Eating, Bitching

Last week, An Obsession with Food discussed Michael Pollan’s latest post in his ongoing “open conversation” with John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods. (In case you haven’t followed the once-contentious, now – apparently civil debate, it all started this spring when Pollan published The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he criticizes Whole Foods and other large players in the organic and natural-foods industry for hurting small-scale farmers and food purveyors. In response, Mackey wrote an “Open Letter to Michael Pollan” on his blog, and the public convo continued from there.)

For Derrick of OWF, the latest exchange helped change his feelings about the supermarket: “Even I might soften my anti–Whole Foods stance in light of the initiatives they’ve been putting into place,” he says. Those initiatives do sound extensive—including allocating $10 million per year for loans to local farmers, hosting weekly farmers’ markets on many Whole Foods parking lots, and instituting new “animal compassionate standards” that require all livestock to have access to pasture. Pollan is impressed with Mackey’s efforts, too: “You have demonstrated a commitment to a higher form of discourse than public relations,” he writes.

Mackey’s eagerness to engage in this kind of discourse with Pollan is understandable, given the writer’s clout among eco-minded foodies (Whole Foods’ target market); more interesting, perhaps, are the motivations behind this exchange between Sirio Maccioni, owner of New York City’s Le Cirque, and blogger Adam Roberts of the Amateur Gourmet. After Roberts blogged about a bad experience he and his family had at the restaurant, Maccioni sent Roberts’s parents a letter of apology and invited the whole clan to come back for a free meal.

Why the extreme effort to atone for the bad service and ho-hum food? As one commenter on AG theorizes, “It is not because you had a bad experience that they’re writing to you, it’s because you have a well-regarded blog.” True, but how interesting that a restaurant with a reputation for ostentatiousness and bald-faced snobbism, a place “filled with ruddy-cheeked titans of industry” and other high-society types, would so desperately court an unpretentious young blogger like Roberts. Maccioni didn’t even apologize to then–New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl for the shoddy treatment after her famous double review of Le Cirque in 1993; he was angry rather than contrite and boasted that business had only gotten better in the wake of the review.

What has changed since then? Have any other bloggers or Chowhounders out there had similar experiences with chefs after writing negative reviews?

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