At the same time, it’s fascinating to watch the food world divide in real life as well as digitally. I went to one media event recently where I saw exactly one other old and to another where I knew almost all the print bylines. It’s interesting that both affairs were lavish in their swag bags, but only the e-writers would have to disclose their freebies. Call this just one more way the new generation is getting screwed: out of the gold bidets as payback for placement.
Which leads me to the most ridiculous brouhaha since, well, the last time food idjits got taken. What fascinated me less than the fact that a bunch of dolts were duped with processed lasagne was how the story progressed, from blogs to the hometown paper and back to blogs again. You’d think no one knew how to get out and report these days. And everyone who jumped up to attack the flacks who did the duping seems to forget that old story, possibly apocryphal, about Winston Churchill asking a woman if she would sleep with him for a million dollars. When she said yes, he asked about doing so for five. She indignantly responded: “What do you think I am?” And he said: “Ma’am, we’ve already established what you are. Now we’re just negotiating the price.” Cynic that I am, I did a little noodling on the Google and turned up no end of bloghos who happily touted that garbage for nothing more than a free sample. The outraged should be glad they got a couple of drinks and a reason to put on their “rig” and get out and mingle. Besides, didn’t Panchito just say this kind of chemicals-and-additive carping is all about class? I’m sure ConAgra just wants to make sure the poors have fud.
One good thing about being culled out of the herd flocking to the Seconda Tenuta is that I can wonder about the ethics of others. And marvel at whether the best man at an infamous wedding has gotten more blow jobs for his product than any bride will ever have to give. As the Marquis de Sade observed, only the first murder is hard. You get away with promoting a friend once, you’ll do it everywhere.
FTC, consider this my bread and butter note: I can now say I have ingested a substantial portion of a sacahuil, something beyond the comprehension of so many in this town who literally cannot tell a taco from a tortilla but refuse to learn from Zarela. And a test kitchen can be quite a party place — I don’t know that so many sweetbreads have ever been seen on one counter before. My favorite part of the latter evening was a discussion about the new transparency rules for bloggers. I can’t win an argument except here, so I will say once again: I refuse to believe readers understand everything that newspaper/magazine writers get for free. And somehow I suspect blog junkies can tell truth from payola more than print readers. They know how to work the Google. . .
Not to harp on the FTC’s idiocy on blogger disclosures or anything, but I was pretty amazed that “On the Media” on WNYC had a guest on insisting that readers/viewers understand when old media types accept freebies. Reporters who cover gadgets and cars, he said, have to take those things because it’s their job to cover them. By that logic, restaurant reviewers should be out gorging on the tab. No?
Just when I’m considering curing myself of my addiction to the series of tubes, Eater has to go and ingest a truckload of steroids, a la Grub Street. Now I’m going to have to keep up with other cities’ gossip and openings and closings, too? I’m drowning, you guys. On the plus side, at least there was a nice little cynical item about the Schnorrer schorring again down DC way. On the minus side, from what tired hat was Gennaro’s name pulled? The real problem with the Upper West Side is not a dearth of decent eating destinations but an impossible-to-quell misperception by nonresidents. Maybe once that joint was worth mentioning, but today you would go there only if you’re into mediocre food and surly service surrounded by the other UPW clichés, old people and strollers. If it’s a secret, they can keep it.
Can “I Feel Bad About My Dreck” hustle that movie any harder? Or should the question be: Will there be anyone left to pay to see the thing once the free screenings are exhausted? Countless food bloggers have already been thoroughly co-opted, and food writers with bit parts are doing their swooning part in promoting it, too. But I find it rather amusing that formerly arboreal and other so-called legit media are apparently being asked to keep their reactions to themselves until the official opening (if you can believe one annoyed reporter on the other coast). And I wonder if that all started once the New Yorker got a whiff of turkey.
Maybe newspapers are going to go out with a little “Casablanca.” The LAT and NYT are the latest to be just shocked, shocked that bloggers do it their own way. And so we have to read yet again about the push for a code of ethics. Meantime, of course, the “legit” journalists are hiking the empanada trail and dutifully writing it up while the FTC says nothing about disclosure to them. As news budgets shrink, there will be more and more of that. Luckily, the George V in Paris knows what to do by now. Funniest high-horse line in the NYT story was about the blogger who takes products but writes only about those she likes. Can you say unicorn antler tasting spoon?
Also file this under “no ho like an old ho”: The new food channel apparently staffed only by founding Food Covenites has an astonishingly revealing post by someone who I hope did not actually get paid to upload her stenographer’s notebook. I’m mean, there’s blogging and then there’s slopping-out. This was just a cheesy bread-and-butter note to an agriturismo packaged as a travel story. Forget sausage. This is how the guidebooks get made.
Contrast that with the sly phrasing in the hometown paper’s piece on the shitcanning of I-Fucked-the-Chef. Rather than say name-comma-age as is usual, it was “who said she is 74.” Doubt much? (And no, I’m not beating up on a village elder. My elephant side has not forgotten a hat-whipping under a previous editor when I presumed to sell a food piece with a fatal flaw: It did not include a friend of the critic.) But the big laugh is anyone presuming she is the “brand” of a magazine now known best for its editor, and not the one off assigning features in the afterlife. It says it all that the reaction came mostly from people whose juiciest years were “the naughty Seventies.” Visualize a hall of James Beard’s mirrors. Or, for your memory’s sake, don’t.
Panchito also earns the gold medal in logrolling for his online ode to a book by the friend of a too-good friend. I had taken to calling her the Drivelist, but then I started getting emails wondering if something more un-Timesian was afoot. This, for instance, arrived in all caps and boldfaced in my subject line: “Is (she) coming right out and saying her trips are free?” Funny, though, that the best solution might be what my consort has been advocating for years, since he used to shoot for British publications with writers perfectly comfortable with their system: Take the handouts, acknowledge them and just tell the truth. But that would require a collection of thoughts not easily evident in an extended headnote that your batty aunt might have written after a junket. Then again, if life gives you only wine ads, make wine copy.
I shouldn’t expect much from a paper that actually printed the phrase “he road on his motorway,” but describing absinthe as a cocktail is a little like saying bourbon is a highball. Good thing they had the inevitable ad to set readers straight. And I guess it would have been a downer for the liquor store to give it the usual side-by-side play, so they moved it a section away from the bogus trend story. (Anyone who thinks bingeing-and-purging with booze is new has never spent a night in a girls’ dorm.) Still, expect to be reading a lot more about the green “cocktail.” I recently got an email wanting me to write a “paid review” of one brand, which may be a sign that blogola is the next hot trend. A friend emailed me the other day and mentioned he made all of $2.97 off his blog last month, which is almost $3 more than I ever have. I can see why “kids” with no background in journalism before it became more about buying than thinking would happily take a little under the table when ads are not all they’re inflated to be. Personally, I have no faith in the afterlife, let alone the possibility that there might be shopping malls in hell.