Food Blog Code of Ethics

We hold ourselves to a higher code

Food Blog Code of Ethics 2.0

It’s been more than two years since the Food Blog Code of Ethics made its debut on the Internet. Our little manifesto–a written record of two people standing up for a basic set of principles in food blogging–was read by thousands in just hours and millions by the end of our first month of posting it.

We were some of the first food bloggers to suggest that we hold ourselves to a code of “journalistic” ethics. Our call for responsible online publishing hit a nerve. While many praised our declaration of a code, others openly reviled us for our lengthy manifesto that encouraged applying traditional journalism’s ethical principles to the wily world of online food writing.  We were called fascists, dictators, and gutsy visionaries.

After spending much time responding to debate and comment, we decided to leave our manifesto to speak for itself. We saw our statement of fundamental principles as something that’s unchanging, and did not necessitate constant updates every couple of days.

It is important, however, to stay current. So for that reason, we believe it’s time to make a few adjustments to our manifesto.

1. We added “commenters” to our manifesto because, like bloggers and websites, people who write comments publish their opinions and should be aware that they are accountable for their actions. And based on the rapid increase of hateful and threatening comments on the internet, we think it’s important that even the anonymous individuals who sling abuse realize that they will be held accountable for their threats by organizations far more powerful than ethically minded individuals.

2. We’re gonna keep it short this time.


  1. We understand that the moment we put anything up on the internet (a blog, restaurant reviews, recipes, videos, photography, and comments) we automatically become a publisher and therefore have the responsibility of a publisher.
  2. We accept the responsibilities that come with publishing. We will be accountable for our actions.
  3. We will be civil.
  4. We will be transparent. We will disclose gifts, comps, samples, and financial relationships with specific businesses if we write about them.
  5. We will not steal other people’s work. Other peoples’ content (writing, recipes, photos, video, illustrations) will not be taken or used without written or verbal consent from the creator of said material. If we use someone else’s material and change it for our own use (i.e. a recipe) we will give attribution to the original resource.

Food Ethics in the Columbia Journalism Review

It’s been nine months since we–Leah Greenstein, and Brooke Burton–created Food Ethics and our controversial Food Blog Code of Ethics. In those months, much has happened here in the world of online food writing and criticism. The Federal Trade Commission has made it punishable by law for big (and little) companies to give money and gifts to bloggers without being transparent about it. One blog offers badges to denote a commitment to honesty and integrity. Blogs that once skirted the issue of freebies and comps, now openly state their affiliations, biases, and disclose freebies.

When we first decided to write our statement of purpose nine months ago—for the sake of being clear on what we stood for in online writing—the topic of ethics in the blogosphere was something that was whispered between online writers. Many had opinions, but few were willing to publish their thoughts on the matter. So, when we decided it was time we write out our five-point manifesto on food blog ethics, our words and point of view caused a lot of controversy. We were shocked at how many people got engaged (and enraged) and suddenly everyone was talking about ethics. In a time when most people were interested in new iPhone apps and the birth of Twitter, we were ecstatic that we were surrounded by people arguing about philosophy. Getting people to think about the effect of their words before they hit PUBLISH was our goal.

So it was with great pleasure that we discovered Food Ethics was mentioned by Robert Seitsema, the author and food critic for the Village Voice in his comprehensive Columbia Journalism Review article, “Everyone Eats…But that doesn’t make you a restaurant critic”. In it, he masterfully charts the history of restaurant reviewing in the United States since the 1970’s and the effect of a handful of people on food writing.

 Continue to Read More about Food Blog Ethics in Columbia Journalism Review »

Continue to Read More about The CJR Article »

Federal Trade Commission and the Food Blog Code of Ethics

A lot has happened since we launched the Food Blog Code of Ethics. Discussions about blogging ethics have sprung up across the Internet, prompting bloggers of all stripes to voice their opinions. Some claimed the blogosphere was the Wild West and thrived on lawlessness, others suggested a need for regulations.

Blogging Gets Its Hand Slapped

But the biggest change came in October 2009, when the Federal Trade Commission decided it was time to update its rules regarding endorsements and testimonials, a document written long before online content existed, let alone required regulation. With print magazines and newspapers failing left and right and untraditional marketing opportunities springing up on blogs and in social media, the Federal Trade Commission realized it was time to create clear guidelines for businesses looking to establish relationships with online publishers.

“Endorsements in print ads or on television are clear, because it is obviously the company’s advertisement,’’ says Mary Engle, the FTC’s associate director of consumer protection. “It became very clear to us when we began our regular periodic review of guides in 2007 that because of all the social media going on we’d need to update them.’’

According to the FTC’s updated stance: bloggers, Twitterers and other online reviewers are now required to disclose their “material connection” with corporate sponsors or advertisers.  As of December 1, 2009, businesses are now legally required to disclose gifts or payments to bloggers and other online writers, to subsidize posts dedicated to their product(s). The FTC also updated its endorsement and testimonial rules, now holding celebrity endorsers liable for false statements about a product. Each infringement of these rules will cost the guilty party (i.e. the business) $11,000.

Continue to Read more about FTC’s stand on Blogging »

Photography, Copyright and Attribution

We’ve been trying hard to get to the bottom of the complicated issue of handling photos, other than your own, in the blogosphere. Fortunately, a professor of law at Case Western, Ms. Jacqueline Lipton, PhD, was kind enough to weigh in. Her comments are below, and we’ve amended The Code, to reflect this issue with a simple: We will respect copyright on photos (with a reference to these same notes).

In response to your query, generally it’s wise to always seek permission from the copyright holder if the image in question doesn’t have a license attached describing permissible uses (eg a Creative Commons type license).

Of course, depending on the type of use being made, the reproduction of a photograph without permission could be a “fair use” under the copyright law, particularly if no commercial use is being made of it and it is not interfering with a market for the photograph – which may well be the case on many blogs.  Thus, the otherwise potentially infringing use could be excused under the fair use doctrine.

It is important to recognize that the question of attribution is a separate question to copyright infringement.  While you should always attribute the source of a picture, copyright infringement is a separate question and you can infringe copyright even if you give appropriate attribution.  While many copyright holders will only ask for attribution in return for permission to use the picture, it is NOT a general rule of copyright law that if you give appropriate attribution, you have not infringed copyright.  Copyright law deals with acts of copying or displaying a picture, not how it is attributed.

Clarifying the Food Blogger Code of Ethics

Wow. What an incredible 48 hours. Thank you to the thousands of people that visited our fledgling blog (it was born just days ago!) and weighed in on the topic of what is or isn’t ethical in the world of food blogging.

We live in exciting, dynamic times. Print media—newspapers and magazines—are struggling to hold on in an environment where the immediacy and accessibility of the web has broad appeal. This is particularly true in the world of food writing.

Professional journalists, amateur food writers and gastro-diarists alike have embraced the blog as an effective, informal format to reach hungry readers or, simply, to share their experiences. What makes food blogging so exciting is that it makes it just as possible that a reader could enjoy the gustatory musings of a mom in the mid-west as the hard reporting of a writer on the city food beat. The web is like a great big dinner party and everyone is invited.

Continue for more Clarity on the Subject of Ethics in Food Blogging… »

Food Blog Review Guidelines

Beyond The Code we believe there should be guidelines for maintaining consistent standards and fair practices in food blogging.

We believe it is important for the reputation of food blogs that we hold ourselves to higher standards of conduct when reviewing the culinary media, food industry and its products.

Food Blog Restaurant Review Guidelines

1. We will be thorough.

2. We will be fair when reviewing a restaurant

  • We will do our best to visit a restaurant more than once before passing a final judgment.
  • We will do our best to sample a full range of items on menu.
  • We will be fair to new restaurants. If we post about a new restaurant we will tell our readers about our initial impressions. If possible, we will wait at least one month after the restaurant opens, allowing them to work out some kinks, before writing a full-fledged review.
  • If we receive an item for free or if we are recognized during our reviewing process, we will mention so in our review.
  • While anonymity is important when dining out and conducting a review, we will not hide behind a pseudonym. If complete anonymity is required for personal or professional safety, we will not post anything that we wouldn’t feel comfortable putting our name on and owning up to.

The Code

In order to form a more perfect union of food bloggers, we offer this five point code of ethics. We encourage dialogue, participation and insights from other concerned bloggers.

1. We will be accountable

  • We will write about the culinary world with the care of a professional. We will not use the power of our blog as a weapon. We will stand behind our claims. If what we say or show could potentially affect someone’s reputation or livelihood, we will post with the utmost thought and due diligence.
  • We will not hide behind total anonymity. Even if we choose to write anonymously for our own personal or professional safety, we will not post anything that we wouldn’t feel comfortable putting our name on and owning up to.
  • If we review a restaurant, product or culinary resource we will hold ourselves to a standard set of guidelines as offered by the Association of Food Journalists.

2. We will be civil

  • We whole-heartedly believe in freedom of speech, but we also acknowledge that our experiences with food are subjective. We promise to be mindful, regardless of how passionate we are. We will be forthright, but will refrain from personal attacks.

3. We will reveal bias

  • If we are writing about something or someone we are emotionally connected to, we will be up front about it.

4. We will disclose gifts, comps and samples

  • When something is given to us or offered at a deep discount because of our blog, we will disclose that information. As bloggers, most of us do not have the budgets of large publications, and we recognize the value of samples, review copies of books, donated giveaway items and culinary event, but it’s import to disclose freebies to avoid accusations of conflicts of interest.

5. We will follow the rules of good journalism

  • We will not plagiarize or use images from others without attribution. We will research. We will attribute quotes and offer link backs to original sources whenever possible. We will do our best to make sure that the information we are posting about is accurate. We will factcheck. In other words, we will practice good journalism.

Why have a code?

As the blogging world expands exponentially, more and more people in the culinary world believe that food bloggers—as a groupare unfair, highly critical, untrained and power hungry individuals empowered by anonymity. As writers, trained journalists and food bloggers, we feel it is unfair to be labeled something we aren’t. By creating a food blogger code of ethics, we hope to elevate our craft and draw attention to the food bloggers who hold themselves to higher standards.

Why should I subscribe to the ideas of The Code?

We believe you should be able to write about your experiences as you wish. We know everyone’s truth is different and we thoroughly appreciate the diversity of opinions within the food blogging realm. We are not against free speech. We do not believe in censoring. We do, however, believe in civility, honesty and truth.

We strive to make our blogs stand out from the rest through our writing and story telling. We created The Code because we felt it was important to define what our ethical standards were and clearly state them so that we could hold ourselves to those standards.  The Code is not meant to be a mandatory thing for everyone in the blogosphere. This is our way to define what our standards are.

We are proud to be bloggers and hope to give the blogging community a better reputation. We wrote this because we were concerned that food bloggers were being unfairly judged as hacks, which the majority of us are not – with or without journalism degrees. And that by creating a code of conduct should give us MORE freedom to be honest, not less.

Who we are

The Food Blog Code of Ethics was written collaboratively by  Brooke Burton and Leah Greenstein. We are also food writers and the people behind the food blogs and you believe its important to hold your food blog to a higher code and want to be listed here as someone that follows these guidelines, please contact us at foodblogethics at gmail.