Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A food critic's dark confession

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 8:18 AM

Don't laugh at the date of the article I'm about to link to and ask you to read.

It's nearly three months old and for no good reason I've procrastinated in blogging about it until now, prioritizing other, more timely posts.

Venetucci Farm offers a local picture of sustainably raised animals.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Venetucci Farm offers a local picture of sustainably raised animals.

Actually ... that's not entirely true. Several times I've re-read this piece by food writer Ari LeVaux, who runs the website Flash in the Pan, and from whom we will occasionally buy a reprint for the Indy.

Each time, with full intent to weigh in on the issue with my own blog post, I hesitated, not wanting to rush my response and likely condemn myself to a new barrage from trolls on our website. In fact, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Ari's feature is its comment section at the end — make sure to read it, too.

I firstly wanted to congratulate Ari on the piece, because it showed some guts and was no doubt a ballsy reveal, opening himself up with this confession of personal tastes and standards versus those he must exhibit while on the job as a food critic. The trolls had plenty of fodder.

I particularly loved these two lines:

Most cheeseburgers, even expensive ones, amount to patties of industrial feedlot meat on bleached white buns stuck together with melted squares of orange-stained cheese made from the mammary secretions of incarcerated, drug-addicted cattle. Even a green chile can't change that.

Telling the world that the cook needs to start a garden and shop at Whole Foods would be like a music critic deciding a song can't be good if it has no redeeming social value.

And speaking as one of the Indy's food writers, I have to admit that I understand where Ari's coming from and I largely agree with his account of setting aside his feelings to do his job.

I, too, at home, am a much different eater than I am while out reviewing for our paper. When reviewing, I try to order a diversity of food from across the menu and do my best to try what will best represent that outfit.

I am willing to eat just about anything, and am fully aware that a good majority of the meat I consume while out does come from those "drug-addicted cattle" that would never be found next to the organic chicken and pork and naturally raised buffalo in my freezer.

At home, we keep bees, raise around 15 foods during the growing season, sprout, dehydrate, incorporate raw-food recipes and shop about 95 percent organic, which is no longer a difficult nor unique feat thanks to an increasingly aware base of consumers.

Venetucci Farms mobile chicken unit offers a look at truly free-range practices.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Venetucci Farm's mobile chicken unit offers a look at truly "free-range" practices.

But I am careful to check my personal food standards at the door when entering a local eatery. I will not grade down on an excellent hamburger for its meat sourcing, and the best I can do to reward an eatery that does source sustainably is commend them for that.

As Ari says, lecturing readers about how much better an item could theoretically be if made from local versus mass-produced materials would get "very old, very quickly."

I guess my approach boils down to positive reinforcement.

I would personally take a Bingo Burger or a burger from an eatery that serves Ranch Foods Direct's meats over one that's made from factory-farmed animals.

Not everyone can be as green as Pizzeria Rustica or Bon Appétit," but most restaurants could certainly do more to be eco-friendly.

Margarita at PineCreek and Adam's Mountain Café make sustainability work on the fine-dining level, and if you look at all the small diners and sandwich shops on Ranch Foods Direct's website, you'll see models of places that incorporate at least a little morality to their menus.

I'd like to make some grand statement, rambling about how its time to stop sacrificing product quality for profits, which is generally how I feel. But I know that statement would be over-simplified and lacking sensitivity to the multitude of aspects of running a restaurant, particularly during a tough economic period.

Some eateries simply aren't doing the volume they'd need to justify higher food costs, and are hanging on as it is. Many folks are too busy fighting the locals-versus-chains battle that's more economic-, creativity- and aesthetic-related than food-product based.

I've obviously spun off on my own tangent inspired by Ari's article, and by endorsing it, his confession in essence has become mine as well.

I guess that's the trolls' cue to tell me to quit whining and be grateful for my job (which, believe me, I am), to not patronize our readers with my personal values and all that.

So, bring it on.

I've had three months to prep for this moment ... it's now or never.

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