Rachel Leah Blumenthal, founder of BostonFoodBloggers.com, misses the good old days of blogging, when the field was focused on unbiased reviews and home cooking. “Blogging has morphed into a PR-driven beast of getting free stuff and writing about it,” explains Blumenthal. At a conference this summer, Blumenthal was connected to a blogger group in Austin, and promptly arranged a holiday gift swap with her new friends to the south. “I was probably thinking: ‘I totally want someone to send me a box full of Austin goodies,’” she says of the idea, and the Austin to Boston Food Swap was born.
“This food swap is an attempt to organize a truly by-bloggers-for-bloggers event free of PR influence: an exercise in creativity and authenticity,” explains Blumenthal. With the food Austin to Boston Food Swap, Blumenthal hopes to bring blogging back to its roots. “We’re sharing local brands with each other because we love them, not because we’re being given free samples. We’re writing about products that have meaning to us.”
Blumenthal and Jodi Bart, one of the Austin group’s organizers, exchanged a series of emails early this fall to craft the Austin to Boston Food Swap, in which local Boston food bloggers are paired with a food blogger from Austin to exchange goodies, treats and holiday cheer across state borders. Blumenthal and Bart racked up a total of 54 participants – 27 pairs – and the matching started, with participants exchanging information about allergies, dietary restrictions, likes and dislikes in order to personalize the gifts. All packages must be shipped out by December 15.
“I’m thrilled that we stumbled on the Austin group pretty much by chance and put the swap together,” says Blumenthal. “Our groups are equally passionate about supporting local businesses and exploring the food landscapes of our cities, and hey, Austin and Boston rhyme nicely as well!”
While most participants have been keeping their items a surprise, Blumenthal says some bloggers are exchanging homemade jams and baked goods, cookbooks by local authors, Somerville-made Taza Chocolate, and Le Whif, a breathable chocolate created by a Harvard engineer.
“When I saw the post go up about the swap on Facebook, I knew I wanted to be part of it,” says Molly Galler, a local blogger at Pop.Bop.Shop and member of Boston Food Bloggers. “The swap melds together many of my loves: blogging, shopping, Boston and snail mail!”
Galler was matched with Austinite Mel Joulwan, “a former roller derby girl, a CrossFit junkie, a fashionista, a book worm and as of this week, the author of a new cookbook,” writes Galler in a recent blog post. After exchanging a few emails, Galler decided on a package for Mel that was “authentic Boston,” and included local magazines, vintage postcards, a mug of the MBTA and gourmet cranberry treats.
“The only thing that was difficult was sticking to the budget,” says Galler with a laugh. “I felt pure joy when I shipped that package off to Texas.” Galler is still waiting on her package from Austin, so she has yet to determine if participating in the Austin to Boston Food Swap was worth it.
Blumenthal says the whole process has gone smoothly, despite the long distance. “Hopefully everyone will actually follow through – the biggest risk, I think, is that someone will flake out, leaving a very disappointed swap buddy,” she adds.
Because Twitter has played a large part in the swap – with many participants tweeting about it under the #atxbos hashtag – Blumenthal is considering opening the swap to other local food lovers who are active on Twitter. “Jodi and I have casually talked about maybe seeking out a similar blogger group in another city or two to expand the project next year, but we’re going to see how this one plays out first and figure out future plans later,” she adds.
After all the packages are sent, opened and enjoyed, Blumenthal and Bart will blog a round-up of the swap. “It’s the stories that make it all worthwhile: many people have nostalgic or deeply personal reasons for choosing various items for the swap,” she says. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?