Saturday, February 9, 2008

Disclaimers and Ethics

At the Spy Museum in DC, there are any number of portable cameras (and incidentally a ring with a gun on it). Is there a similar store for bloggers who wish to photograph their meals for later posting? Do bloggers just whip out their cameras and therefore their identity when they sit down to eat? At home the problems with photographing your meal are fairly small—you might burn the onions because you are waiting for the perfect shot or you might piss off your spouse because you are, well, waiting for the perfect shot. But, at restaurants, there are a whole host of other problems. You might affect your experience of dining with friends. I took the camera to Bar Cento, because the birthday girl requested that I do so. But, there was more than one time when I asked a friend to stop eating so I may take a shot. This was annoying for my friend, but it also meant that instead of interacting with my friends I was thinking about taking a perfect photograph. Photographing can be detrimental to your social health. But what is the balance? This is likely a personal choice. Fun Playing with Food seems to have a wonderful time eating and taking lots of pictures, kudos Nancy. Others take no pictures. Which I will be remains to be seen.

And, then what about if the meal sucked? I am not a paid restaurant critic. But I have always believed that “word of mouth” is most powerful critic as it is a collective amplification of the public’s feeling about a restaurant, and as such more important than what one guy, who is a capable eater and writer, might write. (Still love you though, Frank Bruni.) Is the land of blogs not a persistent, tangible form of this “word of mouth?” So, what is the ethics of writing about restaurants? I feel particularly sensitive writing about local restaurants. They can already be at a disadvantage in terms of costs and marketing. Since I started this blog, my husband and I have been to two local establishments that we didn’t like. (And, I did take a surreptitious picture in one.) Do I write about them? What is the likelihood that the restaurant’s owners reading my blog and make the restaurant better? What is the likelihood that a potential diner reads my blog and takes me at my word? And, who the hell am I to do so in the first place? Right now, I think I will feel out taking pictures. If I don’t feel comfortable doing so, I could always only eat at places where Nancy has already gorgeous posted pictures. But, will I post about restaurants that I didn’t like? Who knows.


Nancy Heller said...

What a terrific post!

I make it a point to be as unobstrusive as possible when photographing if I am dining with others, even if it costs me the "best" shot - that's what photo editing software is for! Since my camera is a "point and shoot", I spend the absolute minimum time fussing with the camera, so as to avoid annoying my dining companions.

You second point is even more interesting to me - I just faced this situation in the past week. I believe that in order to maintain my credibility, I have to be honest if I am describing the food I am depicting. My friend Stuart avoids this problem by limiting his comments and letting the photos speak for themselves. But I know that at least some of my readers want to know my opinions. And I enjoy giving them, because I frequently disagree with "professional" food critics.

So - how to avoid insulting any restauranteurs while being honest? It isn't easy. I described a bite of fish I had last week as tasting "old" - though the person who ordered it was happy. To say it tasted as good as it looked would have been dishonest, though I love the restaurant and would never want to do them any harm. So, I will either leave the negative out altogether or try to "gentle" it, so I can be honest without hurting anyone.

And remember - life is too short to not play with your food!

maybellesmom said...

Nancy, it took me forever to comment on your great post. First, I took a shot of taking pictures in a restaurant (li wah), and I definitely compliment you for doing it. It is hard to walk that line of document and unobtrusive.

And I think your advice is right on. Omission is a great tool.