Think Before You Criticize

Many of you may have read or heard about Marilyn Hagerty’s review of The Olive Garden in her local paper, The Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks, N.D. Many of you may have even laughed about it. I know I had an initial chuckle: how could someone review something so mundane and run-of-the-mill! Doesn’t she know any better? Well, reading the NPR story about the attention she got for this review, and learning more about her background made me realize: this woman reported for her local paper for over 25 years! This wasn’t just some ill-considered, ignorant, off-the-cuff review. This woman was writing for an audience she knows well, and had done this before. That is something to honor and to really consider. We live in a culture where we have been given the tools to speak our mind to a large audience as quickly and easily as we can Tweet—usually before we’ve really thought about what we’re saying. We don’t always do our research on what, or who, it is we’re criticizing or expounding upon. How dare we belittle someone without knowing where she’s coming from? Luckily for Ms. Hagerty, she didn’t let the viral criticism of her critique get the better of her. She moved on and wrote “Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews” — and Anthony Bourdain even wrote the forward. He was able to think critically about his OWN snarkiness about Ms. Hagerty’s review to understand that there’s an importance to taking a look at, and appreciating, food and dining in mid-American and small towns. Indeed, we will probably all go to chain restaurants at some point in our lives and perhaps don’t think that much about where we’re sitting or what we’re eating. Perhaps WE need to be thinking a bit more critically about this ourselves, and here’s Ms. Hagerty doing that for us. I also love that she finds things to appreciate in the places we ignore, like Olive Garden or Taco Bell. And that she comes from a place of appreciation, rather than tearing down. She explains what she does simply and pragmatically:

“”I’m not going in there to tear down restaurants or to put them down. I figure that the people who operate those businesses are working hard, they’re doing their best … of course, if they’re terrible, they’re not going to last. I’ve never really raked anyone over the coals, because I don’t know how long my restaurant reviews would last if I did that. After all, I live in a city of 55,000 people, and if you want to describe what you can eat in Grand Forks, North Dakota or any town about this size, you almost have to go to McDonald’s, and the drive-ins and the truck stops.”

So I say we honor, and take a page out of, the book of Ms. Hagerty. Pay more attention to the so-called “mundane” in our lives, and don’t criticize until you know what you’re talking about. Do your background research and think about what you’re saying, writing, or Tweeting. That Olive Garden review you’re chuckling about may have a lot more experience behind it, and impact, than you realize.