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Today’s Nosh Box is a serious one, folks. A sizable topic of conversation in the food-writing community over the past couple weeks is one I think is worth spending time considering: namely, as the subject line asks, what’s a food critic’s role in the #MeToo movement? How should they go about reviewing restaurants run by those accused of sexual misconduct?

As society shifts toward actually believing women who come forward with stories of sexual harassment by prominent men, the food industry has been affected by cases like Food Network star Mario Batali and prominent New Orleans chef John Besh, who have faced personal and professional consequences for their actions. Now, people are asking: Should restaurant critics base their judgment on — or even mention at all — sexual harassment allegations or reports of a sexist/sexual work culture perpetrated by the owner or chef of the restaurant they’re writing about? Is their job to focus just on the food? Or would skipping info about unsavory or criminal sexual behavior be an inappropriate omission?

[Editor's note: I know today's Nosh Box is long/a lot to take in, so I've bolded some of the key quotes/opinions on a variety of sides of the discussion. I hope it helps you move through the newsletter at the pace you want to. (By that, I mean skim around as needed.) And a brief pitch — we've got a great week of Nosh Box topics lined up for the upcoming days, so stick around!]
While You Eat...

The Debate Over What a Food Critic's Role Should Be

I want to start with two things: (1) a column by Craig LaBan, the food critic at the Philly Inquirer, in which he asserted that his responsibility is indeed to focus only on the food and not the person behind it, no matter how disgusting they may be, and (2) a counter-argument by New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner, in which she dismantles his reasoning in a really interesting way.
(WWAYTFCFTPFRD: What Would Anton Ego, the Food Critic from the Pixar Film Ratatouille, Do? // Photo courtesy of Entertainment/Pixar)
LaBan, though he clarifies that he believes news organizations should pursue stories of sexual misconduct and that they should be taken seriously in a news context, says that he is “troubled by the notion that now restaurant critics individually are expected to focus on a dining experience, but also simultaneously make casual character judgments before doling out reviews on a weekly basis.” 

[Editor’s note: My opinion on his opinion aside, I personally believe LaBan misses the point a little here. He seems to be saying the food critic shouldn’t be expected to be clairvoyant and know about sexual harassment allegations before everyone else, which… nobody is exactly saying they should. The question is whether those allegations, once known, should be mentioned/carry weight in food criticism. He also seems to be conflating sexual harassment or assault with “personality” traits like (his examples) “screamers, braggarts, liars, and worse,” which is a dangerous moral comparison to make.]

Anyway, back to LaBan: “At what point along the continuum from garden variety jerk to infamous scoundrel does a personality now incite a critic to penalize a restaurant (along with its many innocent, hardworking employees) from receiving the rating it might otherwise have earned, to tone back praise for its good flavors, to subtly ramp up the complaints, or even to decline to do a review itself based entirely on unsubstantiated whispers, hearsay, or intuition about a chef’s character and integrity?”

OK, now to Rosner's rebuttal. She makes it clear that she understands it’s “obviously unreasonable to require a preemptive, investigative purity test before a chef or restaurant is covered,” but that she unequivocally believes critics have a responsibility to the reader, and perhaps even a moral obligation of sorts, to include information like sexual harassment allegations in their judgments of chefs and restaurants.

She tweeted: “Critics do not just reflect and amplify culture, they shape it. Crying "not my responsibility" when it comes to character assessment in a character-driven industry is disingenuous at best, and a massive, dangerous abdication of responsibility at worst.”

She continues:
She also goes line-by-line on a few of LaBan's assertions:

“"But what is the critic’s role and responsibility in all of this as the gatekeeper of culinary glory?"

Well, okay, if you are indeed the gatekeeper, your role & responsibility might be to consider by what standards you keep the damn gate.”
After this, both on Twitter and in a Washington Post article by food writer Tim Carman, other food writers and critics shared their thoughts:

Anthony Bourdain, author and TV personality, says in the Washington Post that he is not willing to cut any slack for food critics who stay silent, since he considers them complicit. “I don’t have much sympathy for the ‘moral quandary’ of the food critic — or the career food writer who covers the restaurant scene. Because chances are, in this very small pond, where ‘access’ is often so important, the overwhelming likelihood is that they have known and heard and observed things and kept silent. They, as much as anyone, are responsible for creating and sustaining a Hollywood-style star system that has been almost entirely male.”

He adds: “So many other factors other than the merits of the food and service have influenced supposedly impartial restaurant reviews for so long that the question is almost ludicrous.”

Replying to Bourdain's quote on Twitter, NYT critic Pete Wells says he doesn't entirely agree, since many food critics might not be privy to that information before anyone else. “Actually, not one food critic I know gives a flying sunchoke about “access,” or goes to events where they are likely to observe anything worth talking about, let alone keeping silent about.”

Back in the WaPo article, NYT food editor (and former NYT food critic) Sam Sifton says food critics should absolutely mention sexual harassment allegations in their coverage but should not skip the review/boycott the restaurant altogether, which he says would be a bad idea and do a disservice to the reader. Carman paraphrases: “[Sifton] said there’s a journalistic obligation to cover the restaurant scene in all its messiness. Imagine, Sifton said, that one of these restaurants owned by a serial harasser rejuvenates itself and becomes a major gastronomic attraction in New York. “I want to go there and figure out what’s going on,” Sifton said.

Carman continues: "In the end, Sifton said, critics are journalists, too, not Supreme Court judges. They don’t set precedents about Who Will Be Reviewed, which will then be followed by every other critic in the land. The critic’s role, Sifton said, is to “try to figure out what . . . we’re supposed to think as consumers” about a restaurant.”

Lesley Chesterman, a restaurant critic for the Montreal Gazette, tweeted that she agrees with LaBan — that it's the job of the news reporter, not the food critic, to discuss sexual harassment allegations in the restaurant sphere. “Restaurant critics tend to analyze the facade a restaurant puts forward. A lot of that's changing but are we expected to dig for dirt before going in? Do sports writers cover the behaviour of the athletes? Or their performance?”

To Rosner’s point about what a food critic’s role should be, Chesterman replied: “Actually, I don't agree that it is my job. This exact situation came up in Montreal in a specific instance and I believe it was FAR better handled by an investigative staff reporter outside of the food/restaurant beat.”
(Don't) Cook This Later...

Part of me thought it would be ironic to close out this edition of Nosh Box with a cinnamon roll recipe, a la Mario Batali’s earth-shatteringly awful apology note for sexually harassing at least four women (and just being a deeply gross human), which he ended with an off-puttingly chipper and inappropriately capitalized “ps. in case you're searching for a holiday-inspired breakfast, these Pizza Dough Cinnamon Rolls are a fan favorite.”

But instead, I'll go with this (even though it has appeared in Nosh Box before) — blogger Geraldine DeRuiter actually made the Batali apology cinnamon rolls, and, unsurprisingly, they were awful. Like, truly horrendous, since, uh, pizza dough doesn’t make good cinnamon rolls. 
(Photo of The Rolls (tm) courtesy Geraldine DeRuiter/Medium)
She intersperses her frustrated thoughts about Batali, feminism, and times she herself has experienced sexual harassment in between the steps of making these rolls, and finds herself “fluctuating between apathy and anger as I try to follow Batali’s recipe, which is sparse on details.”

DeRuiter points out the pizza dough is salty and crispy and chewy (like a good pizza dough), not tender like a good cinnamon roll. The recipe does not include some key information and instructs you to cut the rolls too thick and to pour on way too much icing. She knows all this, but follows the book anyway and asks why Batali gets a free pass to put out a “hastily-written, untested recipe,” while women will blame themselves instead of Batali when the recipe inevitably fails.

Read it all:I Made the Pizza Cinnamon Rolls from Mario Batali’s Sexual Misconduct Apology Letter,” by Geraldine DeRuiter @ The Everywhereist
Thanks for reading Nosh Box today. As I mentioned, we've got some (hopefully) interesting topics in the works for Nosh Box this week (not all as lengthy or heavy as today's), so we'll see you right back here again tomorrow!
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