SXSW SouthBites Recap: Food Criticism Today

The second SXSW SouthBites session I went to was Food Criticism in the Digital Age with Alison Cook, restaurant critic at The Houston Chronicle; Helen Rosner, features editor at Eater; Jonathan Gold, food writer at the Los Angeles Times; and Moderator Evan Kleiman of Kcrw Good Food.The panel started out with the question: “In this age of Yelp, is everyone a critic or are we all just sharing our opinions?”

Gold mentions the phrase “glorious noise of specialists” to describe the online reviewers and bloggers that write about restaurants and food. The “noise” is just an amplified version of what was already there. It’s a new avenue to express opinions. Instead of snail mail, platforms were created to give consumers a different kind of voice and snail mail has become email.Another big subject was food bloggers vs. food critics. The panel stated that their wealth of knowledge and context is different. Backed by the legacy of their publication, critics have a way of doing things that includes visiting the restaurant at least 2-3 times and going under a fake name. Critics put chefs, restaurants, and food movements into context. They know the know the cultural, socioeconomic, geopolitical, agricultural backgrounds behind the dishes they’re eating. As Gold described, he knows how the current weather conditions would have on a croissant and how it would look differently. The big difference is that critics pay for all their meals. Cook argued that when you’re given free food, you’ll post something nice with no critical content and there isn’t a value framework there.

Take a look at these statistics about online reviews from a recent study.

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