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Labun Jordan: Everyone's a Critic

There’s a fancy restaurant in Quebec, which will remain nameless, that recently served me a poorly prepared omelet. And I was okay with it.

This particular restaurant specializes in elaborate gourmet meals, meals I’ll save money to purchase in the way other people might save for a vacation in Rio. You get dinner and also lodging because full satisfaction requires lots of sleep. In the morning you’re served a breakfast of a dozen platters of food: cretonne and baguettes and little shots of fruit smoothies - plus an omelet, which, in my case, arrived 30 minutes late, cooked to within an inch of its life.

I speculated that the kitchen was training someone new. My dining pleasure survived, undiminished.

Now, I’m not a restaurant critic. I wasn't professionally obligated to waste much more thought on that omelet… but here’s the thing, who isn’t a critic these days ?

The moment I arrived home, the online booking system I used for that restaurant asked me to share a review of the experience. Our critiques, once a novel facet of the online world, are now actively solicited all the time. Everywhere. When traveling, I’m prompted to review each leg of the trip. When I buy something online, I’m asked for a product review before my order has even arrived.

I don’t want this pestering. I’ prefer not to spend all my time analyzing everything. I’d prefer to let shortcomings slide and just enjoy my life.

But then I’m drawn right back in again as soon as I go online and see something like the customer reviews of my favorite childhood books, calling them cliched or saying the illustrations are overdone. I feel obligated to come to these poor books’ defense. Sure, they’re cliched now, but the cliche exists because a generation of kids loved them.

Next I read Yelp reviews for the Boston restaurant where I proposed to my fiance. The public deems it too trendy. And it is trendy… but that trendy food tasted awesome. So I defend that.

And now part of me wants to tell the world that I know what a decent omelet is supposed to taste like and I also know when the omelet I m served doesn’t meet that standard.

It’s hard not to sweat the small things when we’re forever being prompted to comment on them, read others’ comments on them, and respond to those comments. My motto for the new millenium might soon become: The restaurant was fine, thanks… and don’t ask for details.

Helen Labun has worked in Vermont nonprofits addressing issues in rural economic development. Today, she is Executive Director of the Vermont Fresh Network, connecting chefs to Vermont farmers in support of the local food economy.
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