Lindsay Anderson had served as Richmond, B.C.'s official food blogger for just over a month when a bellyache threatened to interfere with the assignment she'd beat out 1,507 other applicants to win.
"That was a little bit of a wake-up call that I needed to be more strategic," Anderson told me last week when we met for a lunch arranged by Tourism Richmond. "I need to really be choosy about how many deep-fried things I'm eating, and come to terms with not eating everything on my plate."
Anderson shared her gut troubles with her readers, prompting an online discussion of whether digestion was an appropriate topic for a blog chronicling a year-long eating tour of the city. Negotiating the boundary between public and private spheres has been one of the $50,000 job's challenges - along with fulfilling a quota of one blog post per day.
"I feel like something that separates this from professional food writing is I might say, 'I don't feel like eating today'," says Anderson, 27, who cooked for tree planters and studied food culture in Italy before becoming Richmond's food blogger on June 5. "I think that's part of my personal style. If someone if writing about barbecue for Saveur, people might not want to hear you have a stomachache. But what I end up writing about is about a lot more than food."
Tourism Richmond concocted the food blogger position to draw attention to its 800-plus restaurants, although a press release announcing the online search stipulated candidates must "demonstrate a willingness to explore all that Richmond has to offer outside of its food scene." The prize package included a fitness membership at the Richmond Olympic Oval and a Richmond apartment, although Anderson opted to remain in Vancouver where she lives with friends, many of whom appear in the video she produced as her contest entry.
A typical day for Anderson starts with a bike ride or transit trip to Richmond for lunch; she then returns home to write about her experience. "I don't really stockpile," she says. She says her meals have taught her about xiao long bao ("I'd never tried it before"); the diversity of bubble tea and congee; how to evaluate kimchi and ways to photograph rice bowls without offending readers (Anderson was proud of a picture depicting chopsticks standing straight up until she learned the position was associated with death in Chinese culture.)
It's up to Anderson to choose where she eats, although she's lately focused on Steveston, Richmond's historic fishing village. "It's the place to go in summer," she says, referring to the neighborhood's many outdoor patios. She tries to alternate recommended restaurants with random finds so the blog isn't front-loaded with raves.
Tourism Richmond stressed in its candidate search materials that the food blogger wouldn't be censored, but Anderson says she sometimes struggles to write candidly about disappointing restaurants.
"I don't want to cause anybody pain," she says. "It's hard for me because my background isn't in restaurant reviewing, so it took some soul-searching to figure out how to put the personal part aside."
But Anderson says she found a tactful way to convey to readers that a recent breakfast didn't have "any flavor or thought put into it."
"I don't want readers to order that and think 'Lindsay doesn't know what she's talking about'," Anderson says.
No matter what she writes, Anderson says readers have strong opinions on ostensibly personal subjects, such as her weight.
"From the beginning, there's been an obsession with my weight," she says, recalling a television appearance during which she stunned the host by revealing she weighs 155 pounds.
"There's a belief that it's impossible to go 365 days without gaining 80 pounds," she says. "One of the things I'd love to show is it's possible to love food and be healthy."