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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Feedback Please: Posts About Gluten Free and Food Restrictions

I logged into my email account today and found a message waiting for me.
"Hi Penny!
 I know you welcome suggestions via email so I thought I'd run one by you. I, and I think most of your readership, follow your blog because of the frugal tips you offer. Lately it has mostly become about eating gluten free and soy free etc. Your recipes used to be about doing things cheap, now their about doing things homemade to fill your dietary restrictions, which is nice if your blogging about your life, but not if your blogs tagline is teaching people how to eat and live frugally. One or 2 posts on being frugal despite allergies would suffice. In general food posts are location specific because what is cheap or availible in one area is not for another but adding health and allergies make them almost unaffective. Unless of course that is the audience you are trying to cater to. I love your ideas, but recently have not found much to "take home". I look forward to reading a re-focused blog the likes of which I have been enjoying and benefiting from since it's inception.
Good Luck and please take this from whence it comes- a suggestion to help you increase readership and keep us old timers :)"
I have to say, this email left me with very mixed feelings, especially since it came the same day that I found a comment on my blog saying this:
"Hey Penny, I adore your blog and am always happy when there is a new post. However, lately the blog references your dietary restrictions so much that I'm feeling like it's too narrow now. Instead of saying why you're putting up a recipe, such as gluten restrictions and beef broth avoidance, why don't you just tell us you have a delicious, cheap recipe for onion soup. Since people come here for frugal living advice for the most part it seems like it would be more on topic to simply share your finding that work frugally and leave the dietary restrictions off. Thanks!"
First of all, readers, please, both long time readers and newer readers, how do you feel about my writing gluten free posts and other posts having to do with dietary restrictions? Do you find it limits the scope of my blog too much, do you find it may not be relevant to you but still interesting, or do you find it is specifically what you need, as you're also living with dietary restrictions? Please answer in the comments below- feedback is important to me, as I don't want the focus of my blog to make me lose readers. Thank you.

And now, I wanted to tell you why the email and comment left me with mixed feelings.


How My Blog Works
As a writer, one of the first and foremost rules is- write about what you know. Don't write about subjects with which you have no experience, as you just generally sound like an idiot. Artists generally draw/create best when they're copying something they see instead of creating something entirely from their imagination. Writing is the same way. When you write about a topic that is foreign to you and you have to do much research to have enough details on the topic to make your writing complete, it won't sound as real or as good as when you write about something that is near and dear to you. Of course, writing and creating art from your imagination is always possible, but it takes much more talent to get it up to the same level as something created from intimate knowledge you have of a certain topic.

In a way, I feel my blog works like that. I don't attempt to write articles about raising teenagers frugally, or about buying a home frugally, or making frugal investments in the stock market or CDs or whatever. I write about what I know. If you just wanted random frugal tips and advice, I'm sure there are lots of text books out there with hard, dry facts about financial management.
What makes frugal blogs different is they're generally writing about frugality from a personal angle. Writing about frugality as it applies to them. Bringing a face to frugality and the various frugal tips. Showing the mind behind the frugal, the hows and the whys and the how to manages, and even the personal feelings involved.
My blog is a frugal blog, but its also a personal blog. Its a personal frugality blog. A blog that aims to share as many frugal tips as possible, but about things that are relevant to me, because, if I wrote about things that I wasn't experiencing, I would a) not have much to say b) not be inspired to write about it, because it has nothing to do with my life c) probably sound like an idiot, as most people do when they write about a subject in which they are clueless.

Because of that, my blog goes through phases. Sometimes I feel very inspired to write a series on different posts comparing the various final prices of meats, grains, and legumes. Other times I feel inspired to write a bunch on picking and using wild edibles. Other times I've been inspired to write about coping with heat in the summer, or about living without a car. In almost every case, I've gotten emails, complaints saying "I don't like the direction in which your blog seems to be heading. Go back to what you wrote about before, because what you're writing about now isn't relevant to me, and I'm sure you wouldn't want to lose a loyal reader."

But what people may not realize is that my blog is dynamic, as am I. Its constantly evolving, not staying stagnant. My interests and focus may change somewhat, but all under the same topic of frugally raising a family, with three side interests: health, especially healthy eating, green/natural living, and homeschooling. If something doesn't interest you, fear not, that's probably just my current obsession, as when my life is focusing mainly in one area, especially when I'm going through a large upheaval in my life and adjusting to the change, my writing tends to reflect that. But, as my husband tends to remind me, I have ADD (mild, of course), and I get sick of doing the same thing for long. I get bored easily. And yes, that applies to my writing as well. I get bored of certain topics, and after some time I tend to switch my writing focus to another one in the frugal sphere. So just wait around a little bit and my blog's focus most likely will change yet again.

Personal Relevance
I realize I can't please everyone with my writing. Not everything is relevant to everyone.
If I write how to make things from scratch, I'll get people disinterested because they can buy that thing ready made cheaply, or because they have no time to make things from scratch.
If I write about living without a car, some people will be disinterested because they have a car and don't live in a location where it is possible to live car free.
If I write about having a frugal pregnancy, some people will be disinterested because they're not pregnant and/or have no interest in having any more pregnancies/kids or having kids at all.
If I write about parenting frugally, some people will feel that what I say doesn't apply to them because their kids are older than mine, or because they don't have kids yet, or because they're not interested in ever becoming parents.
If I write about buying and making food as cheaply as possible, certain people will be disinterested, as they're not interested in cheapo cheapo recipes, they're looking for cheap healthy recipes and don't eat the junk mentioned in the posts.
If I write about making food healthily and cheaply, other people will be disinterested, because they don't care about the health aspect of food, just about filling their bellies as cheaply as possible.

What it comes down to is that what I write about in specific posts may not be relevant to everyone, but there is more to my blog than the specific tips in specific posts.
The point of my blog and other blogs like mine is to get your mind in the frugal mode, to share the thought process behind different frugal actions I take, and to inspire other people to use the same thought processes to live their life as best as they can with the money they have.
When I write a gluten free recipe, even if you're not gluten free, what you can "get from that" is learning to adapt to what changes you have within your life without giving up the basic tenets of frugality. To be willing to experiment and think outside the box, to live frugally even when on the surface you might think "frugality simply isn't possible in my situation".
And honestly? Most of my gluten free recipes that I'm sharing are relevant to everyone, gluten free or not, as they're just general frugal recipes.

Gluten Free Isn't Non Frugal
Let me look at my recent list of gluten free recipes. Homemade fish sauce, broad beans for breakfast, egg curry, coconut milk, dill pickles, polenta, homemade soy sauce, baked lentils, cucumber soup, vegan pepperoni, red lentil mash, watermelon rind saladchocolate pudding. Every single last one of them is a frugal recipe, good for everyone, whether or not you have any food sensitivities.
Ok, so if you can handle milk just fine, you may not make coconut milk on a regular basis, but if you have a recipe that calls for it, at least now you know how to make it frugally instead of buying canned coconut milk.
So, they happen to be gluten free as well. Why should mentioning that in the post make it narrow my focus?

If anything, now, in addition to my blog being good for people trying to scale back financially in their life, it also has posts that are relevant to people a) with allergies b) with celiac disease c) who are trying to cut back on refined and processed grains d) on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet e) on the GAPS diet f) who are trying to cut back on the amount of grains they eat in general for health reasons g) who are cutting back on gluten, even if not entirely eliminating it.

One of the common misconceptions that I'm trying to combat is that gluten free and frugal are mutually exclusive. All the recipes I linked to above are frugal AND gluten free.
So if anything, I feel writing about gluten free and frugality broadens my focus, not narrows it. Because I'm writing about gluten free while being frugal, not gluten free recipes at the expense of frugality.

Yes, there were two recipes that I posted that were gluten free that were more expensive than a glutinous recipe- my recipe for gluten free flat bread and my recipe for gluten free spring rolls. Gluten free wraps are definitely less frugal than wraps made with wheat, and hence not relevant to people trying to live frugally but not on any specific diets, but that was only one out of 14 gluten free recipes, most of the others being relevant to non gluten free readers as well.
My gluten free spring roll recipe was relevant to everyone, whether or not they're gluten free, as a) rice paper can certainly be bought very cheaply, and b) I made sure to include a link within the post to my recipe for gluten filled egg roll wraps which are pretty cheap to make (and even mentioned where to substitute in the instructions if using that recipe), and together with that wrap recipe and the filling and dip recipe included in the spring roll post, you get a pretty frugal meal that is relevant to anyone, whether they're gluten free or not. I included an alternative for both types of readers- the extremely frugal, and the gluten free frugal readers.

Anyhow, this post is going on and on, but I think my point is clear. Writing about gluten free doesn't make my blog less frugal, as I'm just as frugal as I was before, even though we're gluten free. And even most of my gluten free posts are applicable to everyone frugal minded, whether or not they're on a gluten free diet.

Where to Go From Here?
But, I don't want you to think that I don't care about what my readers think.
This feedback I got from some readers has made me more conscious about writing about gluten free living on my blog, and I do plan on making 3 changes, or at least trying to implement them (no promises that I'll be successful):
1) I'll try to include at least one post a week that isn't food related.
2) I'll try not to mention gluten free where it isn't relevant in a post (even if that's where my stream of conscious writing directs me)- like in my salt dough post.
3) When possible, I'll try to include a gluten free and non gluten free alternative in recipes.

I won't stop sharing gluten free recipes or dairy free recipes or tips, because I think they are helpful for many people, nor will I refrain from mentioning in a recipe that it is gluten free, as gluten free doesn't mean "non frugal".
And if that costs me some readers? Well, then that would make me sad, because each of you readers, especially the ones that I've gotten to know through the comments and emails mean a lot to me...
But if that's the case, then I'll have to deal with it... Fortunately, I do know that my blog readership has grown a lot lately, probably partially because of my switching to gluten free, because it now attracts a gluten free readership desperate for ideas to cut the cost on a seemingly expensive diet. So what change may cost me some readers may gain me some in their stead.

My Blog At The Moment... And In The Future
One more thing I do want to mention, if you're still with me (I know! This post is long! It's just helping me sort out my muddled feelings while writing it.), is that for a while I was pretty much neglecting my blog because of having a difficult pregnancy. I started feeling somewhat better, even if not 100%, and I decided I needed to put more effort into my blog, and I went from 2-3 posts a week to 5-7 posts per week.
That was a big jump, especially as I'm not feeling so terrific as it is, so I made it easier for myself by writing posts that are easier for me, and since I am transitioning to gluten free and learning to cook gluten free, and cooking to feed my family anyhow, writing about my gluten free discoveries and recipes is easier for me to do than writing about posts that are just general great ideas but that I'm not actively already doing right now. Yes, you have my confession- my food posts in general are my "easy posts", my ones that I write when I want to make sure I'm not neglecting you readers as I was for so long, but that I can still manage when feeling pretty under the weather.
If you don't want gluten free posts at all, don't want recipes, etc... I'd probably end up going back to 1-2 posts per week.
Writing the way I have now has been what has been allowing me to up my posting frequency.
And hopefully, once I'm feeling better (its a gradual process, and once our AC free summer ends I'm sure I'll be feeling loads better), I'll be able to write posts that take more thought and research and not just "easy posts".

So don't go away! I do want you to stay, and I probably will soon start writing more posts about topics that aren't diet related. Just as soon as I get my bearings back and am feeling back to myself, or am feeling a tad less overwhelmed about the change going gluten free (and dairy minimal) has brought to my life.

Wow, this is an insanely long post, and I hope you forgive me if I sound whiney or apologetic or whatever. I just had such a jumble of hormonal feelings when reading the email and comments, because I do care what you readers think, and it made me sad that what I'm currently capable of writing, given my difficult pregnancy (still puking quite frequently as well as having dizzy spells), might end up costing me readers. I'm also running on very little sleep here, so that probably explains some things as well.

So, please tell me- before reading my whole post, how did you feel about my gluten free posts that I've been writing lately?
Now that you read my reasoning, do you feel the same way?
If you have an issue with my gluten free posts, will the changes I plan on making help with that at all, or no?
If you're not on a gluten free diet, do you feel that most of my recipes are still relevant to you? Does mentioning "This is gluten free" in a recipe post actually dissuade you from wanting to make it?
If you're not gluten free, do you feel that there is still what to gain from my gluten free posts, like the general mind set of adapting your needs and lifestyle to suit your budget instead of throwing you off the frugal bandwagon, or do you find them completely irrelevant?
If you're getting annoyed with the frequency of my gluten free posts, do you think you can wait it out a bit until I start feeling better, especially if I try to implement the aforementioned changes?
And lastly- are you a long time reader or a relatively new reader?


Thanks in advance! And as always, I do appreciate reader feedback! 

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