Austin Food Blogger Explosion
Austin is quickly becoming a city recognized for its vibrant culinary scene, and as that scene grows, so does the number of bloggers who follow it.
The Capital City is home to a couple hundred food blogs that cover everything from the best gluten-free eateries around town to local industry news to craft beer to kid-friendly recipes. The Austin Food Blogger Alliance ties those blogs together and is in the process of releasing its first cookbook from History Press this April.
Addie Broyles, who writes Relish Austin for the Statesman, began blogging about food in Austin in 2008. Rather than jumping into uncharted territory, she decided to learn from the nearly 20 food blogs then in existence. She got the other bloggers together for a happy hour, and the roots of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance started to grow.
“A lot of us had been reading each other’s blogs, and some were even living around the corner from each other, but we just hadn’t met in real life,” she remembered. “We hit it off, and it was great to connect with people who knew what [food blogging] was like. We just kept meeting and then started having pot lucks and more people started blogging.”
It was around the time that 2009’s Julie & Julia, starring Amy Adams as a food blogger channeling Meryl Streep’s Julia Child, came out that the Austin food blogging explosion hit. At the time, the AFBA was only a Facebook group that held occasional in-person events; Broyles kept track of the new blogs and would invite them to the group, which quickly jumped to more than 200 members. In addition to the movie’s popularity, it was a very “Austin” thing that helped propel this growth.
“We’re a social media town – people see social media and tech as a way to connect with other Austinites who have the same interests,” she said. “We didn’t want to just be an online organization, so every month we hosted get-togethers to foster offline relationships.”
By fall 2010, Broyles and friends had decided to launch the AFBA as a 501c7, a socially focused non-profit group. The Austin Food Blogger Alliance officially launched at South by Southwest 2011 with the first edition of their City Guide.
Lauren Walz of the blog Gourmet Veggie Mama said that the group and its City Guide helped her when she moved back to Austin last year after an eight-year hiatus in California.
"I found the AFBA and it was a perfect fit to get involved in the community and to get to know people here," she said. "They had just put out 2012's City Guide and so I was also able to figure out where the farmers markets were and the good vegetarian restaurants."
The purpose of the group is threefold, Broyles said. “We want to provide education to bloggers, be a social organization to allow them to enjoy the city, and be a nonprofit, where we host events around the city to raise money for the Food Bank and Bake a Wish.” Last year, the group raised $5,000 for Bake a Wish, a non-profit that delivers birthday cakes to children and the elderly who may not have one otherwise.
“Being a member of the AFBA definitely drives traffic to our site, and it's great because all of our stories populate to their social media accounts,” said Caroline Wallace, a founding member of the local beer blog Bitch Beer. “In addition to exposure, they hold fun events and beneficial, educational workshops from time to time.”
The group’s latest project, the Austin Food Blogger Alliance Cookbook, will raise money for the alliance, allowing them to serve more bloggers and non-profits in the future, Broyles said. Alliance members were asked to submit for consideration up to two recipes and accompanying stories that gave some background.
“We wanted [the cookbook] to reflect our community – a lot are family recipes passed down or recipes that are significant to the bloggers,” Broyles said. Many bloggers in the AFBA community aren’t cooks, they’re farmers, industry people or those who follow craft beer or cocktails in Austin, so those facets of Austin cuisine are included in the cookbook as well, in the form of essays and stories.
“In 100 years, who knows if the servers holding these blogs will still be around. So we created a document that would preserve what the food scene here looks like right now,” Broyles said. “We couldn’t say that was just about what’s happening in one kitchen in West Lake Hills. We wanted diversity – cocktails, farms, grocery stores – the whole gamut.”
The Austin Food Blogger Alliance Cookbook is being published April 16 by History Press, which is also publishing a handful of other books by Austin food bloggers, like the Trailer Food Diaries series from Tiffany Harelik and a book on local eating in Austin by Eli Castro. Broyles said the publisher is keeping a close eye on Austin.
Although this is the alliance’s first venture into cookbook publishing, it likely won’t be the group’s last. The AFBA cookbook probably won’t come out as frequently as their annual city guide, but Broyles sees it as an important component of what the alliance stands for.
“I like to think of both projects as serving two primary parts of our membership: One serves your life and cooking at home and the other is outside the home,” she said. “They are two sides of the same coin.”