Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Writing about food is pretty much as innocent as it gets. Venture out, find things people might like to eat and write about it in a way that is useful. But there's a sleazy side to it that most food writers don't like to bring up.
This dingy side of it concerns restaurants giving free meals to bloggers, writers and just about anyone else who can somehow influence how their eatery is portrayed to the public. This happens under the auspices of "just showing off our new menu" or a so-called "media dinner," which amounts to lavishing people with freebies in the hopes that the place will be mentioned in the future.
I attended two of these events years ago when I first started writing for the Weekly. But after I saw what was going on I was pretty disgusted - it was also hard to watch so-called foodies and their whole pretentious rigamarole, but that's a topic for another day - so I didn't go anymore. Looking back, perhaps it was somewhat ridiculous to pass on all that free food, but it seemed important.
I think it matters. As it is press releases dictate more of what you read than you realize. Businesses, including restaurants, use the press release to offer writers easy stories they have to do very little work on. With many newspapers short on staff, it's become the easiest way to get the word out about what you're doing.
Add to that this meal-for-mention tradition, which is rather inherent to this side of journalism, and one starts to wonder who is more responsible for the content of food stories: The writer or the restaurant. I know it's just food, but readers deserve what is new and interesting, not what some blogger or writer knows about because they bellied up to a free dinner.
I've posed the question of whether it is ethical to accept these dinners to other people in Tucson's food-writing world, and they disagreed with me. They say it's a perk of the job and attend just about every event that drops into their inbox.
To each their own, but I think it's sleazy. Any thoughts?