Monday, November 15, 2010

Rant: Who Can You Trust?

In many ways, the food and wine world has become very complex, especially when you consider the vast choices we now have. In addition to that diversity, there is an assortment of other issues involved, from sustainability to "natural" wines, which only add to the complexity.  We want to know about these matters but it can be overwhelming for the average consumer, and even for more educated food and wine lovers. 

The key question is always: Who can you trust for accurate information?

That cannot be easily answered.  In the end, it is an assessment based on various factors, including a source's motivations, biases, knowledge base, experience, passion and more.  It is a crucial assessment if we want accurate data, if we want correct and honest information.  If these matters are important to us, then it is our duty to seek the truth, or at least as close as we can get to the truth.

If you want information about a wine, who do you trust?  A distributor, a wine store employee, a professional wine critic, a wine blogger, a friend?  Distributors and wine store staff have a financial motivation to sell wine, which could bias their opinion.  Other biases exist which could affect the other potential sources of wine information.  Does a blogger only review free samples?  Then their opinion might be biased, in order to continue receiving free samples.  In addition, all of these sources will have different levels of knowledge about different wines. At a tasting yesterday, two distributors gave me inaccurate information about Sake, so I would not trust their knowledge in that regard.    

If you want information about sustainable seafood, who do you trust?  A fisherman, seafood purveyor, marketing company, professional writer, blogger, etc.?  Once again, some of those will have a financial motivation and that could taint their opinions.  Others may have their own biases which need to be taken into consideration.  Sources will also have different knowledge levels, from scientists to informed citizens. I have seen marketers claim a seafood is sustainable, though by examining other evidence, it appears the marketers were not correct. 

The key to discerning an accurate source is to question everything.  Question their motivations, their knowledge level, their biases.  Don't accept anything at face value.  Yes, it takes more time to do this, but it pays off in the end by providing you better and more accurate answers.  And that questioning can help you trust your source more. For example, the longer you follow a blogger, the better you will understand them, and the better you can assess their biases, preferences, and knowledge level.  That will lead to a better bond of trust.

Besides questioning everything, you should also consult other resources and not just a single one. The more references you consult, the better your chances of getting accurate information.  You could ask a single seafood purveyor about their practices, but they might not give you the full truth.  But, by consulting other references, you might learn matters your purveyor failed to mention, or of which they were erroneous.

With the information overload found online, please remember that not everything can be trusted.  Question everything, and seek as many references as possible.  Trust and accuracy comes with time and effort.    


Jason Phelps said...

Great thoughts to consider starting a new week of the food and beverage blog circus.

One thing I wonder is how much information the "average" person really wants and how much of this is beyond their interest and maybe specific to foodie types.

Thanks Richard!



Anonymous said...

Outstanding rant, Richard. On Saturday in a tasting room I asked a young server a very, very basic labeling question. He clearly did not know the answer and instead of saying so, he BS'ed his way through the absolute opposite of the right answer. There should be a culture in wine, and food - and life! - that says there is no shame in not knowing something. See, how about this: I have never tasted a drop of Petrus. For shame! But I hope that makes me more reliable than a writer who acts like they have a case of the '82 in their cellar.

More than anything, great work on the "challenge everything and ask questions" meme. So true, my friend. You've gained even more of my trust tonight.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Jason:
Thanks, and you ask a very valid question. There are plenty of people who probably don't want much info. Though they probably should seek more info, and would benefit from asking more questions.

Hi Evan,
Thanks very much for your kind words. No one can know everything about food and wine. We all should continue to learn every day, and never be afraid to admit our ignorance about a topic. If we try to BS people, we will inevitably be caught by someone who knows the facts. And that destroys any sense of trust.

Take care.