Critiquing the Food Critic
In addition to my role at Food Forward, I’m the food editor for Metro Silicon Valley, an alt weekly in San Jose, Calif. Among other things, I’m the paper’s restaurant critic. It’s a great job. Probably once a week someone tells me I have their dream job. And I am very fortunate. I get paid to eat. But as someone who thinks a lot (maybe too much) about food and where it comes from I’ve begun to question the role of the restaurant critic.
Given the stack of evidence against the industrial food system, it seems downright wrong to limit a restaurant review to a critique of cooking, service and decor, but that’s the norm in my business. The food we eat is altering life on the planet as we know it. Are gripes about an overdressed salad or a bumbling waiter more important than calling out the fact that manure from industrial meat has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states or that synthetic fertilizers have turned the Gulf of California into a vast dead zone?
While consumers and restaurants alike are seeking ingredients that tread more lightly on the earth and people, restaurant critics seem to work in a vacuum where questions about the true social and environmental costs of the food aren’t worth mentioning. That makes them indifferent, irrelevant or part of the problem. I’m not sure which is worse.