I recently found out that a food sections editor of a well known newspaper is a vegetarian.
At first reading, this may not sound like a big deal. After all, food choices are food choices, and vegetarianism is as valid of a choice as, say, locavorism, or following a carb-free diet.
But the idea of it gnawed in the back of my mind over the course of a day or so. A food editor? A vegetarian? Isn’t that a bias? Wouldn’t that affect the choices they made in what foods to write about and which restaurants needed reviewed?
These questions demonstrated two things, mostly about myself. One – that I don’t believe food editors either need or have proven to follow the strict journalistic ethics of, say, a news editor. Two – the vegetarians cannot set aside their bias in order to provide an entertaining food section to your computer screen/daily newspaper.
Both of these positions are demonstrably false, by the way. And while bias-free journalism is something that that I know to be an impossible goal, I recognize that being able to mitigate one’s bias to a point where it’s somewhat insubstantial in a body of work is a talent – talent that vegetarians are as likely to have as any omnivore.
So why did I feel as if this editor needed to let readers know of their philosophical position on food? I don’t feel the same way for other holders of food philosophies. Locavorist? Good on you! Support organic foods? Here! Here! Think we should eat only fruits and vegetables? Hold on now, you hippie!
What this proves, more than anything, is that I am a hypocrite. But the interesting question here is why.
It boils down to the PETA effect. Most everyone has a friend or forty who are proclaimed vegetarians. My guess is that these folks are the nicest people in the world. While some of us have to work around their self-imposed dietary restrictions, it’s really not that big of a deal. They are our friends, and we love them. Nary a one of them try to force their beliefs down our throat.
The vegetarians we don’t like are those vegetarians. You know the ones – the “meat is murder” crowd. These are the folks who end up protesting restaurants selling froie gras, while ignoring the fecal infested ground beef being sold at the Safeway. These people are shrill and annoying and I sure as hell wouldn’t want one of them in charge of any food section I read on a regular basis.
But you know what? I don’t actually know people like that. I mean, I know they exist, but they certainly don’t hang out in the same crowd I do. All of my friends, vegetarian or otherwise, are notably non-shrill and non-annoying. It’s a defining characteristic of people I consider “friend”.
Yet here they are, these shrill and annoying folk, establishing my definition of what constitutes a “vegetarian”. So when I read that a food section editor is a vegetarian, my mind directly leaps to the shrill-and-annoying crowd, rather than the valid-ethical-choice-who-doesn’t-impose-their-beliefs-upon-others crowd.
Like I said, I’m a hypocrite. And small-minded too, let’s not forget that.
Should writers and editors of food sections disclose their vegetarianism? “Should” is perhaps too strong a term. Such disclosure would only provide background information. What it wouldn’t do is change the quality of the content. Good food writing is still good writing, regardless of one’s food choices.