SXSW: Food Criticism in the Digital Age
How blogging and social media are killing and saving critics
By Melanie Haupt,
11:00AM, Tue. Mar. 17, 2015
On the last day of a beefed-up Interactive food program, a panel of high-profile food critics gathered to discuss the particular challenges of contemporary food criticism.
Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s Good Food, posed the question: “In this age of Yelp, is everyone a critic or are we all just sharing our opinions?”
LA Times critic Jonathan Gold said, “There’s this glorious noise of specialists who will go onto Chowhound and discuss sambals all day, and there’s nothing that anybody in any form of criticism can tell them about it.”
Alison Cook, food critic for the Houston Chronicle, added, “I can deepen my own knowledge thanks to specialists, but what I bring to the party is a broad view, putting chefs and restaurants and food movements into context.”
“While citizen criticism has given people an outlet to share the opinions that everyone has,” said Helen Rosner of Eater National, “critics know the cultural, socioeconomic, geopolitical, agricultural backgrounds behind the dishes they’re eating.”
“It’s all about taking the fact and turning it into a story. It’s the highest thing we can do,” said Gold. “If I can also point you to a great place to have barbecue on Thursday night, that’s almost a bonus.”
Kleiman and the panel then discussed the effects “foodola” has on the business of food criticism, in which every seasonal menu change, new chef, or restaurant opening mandates a “media preview” dinner to which a small circle of bloggers and food critics are invited in hopes of generating positive social-media buzz.
The consensus was that ethical food critics should absolutely not accept free meals; however, the ensuing discussion of mentorship in an era where many people get their start as food bloggers laid bare the distance between the privileged position of being a “major critic” and those who aspire to that status.