Food writers – what they don’t talk about!

Restaurant serving mealsHave you ever thought about why we eat?  What is the basic, most important reason that we put food into our mouths, chew it, and swallow it?

We eat because we must if we want to live and be healthy!  We don’t have a choice!

I’ve noticed that mainstream food editors, food writers, and restaurant reviewers almost never talk about whether a food is good for us, whether it satisfies our real need to eat. We quickly get the impression from their articles that the only important qualities in food are its taste and appearance.

Maybe it was okay to ignore nutrition in restaurant foods back in the day when people ate most of their meals at home, meals that were carefully prepared from real food, but today, the average American eats out about 5 meals a week, and 80% of Americans eat fast food at least once a month.  When we eat out often, the nutrition, or lack of it, in restaurant meals can become critical!

Just a few days ago, I was again reminded that food writers are missing something important in their reviews when I wrote about the two Houston restaurants using traditional preparation methods for some of their foods.

One reason I was so impressed with the articles by Greg Morago of the Houston Chronicle was that he talked about how the food was prepared, not just about how it tasted, how it felt in the mouth, or how it looked.  I don’t know if he was aware of how important it is to long-simmer bone broth and ferment bread dough, but at least he wrote quite a bit about those traditional food preparation methods at the two restaurants.

As a food blogger, I enjoy reading food articles, recipes, and restaurant reviews.  Seeing the beautiful photographs and reading the mouth-watering descriptions make me want to try the food.  After all, that’s the purpose of the articles and photos, isn’t it?  But I always want to know more about the food.

Don’t misunderstand me, the taste, feel, and appearance of food are very important, to all of us.  I like my food to look good.  Attractive food stimulates our appetite and actually improves our digestion.  Also, eating is satisfying in so many ways, including socializing with family and friends and just plain sensual enjoyment of the food.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But why do the majority of food writers never write about or even hint at the nutrition in the foods they’re reviewing?  Have they forgotten the main reason we need to eat?

As a Real Food blogger, I’m part of a small (but hopefully growing) group of food writers who have learned that food is far more than just taste, look, and feel.  We’ve learned that we need to choose and prepare our foods carefully to maintain and improve our mental, physical, and emotional health.

Those of us who eat out–probably most of us–need for the mainstream writers, reviewers, and chefs to provide some basic information about what we’re about to eat.  They don’t need to reveal culinary secrets to give us the information we need.

For example, here are the basic things we need to know about our food:

- what are the ingredients,
- how was the food prepared, and
- where and how was the food grown or raised?

How do we find out the answers to these questions if the restaurant or chef doesn’t tell us and no writer or reviewer ever asks?  Why doesn’t the food writer address how well a food fills our primary reason for eating?

Do writers avoid writing about nutrition in food because they assume all food is Real Food and don’t question it? Do they know so little about nutrition that they don’t even know what to ask? Do they believe it isn’t important?  What is the reason?

Would you like for writers to include more nutrition information as a routine part of their food articles and restaurant reviews?  Could we encourage them by making sure they know we care?

To be fair, there is another reason why food writers may not talk much about the nutrition in foods.  It can be very difficult to get even simple answers from restaurants and food producers.  For my Real Food Restaurants page, I have asked several Houston area restaurants about their ingredients and preparation methods, but, to date, have gotten only one response–from Revival Market.  Revival Market should be given a lot of credit for taking the time to provide real, valuable information.

Most restaurants just ignore even simple requests like “What cooking oil do you use?”   Maybe we all–consumers as well as food writers–need to keep on asking restaurants and food producers about what’s in their foods and how they make them.  If we ask often enough, maybe the food producers will learn that it’s important to us and that it would make a difference in where we choose to eat and buy our foods.  Knowing that nutrition information might influence our restaurant choices leads to another question–could restaurants be afraid we wouldn’t want their food if we knew what was in it and how it was made?

Another possible problem when writers do sometimes address nutrition–too often they use outdated and incorrect nutrition information to evaluate the quality of the food.  Most still put low-fat (especially low saturated fat), low-salt, and low total calories as the most important criteria for choosing healthy foods.  A few examples of online advice for “healthy” restaurant choices: Cooking Light, the Daily Beast, Prevention, Dr. Gourmet, and HelpGuide.org.

I looked up “How to Write a Restaurant Review” on Google.  There are lots of websites giving advice about writing reviews, but I didn’t find a single one that even mentioned health, nutrition, or the quality of the food. Here are a few of the ones I looked at:

Sample online Food Review
How to Write a Compelling Restaurant Review
How to Review a Restaurant Professionally
How to Write 4-Star Restaurant Reviews

How about you?  Have you ever asked a restaurant or food producer about their ingredients or preparation methods?  Did you get an answer?

This post is shared on Fight Back Friday.

This entry was posted in Health, Nutrition, Real Food, Restaurants, Traditional Food and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Food writers – what they don’t talk about!

  1. Carolyn this is so spot on! I agree that we need to know more than just how our food tastes. We need to know where it came from, how it was prepared, and what’s in it. I’m frequently sharing with people that it’s not just what you eat, it’s what’s in what you eat.

    Kudos to you for trying to help people learn how to become informed and educated foodies!

    • Thank you so much for the good words! It’s amazing how many writers can fill many paragraphs of glowing descriptions of food without once mentioning if there’s any real food in it. You’re one of the growing group that does talk about the value of food. Thanks to you too!

  2. nancy burns says:

    I actually went to a restaurant that was listed on your list of real food restaurants, Pondicheri. I was so excited to go because I love indian food. They claimed that they make some of their dishes with ghee which is to be expected and I made sure before I sat down. Over an hour later after we ordered the waiter who had no idea how the food was prepared went and asked the chef for me again, (because I didn’t believe him) and found out that everything was cooked and/ or already marinated with corn oil. who knows if it was GMO or not. And I’m allergic to corn. Can you believe that? So the moral of the story, don’t trust a book by it’s cover!!!

    • Unfortunately, as I wrote in this article, it is usually very difficult to find out exactly how restaurants prepare their food. Often all we have is what they voluntarily tell us on websites or even in advertisements. The only truly safe way to eat healthy at every meal is to prepare all the food yourself and know the farmer who grew or raised it, or better yet to grow and raise your own food. But that is almost impossible for most people. Just try to do the best you can most of the time.

      Most of the restaurants listed on Real Food Restaurants are still compromises, because they make their food choices based on price first, with the quality only second.

      It would be good if you could post your comments about Pondicheri on the Real Food Restaurants page also. That page gets lots of views from people that might not see this post but would like to know what you’ve found out.

      I appreciate your comment.
      Carolyn

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