Not Quite A Sob Story

Danny Klein- Blog

I want to tell you about the process of making an episode of The Perennial Plate.  I’m writing this out of frustration, as a 100 or so of our 8000 twitter followers shared the latest video and 25 out of 9000 Facebook fans “liked” it.  I understand that we have an amazing job, and we are so lucky to do what we do.  I also understand that there is a lot of content out there, all trying to get seen, and that with the way social media works, it is easy to miss things, I also appreciate the wonderful friends that watch our videos week after week.  But I just want to make the point of why one of our videos should be watched.

Prior to leaving for China, we spent a couple months researching subjects.  It’s harder than you think.  Searching “organic” “sustainable” and all the other key words related to food that we like, in China, yielded the same crop of farmers or restaurants around Beijing.  I’m sure they were great stories, but we aren’t trying to rehash the “same old”.  We reached out to the folks at Intrepid Travel (our partners), to numerous bloggers, expats and friends who had once lived in China, to little avail.  When we finally came up with stories that sounded great, we still didn’t know much about the subjects.  Our information was based on a contact in country, sharing our information to the subjects and the subject’s information to us.  Hardly reliable.  But trust we must.

Then we fly halfway around the world.  Intrepid Travel provides us with a guide/translator and we drive 8 hours to the obscure location in Yunnan province that we hope might work out.  We arrive at said location, hoping that we’ve flown all this way for a story that is worth sharing.  And it is, of course.  It always is.

Our story in this case is about a young woman who defies expectations of becoming a doctor/lawyer/businesswoman to open a restaurant and continue to work with her parents’ farm.  It’s a beautiful story. And she spends a couple days with us — devoting her time and her story to sharing with us.  Her parents cook a beautiful meal, bring us to their farm and teach us how to make tofu.  We film the whole time, filling up card after card of footage.  Everything is so striking that it is hard to put the camera down.

After two jam-packed days, we depart at midnight.  Happy with what we’ve captured, frightened by the possibility that our next story might not come through, and gearing up for what will be a lot of editing.  But before we can edit, we have to translate.  This means finding someone who speaks Hani and English perfectly.  We couldn’t find that.  So we had someone translate the Hani to Mandarin and then someone else translate the Mandarin into English. By the time the translation is done, over a month has passed since the inspiring 2 days we spent with our subject.  We re-watch the hours of footage.  Read over the transcripts and try to piece together a story that will appeal to our audience.  A story that rings true to you, that rings true to our experience, that shares the passion of our subject and is within the internet attention span length.

It’s good work, it’s rewarding, and we think the result is beautiful.  All in all, to create the 5 minute video that is up on our website…it took us months.  It took 2 full days for our subject.   It took thousands of dollars from our partners and the time and expertise of several of their staff.  It took a lot to create this snippet of life in Yunnan Province.  And the purpose of that work, is to share it with you.  So when you see our tweet or Facebook message, when you consider pressing play or watching the whole video, know that this isn’t just something that appears on your computer.  This took heart and soul, hours of work and jet fuel, and from the subjects: passion for creating a better food system.  Please watch and please enjoy.


42 responses to “Not Quite A Sob Story”

  1. Kat F. says:

    A few months ago when I had a day off I decided to go on Vimeo. I forgot what it was exactly I searched but one of your videos came up. And I watched that video. And then spent the entire day watching ALL of your videos. They are beautiful and inspiring and they make me hungry. They have also given me more of a reason to appreciate the food I eat. You are appreciated. Keep doing what you do!! Can’t wait for the next one!

  2. Clare Barboza says:

    So, so, so beautiful. Thank you for capturing these stories and sharing them with us.

  3. Seeker says:

    To receive something -a video, a puppy, a kiss; ideally one should open up and even explore what has been given. If every time we sit at the table we were to give thanks, to think about all who made this meal possible, to acknowledge what went into it and to appreciate it; I think it might make us healthier, happier and certainly more engaged. To look at a video or read a book or put on a shirt and think and appreciate what went into it sounds perhaps time consuming, but it’s not. Just say thank you, just share what you have, just acknowledge those who made it possible. The world might just become a better place.

  4. Brian S says:

    I’m confused about your motive behind explaining the entire process behind creating an installment of your series. Daniel, you seem bitter that not enough people are liking and sharing your videos. Unappreciated. Do likes and shares help justify, fund, or motivate you to continue with The Perennial Plate? The tone of the written piece above almost sounds like you’re saying, “Please watch. We put so much into making this that you’re *obligated* to enjoy it.”

    Please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love your project. I have never liked or shared your videos, out of some weird thing I have where I want to avoid being ‘that guy’ all over Facebook and Twitter. It’s clear that you and your girlfriend are strong, passionate, curious, adventurous, and talented. What you do must take immeasurable amounts of time and energy. But I recognize that without feeling the urge to proselytize. I watch because I enjoy your work and I learn a lot from it. Perhaps if I am gaining as much as I feel I am, I should be more supportive. But please know that the amount of people that you reach and affect is not quantified by likes and shares.

    • danielpklein says:

      Hey Brian, thanks for that. After I wrote this, I was totally afraid that people would respond the way you did in your first paragraph. But I thought I should share it as an honest reaction to putting a lot of work into something and not getting the response that is hoped for. The reason behind the series is to tell stories (that encourage dialogue/change), but the stories have to be watched – that is why we make them. The process is important, but sharing them is more importnat. So, “likes” and “shares” while not the reason for the videos, are a sign that people are watching, and sharing is how new people find out about the show. The piece was sort of a backlash to the fact that I take all this content online for granted. So I wanted to share the work it took to bring this video to the internet. Anyways, I really appreciate you and everyone who watches the videos. Please continue and thank you.

    • SK says:


      We are too judgemental to everything said, written or filmed. Just watch and enjoy and yes share….cheers,

  5. Amen. Keep up the good work.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Haha, a great supplement to the email you just replied to me. Thanks! 🙂

  7. Kevin says:

    Yes! I hope this juice made it into your McKnight application…

  8. ltcookies says:

    I completely agree with Brian S. I started watching because I liked the content and learned from it. In fact this is one of the few blogs/web series I even comment on. More so, as someone with a background information systems, I can definitely tell you it’s not all about “likes” and “shares”. Although it is a base for analytics, there are countless variables that even the endless power of the internet can’t measure. While I am on the subject, I am surprised you guys aren’t more active on youtube. The audience on there is huge compared to hits on vimeo. People on youtube are all about number of views and likes. As a popular disney character would say it’s “a whole new world”… to connect with other web producers and artists.

  9. kelly says:

    I don’t blame you and do understand the time and effort that goes into what you create. I also understand why you feel the need to explain it. Too often, the cheap, glitzy, flashy whatever-appeals-to-the-masses is what is shared until it becomes viral. The web makes it so easy. I feel strongly that if we do not make an effort to share something well done, then we are doing a disservice to those who make the commitment to produce and risk they will give up leaving the rest of us with the ridiculous likes of cookies stuffed with Oreos.

  10. Jake Schultz says:

    Sometimes I cry because of the stories that these people have around the world, the music that is chosen for the videos, and the work put into this to be able to reach out to an audience. To see a pure, caring, and loving community, culture, and history that impacts us all. To see things how they really are. And what we can learn from that to change the future. I thank Daniel and Mirra for this amazing work that they are doing. Peace and Love to you all.

  11. I´m almost completely agree with Brian S.

    Daniel, I understand all the effort and passion you put into this series but I have to rely on answers from mathematics as “the people” is difficult in the illogic of Internet and viral communication. We know that if something funny or a blooper appears in those videos it would be shared much moree. What you do is an extremely beautiful food activism, and sometimes people havent neither the desire or energy to persevere in maintaining that activism every 2 weeks like sharing or putting the like on your page. I think you know that thousands of people around the world love your work and learn every time we see some video of you. a vast minority. for that matter, is a long-term struggle, and every day work.

    a hug from sardegna!

  12. by the way, let me tell you that this story is the best from the Asia Series…. 🙂

    maybe with the one of that blonde fisher man and the mexican women sharing a table this is my favorite.

    as i saw every episode you made, i like that importance you give to people and theirs stories…

    • danielpklein says:

      thanks for the comments Santiago. on another note, we are headed to Italy in May and looking for under the radar stories. Any thoughts? You know, grandmothers who make their own pasta/mozza/prosciutto or the Sardegna equivalent. email me. thanks!

  13. This reminds me of Gabby Douglas winning a couple of gold medals in the olympics while people complained about her hair, or Adele winning an Emmy while columnists sniped about her weight. It’s incredibly easy to get publicity for the negative; not so easy to get positive recognition even when you’re doing something amazing. If you really want to boost your stats, you either need to have somebody kick you in the crotch (on camera) or poison a bunch of people with bad mushrooms.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve posted links to your videos at least a dozen times on various blogs or on Facebook.

  14. Lisa Anthony says:

    Love your films

  15. I love your honesty here reminding everyone of the “offline world” behind the scenes as much as I love the work that you and Mirra do. Much like sustainable farming, what you two are doing is based on a long term committment, so real-time “likes & shares,” while they are instantly gratifying, in the grand scheme of things they are not the full measure of the art that you two bring into the online world.

    My 2 cents for you is get more gigs like Splendid Table where you can tell your stories through other forms of media to new audiences and then direct folks to your videos (to “like and share” of course, hehe…)

  16. Farmer Brian says:

    keep fighting the good fight, Daniel & co. You may (rightly) feel under-appreciated, but what you’re doing is so valuable and necessary. My wife and I are farmers, fairly new to farming, and to me your pieces capture everything that people need to see and learn about food/farming/eating today. Cheers to you!

  17. Bryan says:

    I love your subject matter, I love the final product. Let the work speak for itself. Lose the blog, it only gets in the way. This post makes me feel like you are calling out your fans for not promoting you enough. That’s weird.

  18. Aaron says:

    As a true fan and follower of your videos, I want to kindly suggest that the soul of your style has changed. I feel like your message is less focused and so your followers are as well.

    • danielpklein says:

      interesting. i don’t think our message has changed. well maybe a little. it used to be more about food and now its more about people. and our style i think has gotten more polished. despite the changes, our viewership is way better than it has ever been. its just a challenge to work so hard on something and see videos of puppies go viral. but thanks for continuing to be a fan despite the changes.

      • Aaron says:

        Not to disagree with you but what I actually remember most from your last two seasons were the people, not the food. Off the top of my head, Poetic Seaweed Man, lizard guy, Amish farmers with the skull and crossbones comment, turkey slaughterer (you I think), mushroom hunter, butter entrepreneur, quirky brothers, farmer who lost crops from Irene (I kayaked from Troy, NY to NYC 2 days after Irene), Joseph and also the guy who made the sorghum syrup.

        For me (an American living in Asia, producing food), I think the departure from the US based stories created a dynamic where a connection is harder to form with the subjects. Who is this Chinese woman, why are you there? What do I know about the Chinese food system, nothing. It is harder to understand her motivations because I don’t understand her background like I do with the Americans you have profiled in the past.

        I know who/what Kickstarter is but who/what is Intrepid? Why are they paying for you to make these videos? I want to connect with your motivations for being where you are.

        • danielpklein says:

          good questions. You are right, it can be harder to connect with folks abroad, especially with the limits of translation. But so far i’ve been pretty happy with what we’ve come up with. I disagree with your comments about the woman though- who is she etc. As always, these are glimpses into people’s lives. You know just as much about this woman as almost any video we’ve ever done. obviously it didn’t hit home with you, but there is lots here. We should totally have a better explanation of our partner with Intrepid on our site. They are pretty awesome, they want to promote their trips and believe that people watching cultural food videos will make people want to travel (and associate their name with it). So they support us, provide interpreters, guides etc. and let us do our thing. We also take video and photos for them to use on their own projects. its great.

        • Eric says:

          This is just my perception. It shouldn’t matter who the Chinese woman is. She could have been from timbucktwo. The only thing that should matter is she is living a “sustainable” life and Daniel is highlighting it. Even in a communist country the woman and her family are making a choice to live this way. The Chinese food system or Intrepid is not the subject of the video or the Perennial Plate. Sustainable eating is.

    • Jake Olson says:

      I think there’s something to the second sentence there. I went from being a laser-focused fan to being to being someone who visits the site when I think of it and catch up on videos then. What changed? The focus was no longer on Minnesota. There’s a trade-off there for you as producers, I think. I’m sure the first season connected very deeply with Minnesota and Western WI people, but that’s a small population obviously.

      on the second thing (below) and the vibe in the comments about questioning someone’s motives and relationship with with Intrepid Travel and a desire to find a broader audience. Daniel, I just want to encourage you to keep doing what you do as long and fund it in any ethical way you can find! For God’s sakes, you have to make a living somehow, and selling or trading for advertising space is a great way to do it. You’re living so many people’s dream life, creating amazing videos that you’re able to give away freely and you’re not encumbered by the need to work a 9 to five for the man. That’s really awesome. I commend you and Mirra for the lives you’re living.

  19. Marina says:

    This video is really moving and beautiful. Thank you for reminding me to watch- I’m so glad I did. I love how humanizing the story is, and how intimate the connection the viewer feels with the folks you interview. Thank you so much for your work!

  20. Justin says:

    I was literally about to say everything “Brian S” just said. [*Insert his message here*]

    I, too, have seen all of your videos and they enrich me in a way that you simply can’t see proof of, because our lives don’t intersect in any other capacity. The day a Facebook “like” is how I signal that something made my life richer is the day I quit the internet. I will likely continue to watch your videos, because they are beautiful, interesting, and worthwhile, but this makes me question your motivation, to be blunt.

    • danielpklein says:

      seriously? our motivations are to make thought provoking videos and get people to watch them. i think it is ok to articulate frustration of a video getting less response (“Likes”) than hoped for.

  21. Vivian says:

    Hi, would you mind sharing the name and address of the restaurant in Kunming? I think a lot of travelers to Kunming would be interested. Thanks!

  22. cicatricella says:

    That was gorgeous, thank-you

  23. Daniel, I can understand your frustrations and feelings like this can be hard to share with your readers and viewers, but thank you for doing so. It is brave on your part because it could turn some people off, but the reality is that the type of exposure and response that you seek takes time, and cannot be forced. Every person who makes content and puts it out into the world goes through these exact feelings. But, one day the exposure you’re looking for will happen.

    You, Mirra, and your whole team put so much effort and love into each video, that it is obvious in the quality of every video (sometimes, I wish they were longer). As seen from other contents, it is obvious that a lot of people believe in your mission and support you, and will continue to do so wherever this journey will take you. Please don’t let a lack of likes, shares, tweets, pins etc get you down or make you feel like people aren’t watching, because they are.

  24. Brian Stemmler says:

    Folks, I didn’t read all of the posts but I read a lot of them. I support Daniel in his quest to make great videos and tell amazing stories utilizing this new technology which makes it possible for two people alone to do it. Just as you may have supported him via Kickstarter, I think he is asking for more support via hype, word of mouth, or in internet language, “likes” and forwards. That is how he will be rewarded for his work…to build his audience…that is all I think he was asking for in his post. I hope that someday soon he will be able to make a profit from the work he has done…as many an artist knows. Art for arts sake only lasts so long without financial backers. You are doing great work Daniel and should be rewarded for it, both in audience growth and financially.

  25. Tad Davis says:

    Hi Daniel, I just found your site today and I must say that I am so happy to see the work that you are doing. My wife and I are American Ex-pats living in New Zealand who have become very disenchanted with the U.S. agricultural system. It saddens us greatly to see regional food cultures, production and distribution disappear into the maw of the industrial behemoth. We have been following the U.K. show “River Cottage” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for some time now and wishing that something similar would be produced in America. Your show is the first I’ve come across that fills this need. So thank you, and you can count on us to continue to watch your show, and share the good work that you are doing with those we love.


  26. Eric says:

    Your audience (myself included) is lucky to have you. The people who share, like or tweet are just a small percentage of an audience. I always look forward to your webisodes because they are made with passion and love for your mission to educate us. I used to work in talk radio and the callers are just a small audience in comparison to the whole pie. You are probably aware you have a larger audience than Facebook and Twitter, but it is nice to see those likes and tweets, to give some validation to your art and passion. You, Mirra and the rest of the staff are doing an amazing job and you are educating the world. Thank you for sharing how difficult it is to edit the webisoes and hopefully some of your audience won’t take your webisodes as “something to watch”. No one said being cool was going to be easy!

  27. Ditte says:

    Great work yet again guys! Someone said below – what/where in kunming is this resto – i am planning a trip to Yunnan this year and would love to go there.
    Keep it up!

  28. Kimberley H says:

    As another person who is a maker of content for the internet, I have thought a lot about this – about how an internet audience expects us to give stuff away, and there is so much blood, sweat and tears involved in getting to that finished piece. It’s not a sustainable model, and I think that after our honeymoon with our respective mediums wears off, there’s a tinge of resentment towards that expectation of beautiful, intensely labored content that’s just given away. Instead of focusing on the likes or the engagement of your audience, why not find a way to make this more sustainable in a manner that’s gratifying and financially solvent? It’s gratifying to be appreciated, but that’s just a spinning hamster wheel, at the end of the day. (And there’s another point, too: if your audience is less engaged, perhaps there’s a reason for that. Perhaps that’s worth investigating.) If your goal is always to go viral, then you’re always going to be disappointed.

    I listened to a really fantastic interview with Seth Godin today, and it, along with his philosophy, seems so relevant to this conversation:

    You guys rule, btw. You know the phrase: Don’t let the bastards get you down.

  29. Bax924 says:

    Daniel, I live in Yunnan Province south of Kunming. I would love to know more about this restaurant! I know who the Hani people are and have some friends who are Hani who go to college here where I live. Can you tell me where you found this wonderful restaurant and people?

  30. Sarah Woo says:

    I’m glad and grateful to watch. Inspiring, motivating, and honest. The internet makes it possible to share work like this and simultaneously have an ongoing dialogue. I for one appreciate your honesty!

  31. Aaron Fast says:

    Danny, it’s crazy to me that people could fault you for this. I don’t understand why anyone would be upset that you want people to see your work. That’s “normal”. I also generally avoid “liking” and “sharing” stuff, but in some cases, that’s MY neurosis to get over, in order to support of someone else’s hard work that I really feel others might enjoy and/or benefit from. Keep it crankin, and I’ll try to share your “tea for two” video tonight when I get a chance (it’s my fav so far). Mazal tov on all of the awesome backing you’ve gotten; money is not inherently “bad”, and you are showing a way in which it can be used to further the good and build bridges between the hearts of people from all over the world. Peace. Your old friend Aaron.

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