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Name Calling and Other Useless Endeavors

June 11, 2012

When people get frustrated, they sometimes get angry. And when we get angry, we occasionally lash out. That’s normal.

But these are not very effective behaviors in changing people’s minds.

There have been some comments recently on the FLB and on Twitter that I really feel compelled to address. One, because I disagree with them. And two, because I think they are harmful to what we are trying to accomplish here.

One example was when Mr. Sunshine wrote, “What is not out there is a public educated and/or sophisticated enough to comlete an intelligent ‘Best of’ survey!” KB also agreed that, “There are quite a few ballot-entering people who wouldn’t know good food (or even be able to define certain words) if their life depended on it.”

Burnt My Fingers displays his contempt for those who filled out the TU survey in this scathing descriptive portrait:

The person who fills out the TU survey is the same guy who gets angry if he doesn’t have enough leftovers for a second meal, and thinks sushi is from Thailand. In fact, the best use of the survey might be knowing where not to go. Right now (5 pm on a Friday) that Cap District bon vivant is getting wasted at TGIF or gorging himself on endless fries at the Red Robin, so as long as I stay away from those place at least I don’t run into him.

I think we can all agree there is a problem here. But there are a few productive ways to fix it.

Personally, I find The Fountain’s pizza to be uninspiring. That’s not to say it’s bad. But I can graciously accept its position as The Best Pizza in the Capital Region. Why? Because it’s doughy and cheesy. In the long Albany winter it provides a deep inner warmth, in a friendly and informal setting, where you can enjoy pitchers of beer with your friends, family and neighbors. It’s an Albany institution. Fine.

People are just voting on a different set of criteria. They may not like a glorious New York style slice, with its double-crisped bottom that was cooked on the oven floor, and its yeasty, pillowy end-crust. They may look at it in its thinness and wonder how that skimpy slice is supposed to sustain them.

You really need three things to be able to suss out the quality differences between pizza that is fun, filling and festive from pizza that is well crafted, from good ingredients, and truly stands out from the pack.

1) Interest
2) Exposure
3) Focus

In the context of the above example this means that someone must want to learn more about good pizza. This person then needs to be able to try a variety of pizza. But most importantly, they need to be able to pay attention to the eating, and mull over its component parts.

I went through a similar experience with my in-laws over wine. And after a little guidance they went from drinking simple, sweet, poorly made wines to having specific and definite preferences for certain varietals and wineries.

Mr. Dave does make a good point in that I’m not effectively reaching the audience of people who are ambivalent about their food (much like my in laws were ambivalent to wine).

But here’s the thing, or at least it’s the goal. And I’m going to keep saying it over and over and over and over again.

Despite what Mr. Sunshine said, there is absolutely a large quantity of educated and sophisticated people in the Capital Region. Not only do we have all the doctors in the hospitals, but we have all the lawyers in the government and professors at the colleges and universities. Plus we have the engineers and scientists engaged at GE and in nanotechnology. And this isn’t even considering the graduate students, medical students and law students who call this area home (even if temporarily). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The problem is that these people don’t all vote in the poll. They are busy. And this isn’t their priority either. However, I know you are all tied into these communities, which is why every year I ask that you help spread the word about the FUSSYlittleBALLOT.

Because the idea isn’t to get the life long fans of The Fountain to vote for Pizza King. No. The idea is to propel some place like All Good Bakers into the top spot within its category, and encourage a few people to try something new and wonderful.

With this comes exposure to better food.

Some won’t be impressed. But others will like it. A few will love it. And perhaps for a small handful of people, it will completely change the way they think about food forever.

Now that may be crazy. And it may not be the best use of my time. But calling people names and dismissing their opinions and mocking them because they might not be as worldly? Well, that is truly useless.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    June 11, 2012 11:39 am

    Who called names? I didn’t. I just think that voters in a poll run by a typical small-market paper written (as all are) at a 6th-8th grade level are unlikely to vote for anything but the mundane. The whole thing is just entertainment to seel papers anyhoo.

  2. Jess permalink
    June 11, 2012 1:13 pm


  3. June 11, 2012 1:42 pm

    Any crowd sourced opinion poll will include a fair share of noise from people who might not be deemed “qualified” to render a judgement. The TU poll is no different than Yelp or Urban Spoon, or Trip Adviser or Zagat (although a pay platforms like Zagat seem to host a more “sophisticated” audience.) Everyone is entitled to tell us what they like, even if we don’t agree. Suggesting that you “know what is good” (as opposed to “I know what I like”) suggests a more educated palate, and you will be held to a higher standard (DB). The polls and the Yelp!’s of the world will always attract a fair number of “critics” who opine that “I don’t usually drink white wine, but this Zin was really smooth!”, or people who have never had a slice of pizza on Arthur Avenue and have no baseline to compare to. That is what makes them “democratic” and that is what makes them interesting (and sometimes hilarious). They are not supposed to compete with the Michelin Guide!
    As for an “educated” populace around Albany, remember that there are no cooking classes in law school. Some of the most uneducated palates have Phd’s and Pierre Franey never went to college. I’ll choose any of my Italian friend’s grandmothers over my doctor if I need a recipe for pizza sauce. (Actually my doctor is a pretty good cook)

  4. June 11, 2012 1:44 pm

    Calling names? I thought I was delivering a compliment.

    But seriously, your description of the more educated and worldly Albanian, Trojan, Schenectite or Saratogian matches many people I know. However, I don’t think these folks read the Times Union or pay much attention to its readers’ poll.

    Maybe it’s time to live and let live. The lovers of doughy pizza and sweet wine can have their poll and you can start your own. Or maybe do it through AOA. I think it would be a better use of your considerable energies in this area, Fussy.

  5. christine permalink
    June 11, 2012 7:10 pm

    Being educated has nothing to do with knowing what good food is. I know many very educated (probably OVER educated) people who don’t know how to cook a simple meal or even buy groceries. In my opinion, people who know good food grew up in an environment where someone cared about food… grew their own vegetables and taught the next generation what mattered. Sadly, alot of this has fallen by the wayside as my parents did less of it than my grandparents did and I have shown my kids even less. You know why? Time. We have less of it.

    People who are self professed “foodies” have made food a hobby. They enjoy cooking and have spent their time researching and reading and experimenting which is a very good thing. They eat out and post their experiences on the web and I read them. But, I am just not one of them. I take what I learned and try my hardest to produce good, healthy inventive food when I have time. When I don’t, I order a so-so pizza and don’t feel bad about it. I also try to pass on what I can to my kids and grandkids, such as letting my granddaughter experience working in the garden like I did with my grandfather when I was a little girl. Hopefully she will pass this on to her family some day.

    So, living in an area with a sophistocated or educated population just isn’t the whole picture, in my mind. Either you grew up with this as a priority or it’s so important to you that you make it a priority.

    • Kerosena permalink
      June 12, 2012 12:12 pm

      I agree that what you learn growing up could be a part of it, but I don’t think its a crucial part. I grew up in a family that cooked real food, but no one in any generation before me *enjoyed* cooking (or spending time thinking about, preparing, planting or shopping for food). Among my parents, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, kitchen work was a chore on par with washing floors.

      I like how you touched on the theme of food as a hobby. I’m reluctant to condemn my countrymen as uneducated/unsophisticated/unintelligent just because their interests are different than mine. I’m ignorant in the areas of classical music, distance running and bird watching. They are not interests of mine and do not have a place on my list of priorities.

      The comments about the moral failings and shortcomings of our local population were disheartening to me. It seems strange to make judgments about the character of our neighbors based on the results of a “Best Of” poll. There are plenty of people that I really like, or even love, that don’t feel the same way I do about food. I don’t think less of them (or their intellectual capabilities) because they have different restaurant preferences than I do. In my circle, there are foodies and non-foodies alike. None is superior to any other.

      • christine permalink
        June 12, 2012 2:56 pm

        I too think it’s not fair to judge a person if they happen to think that Pizza Hut has the best pizza ever… I mean, really, who am I to judge? Maybe they’ve never had the opportunity to eat a homemade pizza from a backyard brick oven (believe me, it is really something!) or they were brought up eating Pizza Hut pizza and it’s what they know. Maybe it doesn’t matter to them that if they put some effort forth they could have a pizza experience they would never forget. It isn’t a priority for them and that’s okay.

  6. June 12, 2012 12:04 pm

    I certainly hope that what I was saying didn’t come off as the “name calling” here, but I’ll stand by what In had previously said on Twitter: improvements were made, thanks to you and your efforts, in the food category; the rest still is, in many ways, a joke.

    Our best used bookstore is apparently a niche college textbook shop that most of the (permanent) residents in the area have approximately zero use for at all.

    The best print journalist, in an area that comprises the second largest concentration of government in the United States, is a weekly interest-piece columnist more renowned for her blog than anything resembling, I would argue, the hard work of many other local journalists.

    And in at least one category, best sandwich shop, the editorial byline practically mocked the single location requirement and excused this “new requirement” as the reason that Subway didn’t win. That, frankly, seemed insulting to me (and makes me wonder how much advertising revenue they get from Subway).

    And we haven’t even addressed the fact that, as you put it, it seems as though the editors deciding these categories have never seen a map given some of the groupings for cuisine.

    On the other hand, I’m very happy that places like All Good Bakers won. To see recognition for the hard work I know Nick and Brit have put in is rewarding to me individually, so I can only imagine how proud and happy they are by such a designation themselves. But I don’t think that a few small victories or improvements can make up for just how broken the Times Union “Best Of” poll truly is.

    At the core of it, this list is nothing more than a popularity contest, and their system of voting encourages voting for big chains in one key way: the requirement that every voter fill out at least so many categories. This is the greatest, and irrecoverable, flaw of the entire poll.

    If I’m not mistaken, the FUSSYlittleBALLOT had at least that many categories on it so that you weren’t tampering with other categories; but individuals who want to support one store particularly can often swing and influence other categories by simply dropping in whatever generic name they can think of. I really want to believe this is how a place like Five Guys beat out Juicy Burger or Swifty’s Buffalo Burger for the best burger in the region, or Macy’s beats out some of the men’s and women’s fashion boutiques.

    So the situation we have now is one where we rely on individuals like yourself to invest massive quantities of time, dedicating themselves to putting together a platform of candidates, promoting it to the general public, and hoping it can beat the masses in this popularity contest.

    Or you just have individual businesses yelling “vote for us,” who don’t care what happens in any other category.

    But I don’t want to know what’s popular; I want to know what’s good. From the sounds of it on Twitter, a lot of people are looking for the same. We want a list that says to people: “Want to try good Mexican food around here? THIS is the place to go and here’s why it’s good.” Or “Here’s a place where you can find the perfect outfit for that dinner party you’re going to next month.”

    Why not just call the TU’s poll exactly what it is (a crowd-sourced popularity contest) and work to create your own poll of what’s the best in the area, curated by a group of experts and taste-makers in conjunction with a site like All Over Albany? I imagine that list would carry much more credibility and, given a few years time, much more weight in the community when publicized properly.

  7. Ellie permalink
    June 12, 2012 12:39 pm

    I am so very torn over best of polls. On one hand, I do really want to know where to go for some great tacos, or on the off chance I need something dry cleaned. (Working at a store with two steamers really negates the need for dry cleaning if you wear your clothes lightly.) And yet, they always feel like high school popularity contests, with all the name calling and bad feelings.

    My own suggestion is to do away with the voting entirely. Create a panel of experts in each general area, with people who actually know what they are talking about, and have them hash it out. Have them explain the why of things. If The Fountain is really the best, why did they choose it? (My own preference of their pizza over others is that it takes me straight back to what my parents served me. My mom’s homemade pizza tastes like theirs
    and happy food associated memories prevail.)

  8. Lilly permalink
    June 20, 2012 3:53 pm

    After having read the Best of Poll (and the comments in the Dining category), and followed a link here and read an awful lot, I just felt like saying over and over again, “Just because most people chose a chain doesn’t mean they are wrong or bad.”

    I recall a time when my mom was dating this gentleman. Now, my mom is a traveler, and is so much the “trying new things, going different places” kind of gal. She will read rastaurant reviews in the paper and on the Internet, and decide to try it out. I admire that in her. Well, she started dating this gentleman, and the gentleman insisted on only going to Friendly’s or McDonalds or other chains….even when they would take day trips somewhere else in the Northeast, like a weekend over at the Big E festival in MA…. breakfast at McDonalds, Dinner at Friendlys…… it drove my mom nuts. “I came all the way out here for a new experience and you are taking me to Friendlys????”

    So why did he insist on only eating at these places? He was a nice guy, older Italian who made an incredible homemade Italian thanksgiving meal every year, loved cooking…. why would he only go to Friendlys or McDonalds? Because he knew what to expect. If he walked into Friendlys and ordered whatever it was that he ordered, he knew exactly how it was going to be, taste, smell, cost, etc. You go to a little restaurant you have never heard of, and who knows, if you order a hamburger, you might get something very strange instead.

    So, my mom accepted his idiosycracy, and when she wants to try something new and different, she calls me up now. Yum!

    What everyone needs to realize is that the majority of people are like that gentleman. Most people live their entire lives only having ever spent their money at chain restaurants. We are lucky here in Albany that we have so many independant places to choose from. I know most of my family who live in a small town in the Catskills only have the choice of going to McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway, or a diner (breakfast is Dunkin Donuts) when they want to go out….because the population isn’t there to support a restaurant that is any stranger than a diner. And because of that, when they come up here to visit, they can only imagine eating at those places. Or, like my uncle says, “I just want steak. Don’t care where it is, just give me steak.” And we know to take him to Central Steak or the Barnsider.

    And therefore, when a Best of Poll comes up, that is how most people will vote…because it is all they know. There isn’t anything wrong with it. The Best of Poll, FLB and Tablehopping, as well as working in downtown Troy, have gone a looooooong way in giving me new things and places to try out, so that I can feel like I am doing better in expanding my choices. I am a closet foodie, but my palette isn’t diverse enough to call myself a true foodie. Just know, everyone, that by just offering up suggestions of different places to try out, someone is out there listening….

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