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Courtney Reum

Courtney Reum

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Reinvention, Self Invention and Social Media

Posted: 04/ 5/11 08:29 PM ET

Whether it was an April Fool's prank or a genuine confession-as-publicity-stunt, organic food's godmother Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse fame) last Friday admitted to being "Ruth Bourdain," the Twitter sensation popular for her food and sometimes obscenity-laced, alliterative Tweets. If it's indeed true that Ruth Bourdain -- the mutant offspring of food editor Ruth Reichl and chef-author-TV personality Anthony Bourdain -- is Alice Waters, it's a clever social media coup from one of the food world's longest running "one-trick" ponies. Alice Waters has been a genuine champion for organic and locally-grown food for almost 40 years. But while she has been incredibly influential, Waters is often singularly focused on her narrow message, to the point that she moves in and out of favor with the media and isn't recognized as an innovator as much as a standard-bearer.

LA Weekly's blog, which supposedly broke this admission, claims Waters said, "It's just gotten so big. It's time." She's referring of course to her Twitter follows -- all 31,231 of them. Is that big in an era when Charlie Sheen attracts over a million followers in just over 25 hours or when Kim Kardashian supposedly earns $25,000 a Tweet to promote various brands and products? Perhaps not, but it is a sign that even the old guard is getting in on the social media act as a way to reinvent themselves.

Speaking of reinvention -- or rather self-invention -- few people are attracting as much attention for having mastered this in the social media age as Tim Ferriss, the "superbad" self-promoting self-help guru who makes licensed therapists, time-management experts and exotic ashram retreats seem obsolete. Ferriss, who I've never met in person but share many mutual friends with and email with periodically, is the efficiency-expert turned life-coach-from-hell and in his new book, The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, Ferriss offers readers advice on everything from how to increase fat loss 300% with a few bags of ice to how to sleep two hours per day and feel fully rested. I'm curious to find out if either can work for me, particularly the two hours of sleep. Ferris might be trafficking in old-school media (books) but it was social media that helped make him, through his popular blog and the bloggers who help promote his books and philosophy.

Ferriss' surprising, if sometimes unrealistic, vision for how people live and work in the world has created two bestsellers and a burgeoning Tim Ferriss brand, and I can't imagine a Ferriss-penned diet or cookbook could be far behind. Ferriss' aggressive and satirical approach to "smashing fear" and "having it all" couldn't be more counterpoint to Waters', yet the two have an odd similarity: simple, redundant messaging about what people should do and need to do to lead richer lives -- Ferriss by cutting through distraction and reclaiming time, Waters through reclaiming the simple pleasures of eating (although this wasn't necessarily the case with Ruth Bourdain's acerbic Tweets).

Oddly, one-half of the inspiration for Waters' micro blog alter-ego -- food editor Ruth Reichl -- was also in the news last week. Reichl is partnering with online retailer Gilt Groupe, the home of luxury flash sales, to run a new online food site. One assumes that Reichl-Gilt won't be emailing you about rare truffle or caviar sales that end in a matter of hours, but who knows? Again, a member of the food world's old guard is reinventing herself online -- not through an alter-ego but as a culinary flash-sale curator (that's some title!).

This comes, however, at a time when consumers may be on daily flash sale overload. I imagine that daily sales will be intrinsically tied to Gilt's food program if it intends to stay on the cutting edge of foodie exclusivity, and I can only imagine what delivery or shipping charges might be, in the name of food freshness. It's difficult enough getting unbruised bananas from FreshDirect, let alone trying gourmet offerings through FedEx from the former editor of Gourmet. (<-this could have been a Tweet from Ruth Bourdain.)