Editor's Note: The following is The Big Spoon, an opinion column on San Antonio's food and drink scene.
I hate restaurant inspection reports. OK, that’s not all the way true, because we need the reports, but I do hate what it means for society as a whole.
I liken it to watching a train wreck. I don’t know of many people who seek out the public knowledge found on Metro Health’s website on a weekly basis, but the results ooze into conversation. Did you hear about X? They had a cat food in the kitchen! Did you see what their score was?
It’s like watching Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) pop pimples and extract massive cysts on her Instagram account. It’s the same reason Queer Eye
’s food and wine expert Antoni Porowski takes a whiff of every moldy food container he finds in each makeover recipient’s home. We can’t look away.
The use of inspection data in media reports has drawn viewers to nightly broadcasts ever since broadcaster Marvin Zindler popularized “slime in the ice machine,” and it attracts readers to slideshows of restaurants with scores below 89. We click the link, gasp in horror, nod if our suspicions are confirmed and share the news. We keep watching the pimple. We take a whiff of the container.
But with the onset of the Internet and its comment sections, the reactions are shared in a moment’s notice, without a pause. The reactions, though, require at least some introspection on the commenter’s part.
Introspection could have helped in February 2017 when MySA shared a slideshow with the headline “Inspectors find dogs in San Antonio Chinese restaurant” emblazoned with a buffet line as imagery.
Introspection could have helped in online forums as innocuous as the San Antonio Restaurants Group, where members recently shared their opinion on what caused Pasha Mediterranean Grill’s outbreak:
“They buy all their meat products at La Michoacana and La Michoacana Meat Market will never tell you where they get their meat and are not clean at all behind the counter”
And the reply was somehow more cringe-worthy:
“That’s because La Michoacana sells road kill and Chihuahua, Dalmatian and Labrador! Just kidding, but yuck, I would not shop at that place.”
The casual racism evidenced here shows diners and commenters who aren’t using slurs. They’re not using any epithets, but still tie in a Mexican supermarket with the sale of Chihuahua meat, a practice that’s illegal.
La Michoacana’s (let’s take the North Flores Street location for our example) last four scores were all in the 90s.
I called up a sociologist in town, Daniel Delgado of Texas A&M University – San Antonio, who studies race, ethnicity and cyber racism.
“There is no overt racism there,” Delgado said. “If someone else had said that to your face, and said, ‘I’m not actually racist. I’m just saying they sell dogs. I’m just joking … Can’t you take a joke?’”
The comments, though, serve to denigrate, and the comment sections, devoid of any decorum, allow us to be, as Delgado puts it, “more Trumpian than anywhere else.”
Reports serve a solid role in how we find food that’s made well in sanitary conditions. But when presented with inherent biases, the reports morph into something ugly.
This column isn’t going to fix that casual or so-called “colorblind” racism found in the comment section of those articles and slideshows. But maybe it’ll help the content producers think a little harder at the role we play when creating them – and when sharing them with salacious images and headlines.
Maybe it means we take a whiff, and leave it in the trash where it belongs.
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