This morning, Food52’s Amanda Hesser started a much needed discussion about Google’s new recipe search feature and its ultimate impact on American food culture.
Effective February 24th, 2011, the new algorithm allows users to limit search results to only recipes. Within the recipe limitation, users can then refine their search even more—selecting to view only those recipes with a certain amount of calories, cooking time, and certain ingredients. At first glance, this is handy.
Go to google. Search stuffed chicken breasts. Look closely at the top 5 results. Now look at the top 10. If you look closely, you’ll see the results you get range from allrecipes.com to Rachael Ray’s page on the Food Network. My recipe for stuffed chicken breasts does not appear. Nor do the recipes of any other food blogger.
Do you see the problem? I do. My own blogging efforts aside, food bloggers tend to be concerned with thoughtful, personal recipes, made great by testing and years of cooking. I read food blogs because I often glean new and interesting food information from them. I enjoy the writing style of Deb from smitten kitchen and Heidi on 101 cookbooks. They make you feel connected to the food. To me, and to a lot of food-lovers out there, that is what food is about. I want a stuffed chicken breast and a story, not stuffed chicken breast and a picture of Rachael Ray.
Hesser takes issue with the influence this advancement in google search capabilities might have on the way Americans cook. Google, after all, has billions of users who are influenced by what they find on, often just the first page of, search results. If google users find only recipes from the food network and all recipes, Hesser argues, that effectively drowns out the other food-voices online. And, the way google search works impacts independent food websites and food bloggers most, because of the time and technology needed to get near the top of the new search process. (Craig Goldwyn goes more in-depth on this topic in the Huffington Post. If you’re a food blogger, read it immediately.)
I agree with Hesser. Google wields an incredible amount of power on the actions of its searchers. Its new recipe search algorithm promotes everything that is wrong in American food culture. Cooking fast and calorie counting can often override the taste and experience of a meal, and as Hesser points out, the way recipe searches are refined does not isolate the best or most loved recipes for searchers.
“Refining recipe search by time doesn’t result in better recipes rising to the top," said Hesser, in an article on Food52.com. "Rather, the new winners are recipes packaged for the American eating and cooking disorder.”
The local food movement has grown vibrant over the last few years, in part thanks to the internet and ability of individual voices to join the conversation. With one advancement in technology, google may have wiped this ability out.
Check out the New York Times Dining Journal, and Dianne Jacob's thoughts about this development as well. What do you think of the new google recipe search index and its impact on American food culture? I’d love to hear your thoughts.