Five Ways To Identify a Bullshit Food Writer

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Flickr user dougbeckers
I read a lot of food writing. A lot of it--in fact, at least 80 percent of my RSS feed is food--and I'm getting tired. I'm tired of having to sit there and mentally analyze every article I write for the signs of bullshit food writing, because the signal-to-noise ratio of food writing is headed straight down the pan.

If it's not some opportunist pretending to be excited by something he got for free, it's some jumped-up Yelper who casually informs the server that she'll be reviewing their food tonight for [insert name of blog] here. That's not counting the legions of people who have absolutely no idea what they're talking about.

There are many, many honest food writers, and I read them and appreciate them; there are even more honest professional food writers, perhaps because there are more eyes on their work. Sadly, unless you read everything with a questioning eye, you're going to have a bad time; you'll end up in some hyped restaurant saying, "What the hell happened here?"

While we're at it, a quick statement of the rules of ethics imparted by our Mexican-in-Chief:

1. We buy the things we review; free stuff we receive at the office is distributed to non-food people first, mostly because none the food writers are on staff and therefore are never there anyway. We turn in receipts every month.

2. Reviews are always done anonymously, which is why only one or two people have ever identified Edwin Goei. (Pro tip: he looks exactly like Gustavo Arellano.)

3. Anyone who ever dared trade on the OC Weekly name to get a free meal would be laughed out of the office, penniless and humiliated.

4. If your food sucks, we're going to say so. None of us have ever met the advertising people; there's a literal as well as a figurative wall between the editorial department and the advertising department.

Now, without further ado...

1. They only review free products.

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If you receive something for free and you write a positive article about it without admitting it was sent to you, you are a bullshit food writer.

It's amazing how many food writers do this. Every food writer receives free things from time to time, but it's truly amazing that these "reviews" are universally positive. What are the chances? The worst offenders are the ones whose writing is just one continuous string of PR blow jobs. When I see the rare case of someone receiving a free product and then outlining both its pros and its cons, I applaud.

2. They identify themselves ahead of time.

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"Hi, my name is Eric and I'll be your waiter tonight."

"Hi, my name is Fulano, from the celebrated blog Fulano's Bullshit Restaurant Reviews. I'll be reviewing your food tonight."

If you tell the restaurant ahead of time--if, God forbid, you tell them when you make the reservation that you'll be dining in review of the restaurant, you are a bullshit food writer.

It doesn't matter whether you admit that you identify yourself ahead of time; within a few months, it'll be known. The food writing world is very small in many ways; "he self-identifies" is the kiss of death for a reviewer's credibility. How many people trust the word of the Yelp "Elite", who go around having parties at restaurants who want positive Yelp reviews?

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Flickr user 22748341@N00 (Linda N.)
Ruth Reichl's famous "raspberry" review of Le Cirque in 1993 in The New York Times illustrates the problem with this: when the kitchen knows who you are and why you're there, they elevate your dining experience above what your average dining patron would receive--and if they're smart, they make sure the people around you are having a good time. This is why I hate media previews--they have nothing to do with the restaurant's operations after opening and everything to do with making sure the staff knows who's writing about them.

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11 comments
gorditaheaven
gorditaheaven

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LukeHarper
LukeHarper

Dave,


What about with they build tight relationships with chefs-- like you traveling, competing in friendly competitions, and developing a friendship with Jason Quinn? Clearly your relationship with Jason would make it hard for you to give an honest review, would it not?  (No antagonism, literally just curious)

Otis Denim
Otis Denim

Five Ways To Identify a rag you should never line the bottom of where your bird lives .

reviews2
reviews2

28% guilty. I go incognito but have had people tell me that to be professional I need to call up the restaurant ahead of time and tell them I'm coming and that they better comp the meal for me. Out of the hundreds of places I've been there were two times where I gave it a try, to make an attempt at being professional or how I'd had "professional" described to me, but never ever asked for a meal to be comped. Mostly I did it so that restaurants wouldn't think I was casing the joints when I was there taking a million pictures.

My blog actually died four years ago this month (doesn't pay like the Register or Weekly; lost ground to Yelp like all other amateur food blogs did; I was never a food writer in the first place, etc.) and I now only post to it from time to time and have kind of brought it back to my original intent of keeping my own photo log with minimal verbiage of places I've eaten at and if anybody else benefits from it then so be it.

feargal1
feargal1

Way #6 would be "They work for the OC Register"

Dave_Lieberman
Dave_Lieberman

@LukeHarper I've never reviewed Jason Quinn's restaurant. That job is reserved, fortunately for me, for Edwin.

LukeHarper
LukeHarper

@Dave_Lieberman @LukeHarper Okay, you write about his dishes though-- so is it okay to gush about dishes and write features as long as it's not a review? Again, I just want to open up the discussion. Perhaps what you really mean then is 5 ways to Recognize a Bullshit Food "Reviewer" rather than writer? Because when you wrote about Jason on the cover and spoke about his ramen in the top dishes section you were still writing about food. Right? 

LukeHarper
LukeHarper

@Dave_Lieberman @LukeHarper Still, the conversation becomes about reviewing vs. writing, right? Thanks for your thoughts-- that openness, more than anything, gives me confidence in the future of food writing.

Dave_Lieberman
Dave_Lieberman

@LukeHarper @Dave_Lieberman You're not asking for anonymity, you're asking for complete objectivity, which is impossible—we've all got biases. But if you're asking whether my relationship with Jason Quinn influenced my writing, no, it did not. The post in question, incidentally, is a list of 100 things you should eat in Orange County. (Sadly, however, they've discontinued the ramen iterations.)

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