Marie like all things you need to learn the techniques. At least with panning you are standing still. The other trick I learnt early on for that sort of work is that focal length is everything. For example if you can add a bit more length you can stand further back. At an airshow for example I prefere to stand back away from the crowd line where you have a bit more space. This then can give you a better angle too.
It is this stopping and thinking about what you are going to do first that makes the difference between so so and great pictures. Good quality lenses, not necessarliy L models, and not always Canon either help. For indoor shooting for example good light is important. If you are doing lots of studio type work then investing in some lights will probably make more difference to your work than any other items you could spend your money on. Most of the products I have had to photograph are a bit bigger than a simple plate of food. For items around the size of a table setting up to full length people size then either one of the sets of studio monoblock lighting sets from ebay or using Yonguo type flashguns on stands will be money well spent. If you are only going to be photographing smaller items then the Younguo type flashes or continuos lighting will be the better choice.
Ok - I just read a bit more about panning in Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure. I'm not sure why I assuming that when you moved the camera you moved with it. I think I understand more about it. He shows a gorgeous pix on a car traveling in a field of blurred yellow flowers.
With regard to the speedlight, would the Yonguo be better than say a comparable one from Canon, price-wise? Is this just as good as shooting in early morning natural light?