On October 25, 2012, four food critics will discuss the ethical challenges of food and restaurant criticism at the 27th Annual Silha Lecture: “A Question of Taste: The Ethics and Craft of Restaurant Reviewing.” The 2012 lecture will feature Lynne Rossetto Kasper, co-creator and host of American Public Media’s national radio show, “The Splendid Table,” and Jane and Michael Stern, who are weekly guests on “The Splendid Table.” The panel will also include a fourth mystery guest — an award-winning veteran local food critic whose identity will be concealed in the interest of maintaining anonymity.
The panel discussion will center on traditional ethical issues that arise from food and restaurant reviews as well as newer questions presented by interactive Internet culture and online review websites. The panel will consider problems such as how professional restaurant critics can relate to diners with a range of experiences and tastes and the challenges of remaining balanced and fair in the face of close friendships in the food industry, the demands of employers who are eager to please advertisers, and the tendency for restaurants to provide preferential service to critics even when they strive to keep their identities secret.
The panel will also discuss newer problems related to the craft of criticism as traditional professional critics are increasingly joined by thousands of amateur critics writing online, posting critiques on blogs, social networks, and web sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon. Are these reviewers the ordinary “real people” they claim to be, or might they have an agenda to promote or an ax to grind? Should the new amateur online critics be expected to follow fundamental principles of media ethics like avoiding conflicts of interest, refusing special treatment, or correcting mistakes? Kasper, the Sterns, and the mystery guest will discuss these problems and more, as well as take questions from the audience.
Kasper’s radio program, “The Splendid Table” has won James Beard Foundation Awards for Best National Radio Show on Food in 1998 and 2008, a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show, and Clarion Awards from Women in Communication in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. According to “The Splendid Table” website, Kasper says she created the program as a means to explore everything she loved about food: the culture, the science, the history, the back stories and deeper meanings that come together every time people sit down to enjoy a meal. “The Splendid Table” became “the radio program for people who love to eat.”
Besides being weekly guests on “The Splendid Table,” Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood.com website covers informal and inexpensive regional eateries along highways, in small towns, and in city neighborhoods. Their collaboration has yielded more than 40 books, including Roadfood, Square Meals, and American Gourmet. The Sterns have won three James Beard Foundation journalism awards for their monthly column in Gourmet magazine, and are contributing editors of Saveur magazine and the Sunday supplement Parade.
The event’s mystery guest is a James Beard Foundation award-winning Twin Cities food critic who has written for a local publication for about 15 years and whose work has appeared in several editions of the Best Food Writing book series.
This year’s Silha Lecture will begin at 7:00 pm in Cowles Auditorium on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities West Bank campus. A book signing will follow the lecture. The event is free and open to the public, and no reservations or tickets will be required. Parking is available at the 19th and 21st Avenue parking ramps on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus. More information about directions and parking is available online at www.umn.edu/pts.
The Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law is based at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Silha Center activities, including the annual Lecture, are made possible by a generous endowment from the late Otto Silha and his wife, Helen. For further information, please contact the Silha Center at 612-625-3421 or email@example.com or visit www.silha.umn.edu.
– Elaine Hargrove
Silha Center Staff