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Making My Minutes Count

April 11, 2011

Happy Monday. FUSSYlittleBALLOT season is much like a pledge drive for public radio. It seemingly goes on and on forever. And right now we are in the worst part. The middle.

Those eager beavers who take care of things quickly have already gotten in their polls. And those who wait until the last minute still aren’t going to budge until April 22. But this is the time to keep stoking the fire, and trying to reach new eager beavers who will take action now.

Just yesterday the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 2.0 got a fantastic endorsement from Albany Kid. And I hope that some of the other bloggers out there who read this will consider going to bat for this effort as well. But I know that some of you still aren’t entirely convinced. This is one of the reasons I love blogging. Because, when you aren’t convinced, you let me know. Much like B did when he noted:

Daniel, what’s missing from this (unless I didn’t notice it in the previous post) is how you expect any of this to make any difference, even if your efforts are successful.

Well, let me tell you.

The ultimate goal is not to bend the Times Union Poll to reflect what is truly best in the area. The ultimate goal is to improve Albany and the greater Capital Region. I happen to believe that raising the standards for food is just one way to do that.

But it’s also not just about improving the food in Albany. It is also about improving the perception of food in Albany.

It seems there is a widespread perception, both inside our community and out, that the people of Albany don’t give a rat’s ass about how food tastes. And this perception has consequences. Granted, this may indeed be true for a lot of people. But at the same time, I think there is a rising tide of like-minded people who think differently.

For example, let’s look at the story of two local chocolatiers. Krause’s couldn’t sell their sea salt-sprinkled dark caramel truffles, yet the chai-spiced dark chocolate Buddhas are a best seller at the Chocolate Gecko. This is the divide between the old guard and the new wave.

Krause’s is an old guard institution, and for the most part their loyal customers weren’t open to new tastes. But as the Chocolate Gecko proves, despite the reluctance of the old guard, there is indeed a market in Albany for tasty things with subtle and exotic flavors.

Institutions like the Times Union are very much made up of the old guard. And the Reader’s Choice poll reflects that.

Despite the declining readership and relevance of print newspapers, the major daily in a market is still a defining force. When people look to learn what Albany is all about, for better or for worse, they will look toward the Times Union. And given that their poll receives more entries than Metroland’s or any other regional survey for that matter, the Times Union results have added import.

So let’s say for example I get my wish and Mrs. London’s wins best bakery. How will that make any difference?

1)    It would encourage people to go and try it for themselves. The place is amazing, and I swear they make one of the best croissants and one of the best cream scones that I’ve had anywhere. These are not words that I use lightly.

2)    Not everyone will fall in love. Some will simply fall in like. But invariably some will indeed fall in love. And this is where it starts. When you expose people to truly delicious things, and wake up their palates, they can’t go back to the world they knew.

3)    Business falls off from bakeries that once were local area darlings, and they either adapt to the new higher standard, or fail. They simply cannot put on a pretty veneer over a standard bakery and hope that people won’t notice.

4)    On another front, people within the food industry who have known about and loved Mrs. London’s witness this shift in public opinion as seen in the TU poll. And this gives them the confidence to open up restaurants and shops of a similar quality, knowing that there is a market for better food.

5)    Finally, visitors or new residents to the area who may rely on the poll results for recommendations, will try what locals think is the best, and come to find there are indeed great things about the Capital Region. Transplants can be filled with local pride and visitors can return with surprising tales of great things in the Capital Region.

Is this a far-fetched plan? Perhaps. But the thing is that I’m not going away. And I’m not going to stop. Maybe this year I’ll get some of the FLB picks in the top three. Perhaps it will be next year. Or the year after that. And B may be right. When a few of these lesser-known places pop up in the results, there may just be shrugs and head scratching.

But when they keep on showing up year after year, change will come.

And if it doesn’t, so be it. At least I can say that I tried. While we may have only so many minutes in this life, I’m glad to devote some of them to this cause. Because if I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably still be staying up too late past my bedtime watching movies and playing video games.

Now please, if you haven’t voted for the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 2.0, do it now.
If you haven’t yet told your friends and relations, please do it today.

Tomorrow, we return to our regularly scheduled broadcast where I will reveal the big winner of the Tour de Soft Serve. I’m not going to tell you too much today, but it wasn’t even close. One seasonal stand blew the doors off everybody else. The big contest was for second place. 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2011 9:50 am

    I’ve mentioned before that I’m behind your cause and what you wrote above should be convincing enough to get a small movement behind you.

    Complacency is what keeps things average and stagnant, and without people speaking up and open to trying new things, things will just comfortably stay the way they are.

    Good stuff!

  2. April 11, 2011 11:50 am

    It’s like the power of the tiny mosquito; eventually, he gets his way and you can’t help but to scratch.

    Daniel B., you’re not alone in this quest. Heck, I remember moving to the Capital Region when there wasn’t even a Target in the area. Change is coming.

  3. April 12, 2011 1:36 am

    “the people of Albany don’t give a rat’s ass about how food tastes.”

    Come on now, why wouldn’t anybody like to eat, all things being equal(!), better tasting food? Maybe because it’s not always affordable? I’m referring to the bottom line here, not just the price at the store. Sure, you can find 10 different stores where you will be able to pick the best ham, then the best veggies, then the best cider donut, but not everybody has the time for that or the resources to go that distance. Maybe people would be more interested in a poll reflecting the best value?

    Case in point your example: “Mrs. London’s wins best bakery”. I’m a big fan of the products, but the prices are *ridiculous*, period, unless you don’t mind leaving a kidney at the door. Compare it to Crisan in Albany (for the pastries), or Placid Baker in Troy and you can’t tell me the prices are not inflated. Sure, they can, it’s in Saratoga Springs, but I won’t vote for this one for that very reason.

  4. April 12, 2011 12:12 pm

    Daniel, I think you’ve got your rose-tinted glasses on for this one, sorry.

    It would be great if the world worked the way you outlined here. Really, it would! The cream rises to the top, greatness is celebrated, and success comes to those who consistently deliver the best product for the price.

    But taking a 360-degree look from any spot in the area is proof enough that this utopia doesn’t exist.

    So look, you think the first effect of a place winning the best of reader’s poll is “1) It would encourage people to go and try it for themselves.” Except that’s not actually what happens. Many/most people reading the results have voted in it. Even if they haven’t, when they see their favorite didn’t make the top spot, they just think that’s stupid and keep going to the place they like. This is just human nature, and like differences in personal taste, you aren’t gonna change it.

    Add in everything -S says above, plus the fact that in this instance you’re talking about a place in Saratoga which is a significant drive for the ~300,000 people in Albany County, and it just doesn’t make sense that a ranking in some reader’s poll is going to change hearts and minds.

    I would love the world to work the way you hope it will here. I will be happy to be wrong. I just don’t see it, and again, I think there are better places you could be directing your energy. You’re an influential guy, you’re erudite and well-spoken. Most importantly you’re genuinely passionate about food, particularly good food. And you’re sitting there cross-referencing Yelp and past TU reader’s polls? It’s a free country, but I wonder what would happen if you spent that energy, I don’t know, talking with local restaurateurs or organizing a consumer group or something that is probably a better idea than I can come up with.

    You want to make the poll more representative? You of all people know that there’s a place for more than one “best” in most of those categories. We need Cardona’s just as much as we need the Asian Market. You really want to open up some minds, campaign for more granularity in the poll. That will hit people at the source — you’ll be making them think more about the choices in the area when they’re filling it out, instead of trying to convince them after the fact. You can’t tell people what to like.

    Anyway, as I said before, good luck!

  5. ellen whitby permalink
    April 15, 2011 9:23 pm

    I’m planning to be in Saratoga tomorrow. I’ll stop in to Mrs. London’s and see if you are right about the croissants. If you aren’t, you might have to make it up to me by joining me at Crisan’s. Maybe it will be your treat.

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