How the food writing landscape is changing

When Ruth Reichl was a restaurant critic back for The New York Times in the 1990s, she shook up the staid profession by visiting restaurants in disguise and offering rave reviews for eateries that fell outside the traditional upscale French places that were the norm. Soleil Ho, restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, is also making her mark known. The former cook is tackling issues like diversity in her columns. The Splendid Table recently brought the two food writers together to discuss how the role of food writers continues to change.

Both Reichl and Ho started out as restaurant critics at a time in their lives when the did not have much money, and it can be easy to fall into complacency when dining at high end establishments that these are the places that should be covered. However, they both acknowledge that in today’s culture, people also want to hear about the less expensive eateries where you can still get excellent food without breaking the bank. Ho says that her experience “dumpster diving” when she began her food writing career has helped her develop empathy for those who cannot afford to go to the high end places. Reichl says that when she started, she felt a different responsibility, saying that “restaurants were very different at that moment”.

Ho also feels she needs to call out injustices even in Michelin-starred restaurants that do not have wheelchair accessibility, no gender-neutral bathrooms, and so on. She says that is “the exciting part as a critic, really taking a look at all this stuff, pulling it apart and examining it, ripping out the guts.” For her part, Reichl notes that when she was a critic the imbalances she noticed were how women, especially single or older women, were treated badly in restaurants. She is excited that people are “thinking of inclusion in a much broader sense than my generation ever thought about it.”

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