The best blogs are the ones which are penned from the heart. Sangeeta Khanna’s journey from a health-food enthusiast to a proclaimed blogger is inspiring. While she started blogging for a very personal reason, slowly she shared more about her life, her personal insights about food and is today renowned as one of India’s topmost food bloggers.
After securing her master’s degree in botany, Sangeeta and then spent some time researching antioxidants from Cyanobacteria and their nutritional aspect in the 90s. She later developed more interest into nutrition later on and being someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen started developing recipes suited for specific health conditions. She presently works as a nutrition consultant and trainer for individual clients from all over the world.
Sangeeta regularly writes for magazines, speaks at events and has also appeared along with celebrity chefs on TV shows. Her journey from an enthusiast to an expert, all thanks to practical experience is quite inspiring. In this interview with Digital Defynd, she opens up about the chapter of her life related to blogging and expressing.
Q. You started your blog for a special reason. While it’s one thing to start, what made you carry on?
SK : Yes, I started a blog to share the rare medical conditions of my daughter as I was looking for some support, some kind of reassurance about whatever I am doing as a caregiver is right. I soon found that the blog became a source of inspiration for many people while it gave me the required balance of thought.
While I started typing down my thoughts for that personal blog, I thought of jotting down the recipes in another blog to share with my friends who used to ask me for detailed recipes whenever they ate food cooked in healthy ways at my home. Those initial recipes were without pictures. I started taking pictures with my phone later and soon started another blog too about the food of my native place Banaras as I saw there are a few people who read those recipes and sent feedback. Those few people who read the blog and wrote back in the beginning were instrumental I must admit.
While I had made the start, I kept posting recipes and pictures in a very casual way. But I realised that my food blogs were being appreciated more because those were not just about recipes, the detailed procedures and the science behind the recipes, the quality of the ingredients and the health and nutrition information on the blog were additional information that a reader was gathering. Soon people started writing to me about what visible health benefits they experienced after following my blogs for everyday recipes, some lost weight while some reverted early stage hypothyroid. Those mails used to bring so much happiness and satisfaction that it kept alive the fire in these food blogs. Literally so.
Q. Blogging slowly opens people up. How difficult or easy was it for you to share your innermost thoughts. Do you think it’s important that people blog with all their heart?
SK : The first blogpost for me was the most difficult to pen down, I was writing about my daughter who was suffering from immense pain and was a vegetative body for the rest of the world. Most people don’t talk about disabled children and here I was ready to bare my heart and find solutions. After that first post nothing felt difficult to share, even in the food blogs I wrote freely about my daughter and husband occasionally and did not give them nick names for the sake of privacy.
It helped that I had a personal blog which was little known, kind of a secret that I kept and the food blogs which were a little more popular where I kept writing about the good food and little things of happiness that kept happening.
Having said that, I think different things work for different bloggers and sharing innermost thoughts may not always be required. Some would write it very mechanically about say technology, finance or photography and be highly successful without sharing anything personal.
Writing by heart does create an intimate trust with the readers and that is a huge achievement in a way. But on the other hand readers connect with different bloggers for different things.
Q. Your health blog (healthfooddesivideshi.com) was your second blog. While everybody seems to be going gaga over food these days, how was the experience when you started. How did people discover your blog in the beginning?
SK : Yes healthfood blog was the most abused blog those days I must admit. Healthy food was considered bland and ugly and my pictures clicked by a primitive phone didn’t help. I used to get very acrid comments sometimes criticising how bland a dish looks or how a paratha can be healthy etc etc but it helped me in a way. Those comments kept giving me insights about what are the misconceptions about healthy food in general and how I should grow my blog into a source of comprehensible information.
The blog was discovered only by google searches I realise. I used to get excited whenever I saw 10 readers in a day and when I found out what kind of recipes they were searching for. Later when I joined Facebook I had no blogger friends on my list for a few years but later bloggers started finding each other on social media and I made an account on Twitter and these things might have spread the word, but still my primary source of traffic is Google searches.
Q. Over the years, you have become somebody whom a lot of people from the food industry would associate with as a ‘Master Chef Blogger’. How did that happen, and how has this journey been?
SK : Not very sure about how it happened I would be honest, I never did much analysis. Yes I know my readers trust me and keep giving me feedback, keep referring my blog to their friends and family. People come and tell me that they follow my blog and that they follow my activities too when I conduct workshops in other cities. The realisation that some people out there find my writing useful for them and they find it working positively in their lives makes all the work worthwhile. An elderly lady came to me recently and told me she reads my blog everyday for an hour like Ramayan and that was one the most cherished moment as a blogger and writer.
Food industry found the blogs through Google searches too as whoever approached me for consultation have told me they saw my work online and trusted my instinct and knowledge and hence wanted to work with me. After a few projects you get referrals by the word of mouth too.
While I consider myself as a food and nutrition consultant, culinary trainer and food and travel writer, photographer, gardener and many more, I don’t fall into the category of Master‘chef’ blogger as I think Chefs earn the title after studying for it just like doctors or architects, and handling professional kitchens which is a different ballgame altogether.
Of course I am a ‘blogger’ juggling with many things and enjoying them all.
Q. While it was only blogging in the beginning, a lot of emphasis has shifted to facebook, Instagram and all of social media with time. Do you have any personal choices of which platforms you or your readers like more?
SK : Yes I agree to that. While I am present on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook I have not been very successful in making good use of social media. I share my latest blogposts on my facebook page, Twitter and Instagram but I always forget sharing on Pinterest. I am a little lazy about that because instinctively I tend to do whatever I enjoy more and social media shares feel like a chore. Recently I have started enjoying Instagram and share a lot of everyday titbits there even though it is not related to my blogs.
I think my readers like to read my posts on the blogs better as they always ask for the blog link or whether I have shared something on the blog or not. The social media shares are mostly lapped up by fellow bloggers and personal friends who make a very small percentage of our readers. But then the fellow bloggers and friends on Facebook also give some important insights sometimes so social media shares work in a slightly different way, at least for me.
Q. Your style of writing is straight from the heart and you also seem to lay a lot of emphasis on the pictures you take. What would be some suggestions you would have for budding food bloggers on what they should do right to grow in this field?
SK : The pictures have come later on my blogs as I mentioned. I realised pictures complete the story and make a lasting impression of what the reader discovers in the written words. That was the reason I started taking my food photography seriously and improved a bit with time. I upgraded my cameras 3 times and now I have 2 professional cameras, it helps that my husband Arvind also takes interest in photography and we explore travel and bird photography together. He has a few more interests in photography like shooting star trails, streets, skyscapes etc and I have to focus more on food mostly as food blogging is quite demanding in that way. We do some photography assignments together too whenever he can spare some time from his work.
My focus on the pictures also comes from the experience that the readers don’t find the recipes as desirable as it should be if the pictures are substandard. Slowly I realised I have to keep the pictures very good quality while staying away from excessive styling to make the food look desirable as well as doable at home. After all I want my readers to cook these recipes every day, I want them to get inspired to cook all meals at home and not see cooking as a boring chore. Cooking is seen mostly as a woman’s domain, a chore that people abhor but want to eat great food too so the pictures help in bridging the gap by making the food desirable but simple enough to be cooked at home.
It will be very difficult for me to give advice to new bloggers as all I have learnt is on the job myself. Most of the beginner bloggers these days are quite focused and work strategically which was not the case a decade ago when bloggers were seen as hobbyists and rightly so. Thankfully bloggers are not hobbyists anymore. The only concern that I feel about some of the new bloggers is that being focused on one’s work may feel difficult but it pays in the end. Seeing so many talented bloggers around may make one dizzy but sticking to one’s own expertise helps a lot while changing the tracks repeatedly keeps you disoriented.
I have never been able to understand those who say their blogs have helped them learn so many things. I believe in writing about the things I know well and not the things that I learn on the go. I would never want to write about half baked information.
Q. Blogging isn’t just about expressing, it’s also a journey about making many new relationships, going through many new experiences and a lot more. Can you recall some of your fondest experiences from this journey?
Oh yes I have found so many friends through my blogs though we connect mostly via internet but it helps finding a better perspective always. The best critique comes from some of the readers who have turned into friends. My readers came forward as a support system after my daughter passed away and some of them still write to me even after 7 years that they follow me on all platforms and feel happy that I survived well. Some say they find strength seeing me doing well. These messages feel very humbling and reiterate my faith in humanity.
Of course the feedback from the clients and the brands I have worked with keeps making me happy too, but the way the blogs have touched lives and earned the trust of my readers makes me feel really blessed.