On a sunny day in New York City’s West Village, Calvin Trillin rode past me on his bicycle. To most passersby, he appeared to be a friendly man on two wheels, but from my perspective, I was witnessing the movement of a god. The iconic New Yorker writer, who inspired my own career after I read his book Feeding a Yen, is one of the last vestiges of a pre-digital era. Trillin doesn’t blog; Trillin doesn’t Tweet. If you’re looking to interact with Trillin, you’re more likely to do so on the streets of Manhattan than you are on the Web.
He is a rarity. Today, the chefs and food writers most of us revere—everyone from Mario Batali to Ruth Reichl—are only a click away. We know more about them than we ever did before (Amanda Hesser: “Organized my husband’s clothing closet by color”; Sara Moulton: “Home alone, going to order sushi for dinner...”); we can even quantify their “hero” status with Twitter followers, Facebook friends and website traffic. And though I’m grateful that these heroes are now so easy to reach, I’m afraid that something’s been lost along the way. We’ve traded in our idols for real people, just like us, whose email gets hacked (as Dorie Greenspan revealed via Twitter) and who forget to return the movies they rent from Netflix (Jonathan Gold, Born in East L.A.).
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You may find it strange that I feel this way. I’m a food blogger, and my people are the ones to blame for this trend. If food blogs hadn’t taken off the way they did, and if there weren’t an obligation now for public figures to have an online presence to compete with the likes of us, the divide between everyday food people (bloggers, home cooks) and food heroes (cookbook authors, four-star chefs) would’ve remained firmly in place. But now the line has blurred: Food bloggers (Homesick Texan, Smitten Kitchen, 101 Cookbooks) are writing books, and food legends are starting blogs (ruthreichl.com).