The People's Revolution

Mike Cook

We may have survived the Red Scare, but we've nonetheless suffered a people's revolution. We were once ruled by a small elite: this nobility of eaters dictated what was edible and what was slop, and restaurants rose to prominence or sank into oblivion on the weight of their royal decrees. Now the restaurant critic has been dethroned, and the internet has brought on mass rule.

It's as chaotic as expected. Not only are there review sites everywhere, there are foodie message boards like Chowhound, phone apps, specific-focus sites like Foodspotting, and food blogs of all kinds.

There's so much opinion in this new age of freedom we've begun to realize what the nobility shielded us from. In online reviews there's always a grammatically dubious entry lambasting "terrible service." It doesn't take much to guess that some of these illiterate entries were penned by the guy who shows up during dinner rush with a party of eight, four of whom don't want Italian food and one of whom is three years old and in mid-tantrum. None of them understands the words on the menu, but that doesn't mean they'll ask for clarification or stop them from complaining of their horrible restaurant experience afterward.

On the flip side, there is always a glowing review burnished into obvious falseness. It's clearly been written by the owner himself or a relative of the owner. The review promises the restaurant's food was the best they've ever eaten, the service was "impeccable," and they'll definitely go back.

Somewhere in the middle lies usefulness, and it's easiest to find by looking for detail. For example, “The fried soft shell crab itself was fresh but the batter was a bit soggy.” Or, “They played Hotel California twice during dinner.” And when one asked whether the yellow-tail was sushi grade, the server replied "yes, it's a kind of fish." These kinds of very specific comments help gauge a restaurant, and they're what critics were and are paid to produce. Good reviewers publish pieces jammed with specific details. They were once revered for a reason.

One doesn't need to be a professional reviewer to produce these details, though, and if you're smart enough to spoon through a little slop, you can find specifics everywhere online, and they can be very useful.

We're all born with the basic requirements. We each have taste. We can smell and hear and feel our food as well as any other. Some of us have better backgrounds in food and some express ourselves better, but we all experience food, and we don't need a degree in it to speak wisely of it.

More importantly, the way everyday people write about food online isn't just about critiquing, it's about contributing.

Common people have begun to add to how we all think about food. Trends and ideas are no longer ordered from on-high. Though chefs and other food celebrities still lead movements, we often get our ideas, recipes, tips, and information from those like ourselves. I may hear about how important it is to eat locally from every chef on TV, but when it comes time to do so, I turn to local food bloggers, read sites like this, or pick the brains of other knowledgeable minds at Chowhound.

Better yet, I go out and talk to vendors at the market and try new dishes at restaurants. We've always interacted with our food in a personal and local way, and the most useful opinions have always come from those like ourselves. It's only now that the masses have been given the megaphone.


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