Is it ethical to post negative reviews for small-time bloggers?
December 8, 2019 3:47 PM   Subscribe

I recently prepared a recipe posted by a blogger (I found the recipe through a Google search). The recipe looked promising, but the resulting dish was quite vile. I'm tempted to post a negative review.

The blogger is not some kind of well-known influencer with a huge following. It's just some random, obscure person on the internet. She raved about her own recipe, and how everyone loves it every time she makes it. There were seven or eight positive reviews posted under it, and nothing negative.

This is not the first time I've been burned in this way. In another case, the recipe had a mistake in it, calling for four cups of water, when it should have been two cups (I learned this by emailing the author).

This current recipe called for some unusual ingredients that I had to run out and buy. So I'm a little miffed, and I'm tempted to post a negative review. But I hesitate, because I'd be picking on someone who clearly does this as a hobby, isn't making any money, and might have their feelings hurt.
posted by akk2014 to Human Relations (32 answers total)
No, leave it alone.

Don't punch down.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:51 PM on December 8, 2019 [24 favorites]

What was vile about it? Is there a mistake in the recipe as written? If you think there’s a mistake in the recipe, then you might want to post a comment asking for clarification or even email the blogger. If you just didn’t like the dish because it’s not to your taste, though, I would leave it alone. I mean, no accounting for taste and all that.
posted by rue72 at 3:57 PM on December 8, 2019 [21 favorites]

I mean, I don’t think you should describe it as “vile” publicly or to the blogger in any case, but a friendly request for clarification shouldn’t cause upset feelings. I would just tactfully ask for clarification if you think there’s a fixable mistake in the recipe, and leave it alone entirely if all you have to say is just that you hate it. It’s legitimate to hate it, but kind of needlessly harsh to tell that to the world, you know?
posted by rue72 at 4:02 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is what THINK is for:
is it True, is it Helpful, is it Important, is it Necessary, is it Kind?

I don't think your distaste for this random stranger's recipe is worth typing and sharing to their personal blog. Especially if your comment amounts to little more than "I hated this AND I had to buy special ingredients to try it!"
posted by crush at 4:05 PM on December 8, 2019 [38 favorites]

It's a blog--don't post a "negative review." But you could absolutely post a friendly comment with genuine feedback--"I tried this recipe and it didn't come out how I hoped. It was very (mushy/spicy/crumbly/etc). Is that what the recipe's going for or is it possible I made a mistake?"

That is a valid and useful way to engage with this experience. I would not do it at all if I was in the frame of mind you sound like you're in. You don't comment on a blog post as a buyer beware, but as feedback to the author, and your tone and intent should reflect that.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:12 PM on December 8, 2019 [72 favorites]

What are you looking to get out of this? Do you expect the blogger to refund you for your "unusual ingredients" (which I suspect are quite reasonable for some sort of cuisine you may not be familiar with)? Do you want the blogger to apologize?

It sounds like this blog isn't the author's primary source of income. It sounds like a hobby. She owes you nothing, and correspondingly, you owe her nothing (neither positive nor negative reviews).

If you wanted to post something like, "thanks for the recipe. I made this last night and found it too [bland|spicy|bitter|whatever] for my tastes. Any suggestions on where I may have messed up?", then that's appropriate. Anything with the terms you're using is at best rude, and at worst will discourage the author from ever posting recipes again.
posted by saeculorum at 4:13 PM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Wow - I'm in disagreement with everyone above. When I look for new recipes to try, I always look for the comments from people who actually made them, because they can point out missing ingredients or techniques that might work better, they give a good sense of whether they're universally liked or hit-or-miss, and because the substitutions crack me up.

You can say "I followed the recipe as written and it didn't work for me" and follow it with what didn't work in a way that is helpful to future readers ("It was vile" - not helpful "it was too runny and not sweet enough" - very helpful). I wouldn't think of it as trashing someone's family recipe and wrecking their blogging experience -- more comments can actually bring more traffic to their site, so it's not a loss to them to get even negative feedback on one recipe
posted by Mchelly at 4:14 PM on December 8, 2019 [71 favorites]

If it turned out badly even though you followed all of the specifications of the recipe it is totally cool to post in the comments that you had an issue with it, especially if you put it in such a way that the blogger can respond and potentially clear up any clarity issues.
posted by forkisbetter at 4:22 PM on December 8, 2019 [12 favorites]

I agree that you should post and say it didn’t work for you. I rely on blog comments when deciding whether to try a new recipe. Nobody is forced to write a recipe blog for public consumption, and people who do that can’t expect 100% positive comments. Or if they insist on that, they can delete yours. You can be both kind and truthful (so don’t use the word “vile”).
posted by FencingGal at 4:45 PM on December 8, 2019 [13 favorites]

If you put things on the internet you have to expect people to comment, whether positive or negative. So long as there is no gratuituous meanness, I think saying "this recipe was not enjoyed by anyone that I served it to" is perfectly valid, and helpful to people trying to decide whether to make it.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 4:56 PM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Have you considered emailing this author as well?

Additionally, were there cooking techniques or ingredients you’d never used at home? I find one or both of those can throw me for a loop and make it hard for me to gauge what is reasonable.

That said, I would practice more with well tested recipes from places like America’s Test Kitchen and Serious Eats to get a better handle on what looks about right. Doubling the amount of water in a recipe is likely to throw of your spider sense in the future either for volume or flavor concentration. Not that this is your fault, but that in the world of even professional cookbooks, where you do pay money, these kinds of errors creep in. More practice will help you get better at catching them, though not perfect.
posted by bilabial at 5:04 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

In case it’s not clear from the above, I would not post a comment of any sort in the blog, and I would email the author privately.
posted by bilabial at 5:04 PM on December 8, 2019

Thanks for the comments. To clarify: The recipe had no mistake in it, as far as I could tell. But it was very bland and uninteresting (contrary to what you might expect from this type of dish), and the texture was "off".

> What are you looking to get out of this?

I'm looking mainly to balance-out the positive comments, and to provide a warning to anyone else who might be tempted to prepare the dish.

Also, I would certainly be polite and wouldn't use the word "vile" or anything like that.
posted by akk2014 at 5:06 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I used to be in charge of a large recipe-heavy website and associated social media. I think specific feedback is helpful - maybe “bland to my taste” and “texture was more X/less Y than I expected.” It’s helpful to both other readers and to the blogger. Tastes are regional — my mum’s idea of a curry is radically different than mine or my friend from Goa, so it might be helpful to give your location. But I wouldn’t expect thanks or anything. If all the reviews are positive, either your tastes are different, not many ppl read it, or the blogger deletes negative comments.

That said...small-time blogger recipes are really like a mystery bag. Some are so amazing (Smitten Kitchen is my fav small-to-large one) but the vast majority are just...not great. Recipes, the ingredient listing part, unlike directions or chatty stories, can’t be copyrighted. So personally...I would mostly assume small time blog recipes won’t be great and I only comment if they are.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:48 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

I make recipes from random blogs and always read the comments first - please do leave your review or thoughts! Food costs money and I would skip over or adjust recipes where someone had an issue. Even with my paid subscription to the NYT Cooking a lot of the times the recipes have typos, missing instructions, or there is an obvious consensus among the people who actually made it that something needs to change.

I don't think this is "punching down" or whatever at all, that's ridiculous. I've worked on magazine food editorials in the test kitchen with pros and mistakes get made or they take liberties with the recipe as written. This is doubly true on your random blog content farm with no editors.
posted by bradbane at 5:54 PM on December 8, 2019 [20 favorites]

It’s ok to tell strangers online that you didn’t care for another stranger’s recipe as written.

Just don’t be a dick and try to be constructive if you can, but don’t be ashamed, this comment may save someone else an unpleasant experiment. It’s all good as long and you aim to be as clear and helpful as you can to the author and future readers.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:03 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

What you're talking about isn't a "negative review". It's commenting on a recipe. That's what the internet is for. People post recipes (in blogs, on allerecipes, etc) and other people comment on them.

For me, 90% of the time, it's the comments that make the recipes work. I read the comments to find out that I should use less sugar, or add a couple of bay leaves, or try cider vinegar instead of white wine vinegar. That's not insulting to the person who posted the original recipe. It's part of the process.

So no, don't post a comment saying, "This recipe was vile and the blogger is obviously a fake." But you weren't planning on saying that.

Certainly please do post, "I followed this recipe carefully and found it bland. YMMV." That will be helpful all around.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:09 PM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

In my experience, there are an infinite number of bland and uninteresting recipes glowingly-reviewed by people on the internet. I think it's ok to leave a politely negative review, but I personally never waste my time. I'd suggest if you have leftovers of those unusual ingredients, search them up on a more reliable site like Serious Eats, and maybe you'll land on a recipe that's a real winner. That can soothe the burn of wasted resources better than any review.
posted by gueneverey at 6:21 PM on December 8, 2019

I see no issue with you leaving a constructive comment written. Maybe people will see it as mean-spirited, but at the very least, there's someone out there who will appreciate your notes. And I'm sure it will make you feel a bit better to get your thoughts out there. I'd do the same.
posted by hydra77 at 7:52 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

It may be that some people like food in that style, or that the blogger overlooked some crucial information, or that something about your altitude/equipment/municipal water/available ingredients threw the recipe off. That's interesting stuff! Not necessarily negative for the blogger -- you can give them the relevant info and they can do what they want with it.
posted by amtho at 8:38 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Small time food blogger here. As most people said, yes, leave a polite but honest comment if there is something helpful you can write. Either that it tasted bland and you would add more spice next time, or the texture was too mushy, the food seemed overcooked with the cooking times specified etc. But just saying you didn't like it without a reason why doesn't help anyone.
posted by at 9:46 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

"This food/meal/recipe was not to my taste" is a polite and inoffensive way of letting people know they may not like it either.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:51 PM on December 8, 2019

it was very bland and uninteresting (contrary to what you might expect from this type of dish),
I have a group of dear friends I meet up with once a month for potluck. This is how I would describe the majority of ethnic dishes my lovely British friends attempt. Their food background and everything that goes with that is different from mine, which affects methods and length of cooking, choice of whether to fry or grill, type of oil, etc, all of which has a massive effect on flavour. They probably find my cooking too oily and salty let alone too spicy. Tastes differ.
Your clarification makes it seem your dislike of the dish is subjective, so I don't see the point of complaining? Unless you can pick out a technical mistake in the recipe, ie failure to fry the spices in a curry, but you should be very sure of your ground before you do such a thing.
posted by glasseyes at 3:43 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

If I were reading a personal blog and came across a recipe, I'd definitely appreciate and read comments, but I wouldn't think of them as "reviews," and if I were writing a comment, I'd try and focus on actionable items.

That is, a comment that was along the lines of "I cooked this on medium-high heat for about 8 minutes and the texture came out mushy" would be extremely helpful. A comment of "This recipe needs reworking," or worse, "This food was not to my taste," provides absolutely no information to the reader or the blogger about what may have happened.
posted by basalganglia at 4:01 AM on December 9, 2019 [12 favorites]

For what it's worth, if I read your comment "this was bland and uninteresting and the texture was off" I'd just assume you'd made it wrong, if all of the other comments were raving. If you said "I made this and it wasn't quite what I'd hoped, the flavor of the [whatever flavor you were expecting that didn't quite punch through] was missing, and the texture was [describe how the texture was off as a hint of what went wrong]. If I tried it again, next time I'd add some yogurt to smooth it out and probably twice as much garlic"

If you can't describe what was missing/what you were expecting, it's not a very helpful comment.

Also, I hope this recipe was for a plate of beans, because I'm finding it very amusing that we are all currently leaving internet comments to help you overthink your internet comment. :)
posted by pazazygeek at 5:48 AM on December 9, 2019 [21 favorites]

leave a specific comment like "this needed a lot of additional vinegar to cut the fattiness" or "this quantity of water was excessive and the sauce came out way too thin" or whatever. That's actually helpful (even to her, if she's serious about her blog.) And it's obvious that you want to get it off your chest and that's ok too. It's annoying to get excited about any recipe, and shop for it, and have it turn out bad.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:18 AM on December 9, 2019

Wow. I kind of can't believe that people are so against you sharing your honest experience with a recipe from a food blog.

You followed the directions and it came out gross. This is the kind of thing I would want to know before I invest time and money into making a recipe I got from a blog. I always read the comments on recipes for this reason.

This is literally what the comments on food blogs are for. This isn't punching either up or down.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:47 AM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

> You followed the directions and it came out gross.

Followed the directions one time, though. And 'gross' is not an objective point of view, it's subjective-- because food is subjective and food and eating is steeped in a lot of cultural norms and OP isn't the foremost authority on what is tasty and what isn't. Was the dish cultural? Was it something unusual you wouldn't usually make? Even if it wasn't-- sometimes even with written instructions, recipes can vary in taste when prepared-- because of various stuff-- heat fluctuations or small mis-steps that someone following a new recipe might make compared to someone who makes it all the time. For example, pasta Puttanesca -- this isn't a bland dish at all, it's delicious, but if you get a bad brand of Kalamata olives or the wrong capers then it can drop the whole dish down into a kind of bland olivey nothingness. So... like assuming that the version you made ONE time not being to your liking and promptly announcing it terrible ... dunno, I'm sorry if I sound harsh but it seems kinda entitled to me.

Maybe if the recipe had zero reviews, but given it has 7 glowing reviews, then, is it truly a 'gross' or 'vile' recipe? Or is it just you? Because it seems to me that you just didn't like it for whatever reason, and you are the outlier. That's totally fine by the way! You're allowed to not like it. There's always going to be someone that doesn't like a dish. But being mad you 'wasted time and money on it' ... like, even if some reviews are bad on a recipe, you just never know if you'll like something until you try it. No matter how many people are debating it's deliciousness, or how much you like the ingredients listed in the recipe, you just never know until you try. Would one bad review on her page have stopped you from making it? Because it doesn't stop me from trying stuff-- sometimes you get a hit, sometimes you don't, but deliciousness isn't guaranteed...

Pazazygeek and fingersandtoes has it-- you can and should describe the textures, flavors etc, and why they didn't appeal to you personally-- eg. 'The capers didn't add enough punch,' or 'I couldn't really taste the olives,' -- basically just describe your experience and how it related to your dislike. So for example, people that don't like sour stuff may have a hard time with pasta Puttanesca even though they may like the ingredients individually. Mentioning something like that would be helpful. Saying 'I don't really like this,' imo, isn't. Because there's always someone that doesn't like this. There's always someone that hates tomatoes/pigs feet/mushrooms/parsley or whatever.

So as long as you are truly being helpful and constructive, sure. If part of you wants to vent/warn everyone because you're kinda annoyed...

Well, look, maybe I'm just bitter. I know someone who ran a food channel. It was small but got a good following. And it was a labor of love. But as it got bigger, the amount of people that complained because (for example) capers tasted weird or this came out tasteless and they just had to tell everyone how bad this dish was were and they had to get panko/capers/ghee especially for the dish and what a waste of time and blah blah-- it WAS punching down. It didn't really help. She couldn't really 'fix' it. All it did was make my friend less likely to put forward her dishes because she was afraid of offending the tastebuds of some of her audience. She especially shied away from posting recipes with non-western ingredients because those are the ones people complained about the most And it wasn't unusual in her culture btw, it was just an ingredient. Your 'special' ingredient is another cultures norm etc. And seeing that tiny minority of people feeling the absolute need to comment, 'this is not worth it/a waste of time/gross/ingredient too hard to get' felt kinda insensitive, snowflakey and entitled to me.

But like I said, I'm kinda bitter about it given her experiences. Obviously her circumstances is not your situation with this blogger, and I don't even know if there is any cultural element involved in your situation. But even if it wasn't, it's worth thinking about the person behind the recipe.
posted by Dimes at 11:31 AM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

Maybe if the recipe had zero reviews, but given it has 7 glowing reviews, then, is it truly a 'gross' or 'vile' recipe? Or is it just you?

There's no way to know, of course, if everyone is, or even most people are, following the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" advice. If that's the case, then unanimous positive reviews mean nothing about whether the recipe is any good. There could be 30 unhappy people who didn't like it who are trying not to be mean.

That's ultimately why I support politely expressing that a recipe didn't work for you. I want a long string of positive reviews to mean something about whether I should make a recipe or not. And if people don't speak honestly, then every recipe will have unanimously positive reviews, and we'll all be on our own.

I support it, in fact, much more than I do for simply telling people whether you like their blogs or not. I agree that it's usually not worth it to say something negative about a simple blog post. A bad blog post costs nothing except the time it took to read it. But with a recipe, people are deciding whether to spend further time and money on ingredients and preparation. Honest feedback is really helpful.

With that said, I 100 percent agree that I would be extremely hesitant to leave any comment on a dish that was unfamiliar to me because it was from a cuisine I wasn't familiar with, or because it heavily employed ingredients I didn't know anything about. Absolutely positively, it's important to differentiate "this didn't seem to work well" from "this wasn't my taste" or "this isn't what I'm used to." I wouldn't write "this spice blend is gross," but I would write "Unfortunately, after the cooking time listed, the bread wasn't nearly done in the middle, so I wound up leaving it in considerably longer." And then if I had something nice to add -- "And once it was done, it was very tasty" or whatever -- I would add it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:27 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you had read this recipe in a cookbook or a cooking magazine you got from the library, would you feel compelled to share your thoughts? (I note the library, because getting the recipe from a blog didn't cost you anything.) If you went to a family/friendly get-together every year, and last year, a bunch of you got this recipe from some random grandma and this year, she was talking about it again, would you get up and tell everyone it was "quite vile" or, at most, just note that you tried it but it didn't come out as you'd expected? Because this is a random person, doing this because they like to share their recipes. A bunch of other people liked the recipe.

There's no reason why you can't share your experience, but you need to think whether posting something because you're "miffed" is an appropriate thing for a decent person to do. Seven or eight other people liked it. If there had been a mistake in the recipe (which you seem sure there wasn't) then reporting it would make sense. But you're basically telling the woman (and the seven or eight positive reviewers), "Your favorite band sucks." You say you're looking to "balance out" the comments, but opinions don't have to be balanced.

It's possible that since these are "unusual ingredients" this is not a food you'd be inclined to eat with any recipe, and you didn't know that until now, and now you know these ingredients in this combination aren't your thing. Maybe you made a mistake. Maybe one of your ingredients had spoiled. Maybe you're at a different elevation (which makes a difference with some food types). Reporting that you expected the texture to be X or the flavor to be more Y wouldn't be inappropriate. Complaining that you didn't like it or calling it vile, or doing anything other than reporting that it didn't match expectations (re: specific characteristics) would be considered bad manners where I come from.

This isn't a customer service issue. Treat random food bloggers that aren't doing it for money the way you'd treat a random grandma sharing her recipe at a party. (If you're the type who WOULD stand up and tell that grandma at the party that you tried her recipe and it was "vile," then I've got nothing.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:57 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

IME bloggers are often terrible at writing up recipes, even if the actual results they got are good. There's a skill to writing things clearly, procedurally, and linearly. There are also just a ton of bad recipes floating around, which is why I still have a bunch of physical cookbooks.

If you bother commenting, make it along the lines of "this didn't turn out well for me; could I have missed something?"
posted by aspersioncast at 7:50 AM on December 10, 2019

Your favourited answers suggest you came here looking for validation of a position you'd already reached.

By all means, post your review. For what it's worth, when I see six positive reviews and one "I followed the recipe exactly, but it was bad" review, I assume the last person (a) can't cook and/or is overly picky and (b) likes to blame other people for that. It doesn't "balance out" anything.

You followed the directions and it came out gross. This is the kind of thing I would want to know before I invest time and money into making a recipe I got from a blog. I always read the comments on recipes for this reason.

This strikes me as an odd approach, because you have no evidence whatsoever that this person (or any other person) actually followed the directions. You only have a balance of probabilities. What's more likely: six people are idiots or liars, or one person made a mistake or has very particular preferences? If everybody says something is wrong, sure, but if I saw that most people thought it was fine, I'd say "I guess it's just me" and walk away.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 3:28 AM on December 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

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