was ” they look like something that I can make, we all can make!!”

    That’s why I started sharing recipes and you have brought me back to where I should be.

    Thank you.

    1. shauna

      I’m so glad to help. This came out rather urgently, after thinking about these things for a couple of years, and I really put it out there, unvarnished. I’m thrilled that so many people have found something for themselves in something I needed to write.

  43. Joanne Armenio

    Wow, what a post! The photo was great and more importantly it looks delicious!! Don’t waste time on trying to be perfect as it’s an unattainable goal. Your writing is beautiful and your food always looks delicious!!!!

  44. Kimberly

    To a certain extent I understand what you are saying.
    But I think it is important to remember a few things. First of all, food blogging is part of your career. You choose this and deliberately started a blog. Everybody has ups and downs about their jobs, it is hard to find something that you can do day in and day out without ever getting annoyed or frustrated. Secondly, Pinterest is entirely voluntary. If it bothers you that much, why don’t you just take down your profile? If you can’t take down your profile because you are a food blogger, then that is just the cost of doing business for your particular business.
    If you don’t like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, twitter, or food blogs; they why participate in them at all?

    1. Lynn

      Amen to that! I think we all forget that we lived fine before all of those, people continue to live fine without them, books are published and blog enjoyed without them. If they bother you — IGNORE THEM!!!!!

    2. shauna

      Kimberly, that’s going a little far. When I started writing here, there wasn’t any business of food blogging. The few of us who were doing it did so because we wanted to share stories. And take photographs, of course. But they were little moments of life. There weren’t bloggers with very expensive cameras back then. This work became my job, and I’m eternally grateful for that. But that doesn’t mean I have to do it the way so many other are doing. And I can be here, writing and sharing stories and recipes Danny and I have created, without doing it the way other food bloggers have co-opted the process.

      1. Kimberly

        I agree with you that food blogging has changed since it first started and that adapting to that change would be a challenge. I also concede that when you started blogging there is no way you could have anticipated how much this industry would change.
        That being said, I stand by my opinion that you could very easily cancel your Pinterest account if it bothers you this much. You often say that if people disagree with you — or do not like your content — then they are free to read blogs elsewhere. I agree with you. But the same idea applies here — if you don’t like Pinterest, then do not go on Pinterest.

        1. shauna

          I think you’re slightly missing the point. It’s not Pinterest, per se. I still go there to look at photos I find interesting and pin things for ideas. Not often, but sometimes. INstead, I’m talking about the way that Pinterest and all the other photo sites like FoodGawker and Tastespotting (as many here have referenced) have started to dictate what a food blog should be. There are so many good ways to tell a story.

  45. Ann Beechey

    Gee Shauna, you took a long time to get to the point there — and yet I have heard you say all this in one way or another for ages. Learn the lesson — we don’t want perfection from you. I’ll say it again. We don’t want perfection from you. What I keep coming back for here is Reality. The hungry kid, the empty herb drawer, the whipped up meal out of odds and ends … the pleasure in friends and food and life. 25 Photos! (Please tell me you deleted all but one!) Go easy on yourself, you’re doing a good job … judgemental you can leave behind, leave that to the people who love to judge. They’re not relevant to you, and your love of life. You rock the way you are. You are serving your purpose. You’re great the way you are. Rant over, but the love remains.

    1. shauna

      Well thanks for the love! The line, “you took a long time to get to the point there,” is another reason I cringe at most food blogs. Most of the time, the story is in the meandering for me.

  46. Mary

    I’ve been reading your blog for years, Shauna. This is the first comment I’ve left. I love you for all that you do, all that you share, and for your perfect use of the f-word today. Many x’s and o’s from our family to yours.

  47. Dani Meyer

    I loved this Shauna! I am not gluten-free but have many friends and someone always is. Gluten-free or not I will always end up back on your beautifully imperfect blog :)

    Shared it on our Facebook page this morning :)

  48. Jen

    Don’t think I’ve ever grinned so much reading the words “fuck it”! Can imagine it must’ve felt awesome to write it!

    1. shauna

      You know, it did. I stood back and wondered if I should pull it and say heck instead. But that wouldn’t have been the right word.

  49. Sonja

    Great post! This makes me feel a bit less pressured to be perfect all the time on my new blog. I actually have a couple of recipes that I haven’t posted, because the pictures didn’t turn out right… I will post them now! It’s about the food, not about the perfect picture. Thanks for reminding me!

  50. Barbara | Creative Culinary

    Everyone laments the nature of what food blogging has become and yet…too often perseveres in hoping to become ‘just like them.’ It’s one of the instances in my life when I’m glad I’m older. I love to cook; it’s been a creative and nurturing environment for me for 40 years but nothing drives me except my own expectations. If I’ve got company at hand; a quick photo might get done but taking care of my guests is tantamount.
    I’m actually loving photography but I know that my aim is to simply have my food look decent; I’m not guided by the expectations of photo sites, none of them. Though I will say that Pinterest has been kind to me…and I love it. SO much less subjective than FG and TS; no one actually REJECTS you there…oh except other bloggers who only pin expecting reciprocity and traffic. No thanks. It seems food bloggers as a whole always look at every avenue as just one more way to build traffic; sort of bastardizing everything along the way. I pin and like and stumble what I’m attracted to; not what’s expected of me. So much more fun!

    1. shauna

      Barbara, I so appreciate you saying this. I’m 47. My agent calls me the grandmother of food blogging. So I remember a time (oh, all of 8 years ago!), when people wrote about their meals and their stories and put decent photographs up. And then Foodgawking and Tastespotting began and it all became a competition. Maybe I’m just too old to join in now. It all seems silly. (I use Pinterest for myself, to pin and stumble as well. But the expectation of having a lot of followers there confounds me.)

  51. Karla

    Perfect is boring…and it doesn’t really exist. Always love your grounded cooking and spirit. That’s what I keep coming back for. Thank you!!

  52. Debbie

    I think that the food blogging world is simply changing, as every industry does, to be more visually driven. Any professional has to keep up with changes in their chosen line of work, whether they like it or not. Have you thought about taking a photography seminar or even an online workshop to pick up some new tips? That might help with the frustration.

    For example.…I have been an art teacher for almost 25 years and it’s been very difficult to evolve into the technology-driven world of today — when I started, kids weren’t checking answers on their cell phones or texting during class! I’ve had to learn online grading systems and intranet that we use to communicate with other teachers and even the parents…if I said “fuck the system” I’d have been out of a job long ago! Even the most creative fields evolve, so while I get your frustration, I’m not sure I agree that bucking the “system” is the right thing to do here.

    1. shauna

      Of course, I understand what you are saying. And I have been keeping up, with new cameras, and photography workshops, and taking 10,000 photographs to grow better. I still love taking photographs. And I still love writing here, or else I would have closed up shop years ago. But I was also a teacher, so I know how a teacher has to work within a system that was created long ago, with not much wiggle room for real change. It’s part of why I left teaching. (All power to the teachers who stay!) I’m a writer first, always. I began here by writing and taking simple photographs. From all the comments here, it’s clear that’s there plenty of room for all kinds of blogs, not just the ones with photographs that are popular on Pinterest.

  53. Sara

    I love this entire post. I always enjoy your photography, your recipes are delicious, but really it’s the story that gets me, that touches my heart, and you sure tell a good story, over and over again.

  54. Michael Procopio

    I am so delighted that you wrote this post. And for the fact that you turned your comments back on.

    For a long time, I felt somewhat less-than because my photos were less than gorgeous. And then I realized that my readers didn’t come to my site for the beauty of my photos. They came to actually read.

    I’m proud to say that every photo I’ve taken for my blog for the past two years has been taken with my iPhone.

    1. shauna

      And you know how much I love your writing, Mr. Procopio. Increasingly, I take more and more of them with the iPhone — at least 80% of our trip photos were with the iPhone. It’s more spontaneous, not so futzy. I need the spontaneity, the feeling of being in the moment. It helps me to stay there. And you! You’re prime example of the kind of writer I want to read. If there were no photos, I’d still come to your site for every new post.

  55. Jacqueline

    This to me is a meditation on perfection and how we miss LIFE–gorgeous, messy, hungry, satiated life–if we focus only on presentation and not on who we are cooking for. Ya know? Actual hungry people. To me it is the same meditation I feel many chefs need when it comes to be pissed off about “special needs eaters” like those of us who cannot tolerate gluten. The focus is not what we create in an of itself, the focus is on what we create for others that nourishes them. Sometimes nourishment is gorgeous, but sometimes is a big brown pot of “ugly” lentil soup that makes you cry on a cold night when you need something to warm your heart and soul and body to the core. Ugly be damned; the real beauty is when we are truly fed!

    Sending love and light your way tonight (especially as you continue to dream of adding another child to your home).

    1. shauna

      Yes and yes and yes. I love lentil sup. I think I need to do a lentil soup post for this reason alone. Nourishment. Also, what a line: “gorgeous, messy, hungry, satiated life.”

  56. Catastrophe Jones

    Laughing so hard I snorted, and pulling stitches from recent surgery. Fuck Pinterest, indeed! :)

    I’ve loved your site ever since I came across it, not for the photos, not for anything artfully arranged, but for the sheer joy I can see and feel in your life, every time you post. I’ve got a whole family full of celiacs, and I’ve made many of the foods you’ve posted about, learning my own way to recreate beloved recipes of old, being adventurous in the kitchen, eating my way through the mistakes, because many of them turned out delicious in their own right.

    What I’m trying to say is that you’re awesome, and thank you for it.

  57. brooke@Foodwoolf

    amen. I love your words and your search for the light. It comes through in your words and in your pictures–no matter how perfectly imperfect they are. And yeah. Fuck pinterest!

  58. Allison (Spontaneous Tomato)

    I loved this! Thank you for writing it! I think you’re right that the whole Pinterest/Tastespotting/etc. aspect of food blogging is a lot like high school– and just like high school a lot of the anxiety surrounding the perfectionism and the desire to fit in, please, and impress (even when the goal of perfection everyone is measuring themselves against is completely unrealistic and *fake*) is insanely frustrating, exhausting, and unnecessary.

    I also love that Ira Glass quote. I’ve read it once before, but thanks for the reminder that with practice and perseverance our work gradually, gradually starts to match our taste. (That must be one legitimate reason why my own blog photos are sometimes not good enough for me… all the other Pinterest-y reasons aside.) But when it comes down to it, a food blog is really all about the FOOD more than the photographs. This post is a perfect example of how things should be. :)

  59. Jill

    Ha, I popped over to your site today because I am in the Puget Sound for the first time and remembered you lived in this area. I’ve spent the past few days in a pretty depressed funk and I realize part of it is feeling like a failure in keeping up with my blog (not a food blog) and all of the social media that “should” go with it. So yesterday I wrote about it… the ugly messy snivelly night and day I’d had. And connected more with people than I had in a while.
    Authenticity, craving it in so many ways. To take a ride on my Vespa (thats my “topic”) and enjoy, rather than wonder where I’d pull over to frame a shot of the bike.
    My income derives from online work, but there’s an exhaustion around being online and keeping up with it all. I can only imagine you feel the same.
    So glad you popped into my head today and that turned into my reading this piece! Your perspective always rocks, but this was particularly awesome! (Oh, and I can’t stand Pinterest, lol, so don’t look for me there!)

  60. Skye

    I love this post. I am terrible at taking photographs and have so many recipes that I don’t share because I can’t get a good shot. So frustrating.
    You are completely right — food is to be eaten and enjoyed, not left to go cold while we try to get a good photograph. Let’s not allow pinterest to spoil any more good meals.

  61. Stephanie

    Thank you for the photo! I’m inspired to make those! (what temp?)
    Here’s the thing: Making a gorgeous meal is a luxury. Making tasty food from what we have around is a necessity. I’m a very good home cook, but couldn’t make it as a chef. I like mismatched bite sizes, I’d rather risk stringy bites than toss or take the time to peel broccoli and asparagus stems, and I sometimes forget to taste along the way. I can’t make the same thing the same way twice. You have learned from a skilled chef, so we need to learn from your thrown-together meals in order to improve ours! I’m still waiting for that sesame-encrusted tofu recipe from back when you thought you were allergic to eggs. Thanks for your honesty and your food.
    (BTW: Good news combo is that purple cauliflower and yellow cheddar make a lavender soup–I was afraid it would turn brown–but I think the sharper taste of white cauliflower is actually better-suited.)
    You’ll keep growing because we’ll keep telling our friends they need to read your blog! I don’t understand and don’t use pinterest or instagram!

    1. shauna

      Stephanie, yes! The line I like the best here? “Making a gorgeous meal is a luxury.” I wish people remembered that more often, including me. p.s. I want some lavender soup!

  62. Anya

    I’m uncertain why a grown woman would feel threatened by other people’s photos on Pinterest; if “Pinterest is like high school” that’s only because you let it be. The rest of us left high school and moved on long ago. Pretty food photos are simply that — pretty. I don’t get intimidated by them because I realize they are staged. I am not a cookbook writer; if I were I might see those photos and strive to improve my own skills if I felt they were lacking — isn’t that what being a professional is? And I do know about being a professional artist.
    I am a professional musician, which means I have to aim for perfection. In the music world, especially the classical music world, there is no room for anything less. I have spent literally thousands of hours with my cello, practicing until my hands were swollen. A music career meant sacrifice, starting in high school; it meant sometimes being told my playing was not acceptable, do it again. Instead of crying because I wasn’t perfect, I gritted my teeth and worked harder. I still do; I cannot decide to play only the pieces I feel like playing (if so I would never play Pachelbel Canon again, ever), or settle for playing “pretty good”, because the conductor would roast me alive. People are paying money to see the orchestra, or paying me to play at their wedding or whatever — they expect beautiful music from me, and I expect it from myself. I am a professional, so why would I want to give them anything less than my absolute best? Whenever I work with better cellists I admire them and I learn from them, they push me to become better; I don’t run from them, crying that they made me feel inferior. There are certainly many moments in my career I have cried (privately), and there have been a few moments of abject terror onstage as I missed my cue, or went blank, or knocked over my stand…yeah, good times. Many more moments I have wondered if the low pay, repetitive stress injuries, crazy hours, and crazier conductors are worth it, and my answer is always “yes.” Moreover, I chose this profession, and I love it, warts and all. You chose food blogging, and I suppose Pinterest comes along with it? If so, that is one wart you must learn to embrace. Instead of making you say “Pinterest hurt my feelings so fuck it” grow up and let those photos challenge you to be the best you can be. Or simply don’t go on Pinterest, and defriend people from your Facebook page if they irritate you– seriously, who cares what people write about Halloween? Who has time for such nonsense?
    Perfection is an unattainable goal, but the pursuit of it is what art is all about. If you aren’t going to try your absolute best for yourself AND the “faceless masses” (who, I presume, buy your cookbooks just like they buy orchestra tickets) then maybe you should think rethink this career.

    1. shauna

      Gosh, there’s so much anger in this comment that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to publish it. But I did. I feel like this comment is very much about your life, and that’s fine. But you missed the point of what I was writing. That’s your right.

      I’m as dedicated to my writing as you are to your music. That’s what I wrote about, how all the noise outside my craft was seeping into my head and getting in the way of doing my craft. For hundreds of years, writers have been writing about food and their lives without having to think about photography. Of course I am doing my absolute best for myself and my writing. But keeping my kid from eating her breakfast until I get the “best” photograph I can is not doing the best I can for her. Or for my writing.

    2. shauna

      Also, I very much disagree with you. I don’t believe for a moment that the pursuit of perfection is what art is all about. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

      1. Anya

        Shauna, why say I am very angry? I am not in the least. I simply disagreed with your post, which I found to be a bewildering tantrum, complete with comparisons to high school. I have spent 30 years on my craft, and I love it, but it is evolving too, just like writing is. Some of the changes I like, some not so much, but I have to grow and change, otherwise I will get left in the dust.
        As for the people you deem perfect, I’ll bet those perfect people do not think of themselves as such, either! No one is perfect, but by playing that game you are just perpetuating the divisions you say you want to abolish, and giving power to anonymous people where they had none before. Live your career to whatever standards you wish, but when someone does something “better” try and learn from it. Maybe that person worked harder, or has more talent; maybe that person just got lucky. If you truly believe you are doing your best than you would not be threatened / bothered by something as innocuous as Pinterest. The images are just images to be viewed, nothing more nothing less. Or you can just ignore them completely and make your own images. It might make you happier.

        1. shauna

          I think you missed the point of what I was saying. It’s not that I think the images on Pinterest are better than mine and I am threatened by them. Every writer or musician or tennis player is made better by reading others’ work or listening to others’ music or playing against a stronger competitor. It’s that I am bewildered by the popularity of such sterile photographs and the entire industry built around them. What is popular often isn’t every good. There’s nothing new about that, of course. But when we hear the deafening roar of what we are supposed to be doing, sometimes it seeps in. And when that happens to me, I have to step back and say, “No thanks. That isn’t for me. I’m going to find my own way.”

      1. Anya

        How am I self-righteous, Canuck? I am simply pointing out that 1)perfection is in the eye of the beholder, so who cares about staged, manicured photos from food magazines. Or for that matter, cookbooks like Shauna’s where the photos are not “perfect” but they are carefully styled to be “imperfect”, kind of perfection itself. 2)all art changes and evolves –remember, people used to write books with a quill and parchment! and 3) it is a professional’s job to change and evolve, too, and to constantly set the bar higher for herself. And I never said I was perfect, only that I strive to be the best I can be.
        As for perfectionism in art, of course artists strive for perfection (whatever that means to them); The Greeks talked about it endlessly with their world of forms. Does anyone think ballet dancers don’t strive for perfection with every muscle in their being? Does anyone listen to Mozart’s Requiem and think he wasn’t trying to reach a perfect state? Can anyone ever visit the Taj Mahal and not see the quest for perfection in the laying of every stone and tile?
        Personally, I think perfection gets a bad rap, but I only brought it up because that was the topic of the post! I simply opined that Shauna, as a professional food blogger, would be happier by either not looking at Pinterest or embracing it as a learning tool and evolving with it. Her own cookbooks have professionally styled, beautiful photos of food, made to look perfectly imperfect, if you will; so what’s the big deal with other people doing it?
        You can agree or disagree with me, but I find it sad that you would need to resort to ugly name calling instead of writing a thoughtful opinion of the topic at hand; perhaps you can ask for a thesaurus for Christmas.

  63. Adrienne

    YEAH!!!!!! and by the way, they look GOOD, I mean GOOD like they would taste GOOD and I want to EAT them. As a daily devoted reader who loves your blog and your instagram photos, what I love most is the story they tell not how they look. You are such a good story teller with photos which I adore!

    1. Kristy

      Sometimes just being yourself is a revolutionary act! I say don’t worry about defending yourself…just be (and inspire others to be…this post has encouraged me to finish a writing project and not let the fear of not being perfect get in the way). F*ck yeah!

  64. Daytona @ Outside Oslo

    What a great post. Thanks for speaking–ahem, writing–something that’s likely on the many of us who write food blogs. I studied both writing and photography in school, then went on to pursue a career in the former while unfortunately disregarding the latter. These days I’m enjoying relearning the art of photography–that is, when I’m not kicking myself for not producing a “food porn”-worthy shot. Thanks for the reminder that there’s true beauty in what’s real, not just what’s staged, styled, propped, and edited. May we all move forward in our blogging with that in the back of our minds.

  65. heather

    Well, there are food stylists out there who professionally photograph food. They groom the food, they make fake food to replace the real food that never looks the way they want it. It is easy to get sucked into looking at photos of food from blogs and be all like yum, why can’t my food ever look like that?
    I’d much rather see something real, the evidence of life and creativity.

  66. KathyAnne

    It’s funny how fads in food photography change, isn’t it? I remember reading that good old Time-Life Foods of the World series when I was a kid and when I look at the photos now, they look very strange indeed! In 20 years time, the style current on Pinterest now is going to look pretty funny, too.

    That said, I have to agree with Anya above–the point of art may not be perfection, but if you want to be paid as a professional for your art or craft or other job, then those paying you have a reasonable expectation that your work will be up to a professional standard, and that includes both constant striving for improvement and maintaining a professional tone in your communication. If you want to follow your craft as a passionate amateur, with room to do exactly the recipes (or music, or whatever) you want to the standard you want, then it’s best to have something else to pay the bills so you can be completely free about how you follow your amateur interest. And I mean “amateur” not in a pejorative sense, but in the strict sense of one who does something for the love of it … that’s how I approach music-making myself these days, as I didn’t have what it took to follow it as a profession. My hat is off to Anya and others like her who have put in the long hours of hard work and the awesome humility necessary to be a professional artist!

    1. Anya

      Kathy Anne, your comment about old cookbooks made me laugh. My husband collects old cookbooks and looking at some of the recipes is actually stomach turning…so much Jell-O! And thank you for the kind words.

      1. KathyAnne

        You’re welcome, Anya, and I must be kindred spirits with your husband, as there’s nothing I enjoy more than a 1960s Jell-o cookbook from the library sale! Such horrifying recipes and horrifying pictures. Love them!!

        Shauna, take inspiration from those fabulous Jell-o cookbooks and rest assured that Pinterest’s current style will soon look just as dated … even if they’re not quite as brightly colored!

        I do find the point someone else raised about food photography that is deliberately styled to look imperfect very interesting. Nigel Slater’s cookbooks are a great example of this, and it’s all carried out by professional photographers working very hard to get that “imperfect” result. Which is why they look so delicious, drooooool …

  67. Jen Zatoth

    I have to agree with Anya. I think you are reading too much into the photos of Pinteret. Food stylists have existed since the idea of adding photos to recipes originated-why is it such an issue because it is on Pinterest? And if you do not like Pinterest, then don’t go on it. No one is forcing anyone to be there and not everybody is on it. Griping about it when you can totally avoid it and do something else is not really constructive. I take photographs as a hobby, but in no way find the photos on Pinterest threatening to my abilities. Things can only intimidate you if you allow it.

  68. Jen

    Thank you.

    Thank you for providing a (free) website and cookbooks I have been faithfully turning to for years. With a family of celiacs and gluten intolerant people, I felt lost. You helped this clueless person find her way around the kitchen.

    I rarely comment on big sites such as this one, but I wanted you to know how grateful am for what you do. I thought you did a great job expressing what you were feeling and maybe that is why it struck a wrong cord with some — they finally saw there is a real person behind these words. You don’t have a team in a test kitchen — you are in your own kitchen balancing work, family, and a heap ton of dishes!

    Simply put, keep doing what you do because you rock at it.

  69. phi @PrincessTofu

    A good photo will bring a gleam to my eyes, but words like these warm my heart. Your writing on this subject made me smile, chuckle, and a bit hungry. And of course those tags are priceless.

    The other day, my boyfriend said to me — isn’t it time to paint some new backgrounds? He is a sweet soul, but I was taken aback by the notion of revamping my tools for the sake of being fresh or new or … whatever. There’s a lot of expectations all around these days. I feel that my photography is what I use to supplement my writing (I generally struggle to get words out), but I am coming from a photographer’s point of view so it’s more familiar to me than words or stories. Even for a visual person, at some point what inspires me should be rare, not an every day occurrence at 100 photos a day. It’s tiring. I’ve unfollowed a lot of people because of that. Not because I don’t enjoy what they share — it’s just that it’s overwhelming.

  70. Erin

    Oh you made me laugh out loud — the tab I am looking at is called “Fuck Pintrest!” Awesome. I loved the last two posts I’ve read (this one and the one about people asking you to adjust every recipe you post). I love where you are going with these posts. Enjoy writing! Enjoy your life! Enjoy your family! Share and let people dip their toe into your content or their foot or jump in. Thank you for all you do and all you’ve shared. I hope you are happy more than you are sad. :)

  71. Michelle

    First of all, you had me at Fuck. I love a chef with a potty mouth! I also love you for taking leftovers and making those amazing muffins.…we adore breakfast omelets “in your hand” as my eight year old calls them. Reading your blog makes me realize how much I love writing as well…thank you for the poignant reminder.