Monday, June 16, 2008

peach pie day

Father's Day means one thing-pie! I made a peach pie with the Cook's Illustrated vodka in the crust recipe and it was maybe the best pie I've ever made? The peaches were pretty cruddy, either too hard or all bruised, but it didn't seem to matter. I threw in some tapioca to make sure they pie wasn't too oozy. Thinking of how good this pie was reminded me that the best pie I've ever tasted in my life was the berry pie from Real Pie Co. I hope she really does open that place up again some day.

The Bee pulled a typical Bee move the other day. On the same day they had a front-page headline about food safety in Asian restaurants and then also a way-too-late article about how the people in Guantanamo aren't terrorists. Thanks, the Bee. That has been obvious for years but it's brave of you to report on it now that the supreme court pretty much declared it a fact. Maybe you should stick to your front-page reporting on the weather and traffic repairs. The Bee likes to go after the little guy because there's less danger there. If it's not state workers, it's Asian restaurants. I checked the comments and I thought this one was thought provoking:

The Bee does its readers a valuable service when informing us about issues like this. However, it's also a self-serving story to drum up panic so readers will flock to the Bee's newly published restaurant inspection database and thus make money for the Bee. That's how it works, the more hits the Bee database gets, the more ad money it makes. So, the story about asian restautant violations is just like an adverstisement for any other product, in this case, the Bee's online databases. The Bee did the same thing recently with the state employee salary database. So to make money, the Bee will publish data, then write stories about the data for ad dollars. Do you understand how this taints journalism? It's a tangled web being woven since restaurant inspection data is useful and helps readers choose not to eat at places with filthy kitchens. Just know that personal data about you is being used by many companies to make money, even though you don't know it.

Of course the comments are mostly predictably racist and alarmist, including one that says, "people that try to kill others with unsafe food handling practices are criminals". Usually the only time that people actually die from food poisoning is from mass-produced crap at fast food restaurants, which are probably some of the cleanest places around.


Anonymous said...

The McClatchy investigation has been going on for nearly a year. Did you think they came up with that package within a few days of the Supreme Court decision? Also, McClatchy has been covering the Guantanamo situation for years - the big deal about the recent package is that it is a comprehensive survey of the inmates.

Is there a Pentagon hotline that releases such information on an instantaneous basis? If so, you should tell the reporters about it and save them some time.

Also, the Supreme Court decision did not say anything about the guilt status of the detainees. It said they should be allowed access to the federal court system. There are several news articles about this, actually.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the dirty restaurants. I say bring it. Let me please continue to build up my immune system. Plus, if you don't realize that dirty food just tastes better then please continue to wallow in your fundamental lameness. Pussies.


beckler said...

Ooh, worker Bee your anonymous comment drips with such sarcasm. Stung! Nope, not a hotline to the Pentagon, just less corporate-controlled news sources such as Democracy Now and even sometimes NPR. It's just hard not to roll your eyes seeing this big headline that trumpets the shocking news that many of these people are not terrorists. But I know your aged demographic that is still subscribing so that they can get those useful hints from Heloise were probably shocked.

Anonymous said...

Bee worker is probably going to lose their job anyway:

beckler said...

I take no delight in that. That just means the quality of reporting is going to go down, not up.

Anonymous said...

Precisely, profits first, "quality journalism" second.

Anonymous said...

Well politics aside that pie looks delicious. Ala mode on a red plate no less!


Anonymous said...

quality journalism? when did that happen? it's about time for another magaweenie article about the plight of the hmong. yeah, that kind of quality.

beckler said...

no anonymous comments please.

Jeff M. said...

I read over at David Barton's blog that the Bee is going to be retiring the Metro and Scene sections of its paper. I personally won't miss the Scene, but no Metro?

The Bee will become superfluous if all it's going to do is reprint articles from the LA Times, SF Chronicle and NY Times. Hell, I can spend six minutes a day listening to NPR and looking at the headlines on my Yahoo page and glean the same info that I can spending 20 minutes reading the front page of the Bee.

It's the local news that I go to the Bee for. It it hard for me to believe that this isn't true for most people who live in the area. So the demand for this kind of news has to be there. I mean , it has to be there, right?

So maybe the Bee is going to incorporate the local news onto its front page. I'd be fine with that. Otherwise, it going to reduce its local reporting and move towards a USA Today, "news from nowhere" model.

Which is it?

beckler said...

Yeah, I think the Metro is the only useful section.

Can you give a link to that blog?

Anonymous said...

The Bee is combining the Metro & the Business sections, 'cause who cares about local news if it's not business-related? Jerks.
The Bee should be the go-to source for local news (duh) and also State news, instead of the stupid "aren't those legislators quirky & funny, and here's some inside gossip" columns that they have now.
The Gitmo article is a good one, though - McClatchy News service has been the best for Iraq (& other "war on terror" (sic) news) - that's where a lot of the decent internet sites get their info, actually. If'n I were handy with linking, I'd link to the Bill Moyers interview w/ the head of McClatchy's Iraq office.
Too bad the local reporting doesn't come close to the level of their national/international reporting.

Jeff M. said...

Well, here is the blog homepage:

but it looks like he took down the post I mentioned. It is still saved in my google reader archives. Maybe he had second thoughts about putting the info out there, and now I've inadvertently spread it. Sorry David B!

Josh Nice said...

nice post all around, becky.

HK said...

...that pie looks soooo good.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to the Bee poster the McClatchy , formerly Knight Ridder, reports have been a singular ray of light in the otherwise bleak world of corporate journalism. They pretty much whooped every other bureaus ass since the first push to war in 02.The headline selection is typical Bee of course, as is choosing to run the quality work of McClatchy reporters on page A9.

Unknown said...

I'm a frequent reader of this blog, and the co-author of the story in question, so I feel compelled to make some points here.

This story was not done to pick on the little guy, as you suggest, but to report on an inescapable fact of the statistics and reports that your tax dollars go towards generating. As the story states, roughly 45 of the top 50 most frequent violators, according to county inspection records, are Asian eateries, and this glaring trend exists no matter which way you average the numbers.

With a list of frequent violators in hand, one option would have been just to print it out as a service, no further explanation needed. However, we felt it worthwhile to report on whatever explanation there was for these numbers, and let restaurateurs weigh in on their own defense.

Are local restaurateurs the only little guys in this? What about their customers? Some people point out that health concerns are overblown. As someone who was raised on Asian cuisine, and has eaten in countries where food is left outside on the dusty ground all day and still served at dinner time without so much as a stomachache, I'm not someone who is particularly paranoid about the health code. But I'm not going to assume, and nor would I recommend your state legislators and local health officials to assume, that everyone has the same stomach that I do.

The story devotes considerable space to the assertion that the health code unfairly punishes certain aspects of the cuisine prep. And, as is stated in the companion article, Asian groups have successfully lobbied the state legislature to make exemptions.

As someone who frequently blogs about food, you must have encountered the stereotype of uncleanliness that Asian restaurants are associated with, fairly or unfairly. The statistics this story was based on don't alleviate that perception. But what seems unacceptable to me is that this issue be ignored. Asian-Americans are a growing population in our area. It is a population that deserves better than to be treated as some kind of subclass of citizenry in American society, as if they were incapable of following the regulations that all other business owners do, or unable to advocate for themselves.

From what I understand, through followup with the county and the restaurateurs, the county plans to do even more outreach with the Asian community to improve practices and clarify the inspection process. No doubt, additional training and maintenance will impact overhead, but it may be that improved reputation and reduced risk of food-borne illnesses will be worth it in the long run.

beckler said...

What about the timing as related to the new restaurant inspection database? Is there merit to the claim that it generates ad revenue for the Bee? How do you feel about putting your name on that byline and having those racist comments abound? I imagine that it's probably really upsetting.

I'm sorry that I was uneccesarily harsh. I can tell you took pains to be balanced about it. I think maybe a mention about the infrequency of serious foodborne illness as it relates to these types of violations would have been warranted. A quick search on the weekly morbidity and mortality report (I love that thing-it just had a story about people getting anthrax from the goat hide on a drum!)could lead you to some raw data. It's a grossout, but I doubt that people are getting sick.

Anonymous said...

did anyone else notice the bee's other egregious transgressions this past week including the use of the non-existant word "impactful" in a headline and another headline about same-sex marriage that described them as "gays"? when i saw that article pertaining to the asian food hubub i knew a trifecta had been hatched.-Ed

beckler said...

My doctor diagnosed me with an impactful bowel once.

Anonymous said...

Actually, The Bee isn't really making money off of online databases, but are providing them as a reader service. Imagine that.

Also, I know that after the state worker database was posted more than 95 percent of the traffic on it was from state workers -- easily traced because they were surfing around on the site from their work computers.


Anonymous said...

I dare someone to top the smarm of that last comment.


BC said...

The Bee article on the restaurants struck me as profoundly racist because it kept referring to "Asian-American restaurants" when it actually meant Chinese and Vietnamese. Thai, Japanese, Korean, and Indian restaurants didn't seem to be any more likely to have violations than any other restaurants, so why in the hell were they singling out an entire continent instead of being specific about what they meant? If hamburger joints had the most violations, would the headline have been, "White People Don't Wash Their Hands After They Use The Bathroom"?

That vodka pie crust is pretty awesome, isn't it? I keep not adding enough liquid because I am afraid of fucking it up, but it is un-fuckup-able. Farmer's market hint: apricots and kiwis are both surprisingly good in pie, and they don't have to be good apricots, either.

Unknown said...

Media organizations have always done stories based on conclusions drawn from the data; with the Internet, it's possible to put up the entire source for readers to look through it. So yes, the story and database ran together, just as other assets of a story (photos, graphics, docs) would run together. The problem would be if we ginned up a story just to advertise a database; I think the facts, analysis, and reporting in the story should show that the story is worthwhile in itself.

It shouldn't be a secret that media companies make money when you watch their broadcast, read their publication, or visit their website. I don't see why getting ad impressions off of a database is any more objectionable than getting ad hits off a story.

Some people have argued that there is something wrong about making money from databases of public information. In the case of the food inspection database, the database contains content collected by the county, but the database file that our search site uses is maintained and distributed by The Bee; we're not slapping ads on top of queries drawn from the county's server (and this is the case with every database featured on

It took some time to write the scripts that download the data from the county and upload it into our own server (and doing the error checks, and the geocoding), and time to build the search interface in the first place. So I don't think it's unreasonable that my employer would put ads on the site, given as bandwidth isn't free and I'm not doing the work for free.

As for including context of foodborne illness rates...the problem is that it's hard to determine a reliable metric that ties illness incidents to particular eateries or foods. To my knowledge, there isn't an official database of lawsuits or medical data that would do this, in any jurisdiction: the difficulty in tracking down the source of the recent tomato problem is a good example of this. Also, the statistical usefulness of such data relies on people reporting incidents (how many times have you called the doctor or a government agency to report a case of diarrhea?)

The advantage of the county data is that it is regular and discrete. There is, for the most part, a pretty regular inspection cycle, and the data is discrete: either there was an inspection, or there wasn't, and either there were violations, or there weren't. Whether these violations directly lead to illnesses doesn't necessarily follow.

That said, I don't know how helpful it would be to publish a general statistic of how often people get ill, because it can't be automatically concluded that the health code violations here are responsible for those illnesses. But the issue of following state law is still there.

As for reactions to the story, I think it's expected that anonymous commenters will rip on topics...I think those attacks would only intensify if we had tried to write a story that skirted the obvious trend.

Thanks for the space to comment.

beckler said...

Thanks for all the comments. They were really interesting. I would pay more attention to McClatchy war reporting, except I only read the bee online, and then only for local stories. I was thinking this morning that in lieu of my "direct line to the pentagon" I also have the New Yorker, which is where I get a lot of my ideas about what's going on with the bush administration.

Dan-I guess tying in a story to a newly offered database that generates ad money for the bee isn't clearly ethically wrong, but the placement on the front page is bound to raise some questions, and you seem to be contradicting what amp said about the database being purely a "reader service". Imagine that.

You haven't convinced me that some statistical evidence on illness incidence would be immaterial, if the aim is purely to report rather than to sensationalize. I'm surprised you're not more bothered by those comments. That would eat at me. Just think of all the racist conversations and jokes that were sparked by that article, and weigh that against the public good that it could do, which would be what, exactly? The Bee wields a ton of power locally, and for instance, in the last week or so, Mike Dunne wrote a mediocre review of New Canton that disparaged their cleanliness, and then you singled them out in your article. That could have a real impact (or could be real impactful)on their business and they are just one of many, many Chinese places. And the food there is so freaking good! I would gladly suffer a bout of diarrhea to eat there (not that it gives you diarrhea, which it doesn't). This is rambling, but it's my blog, so I guess I get the last ramble.

And yes, the crazy thing about the vodka pie crust is that it is so much wetter than any other pie crust that every time I freak out that it won't work and then it does. Peach pie for breakfast with coffee! Can you tell I have a sugar and caffeine high going on?

Anonymous said...

"And the food there is so freaking good! I would gladly suffer a bout of diarrhea to eat there (not that it gives you diarrhea, which it doesn't)."

Maybe you would suffer a bout but most people I know don't enjoy an evening on the loo for mediocre Chinese food. I love what Dan said:
It is a population that deserves better than to be treated as some kind of subclass of citizenry in American society, as if they were incapable of following the regulations that all other business owners do, or unable to advocate for themselves.

archbishop said...

I kept starting to post a comment about the racist and demeaning commentary on SacBee but it just pisses me off and then I delete what I've written.

I strongly recommend that everyone who reads heckasac, downloads firefox and get the Adblock Plus add-on. Subscribe (it's free) to the US addition. It cuts out ads on sites. Very useful. Pages load faster.

I don't mind targeted ads, but SacBee pushed me over the edge with it's low loading speeds, so I went to Adblock.

beckler said...

fuck you anonymous, it's not mediocre. i'm gonna overshare now and say that i get mild to medium-grade diarrhea from a lot of the ethnic food that i eat, whether it be mexican or vietnamese or whatever. it's because my constitution can't handle it, but it's totally worth it! and i've lived with a high enough number of roommates over the years that i know that's quite common. it's not because it's dirty! i won't name names but someone i know pretty intimately gets that from pho like everytime s/he eats it, but s/he doesn't stop. why don't you stick to your white bread and mayo sandwiches if you're so scared of your wittle tummy hurting.

and that's so backhanded to act like it's an issue of equality. who is treating them as a subclass? the food inspectors are citing or failing restaurants, and the restaurants are clearing up the violations, same as everybody else.

beckler said...

And I don't mean this to sound all macho and extreme foodie or some crap. I usually feel far worse after eating bbq or burgers or pizza than I ever feel after eating Asian or Mexican food.

Anonymous said...
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beckler said...

no more anonymous comments.

Unknown said...

beckler> Thanks again for the response. I don't know what else I can tell you to convince you that doing the work to make a useful service costs money, and that the two ends do not necessarily taint each other. Just as is the case of any story a newspaper would print, in an issue that contains advertising. And because I believe the service is useful, I would hope it gets front page mention; services are only valuable when people know they exist. Also, readers should be aware that they can search through the same data we did.

And we'll have to disagree on how important it was to include general statistics on food borne illnesses (this CDC study doesn't make the problem sound particularly superficial) or even county statistics, given the lack of concrete metrics or methodology...and I'm guessing, the lack of ability to connect these statistics to any particular restaurant or foods. What is concrete (relatively speaking) is the county inspection process, and there is more than enough to cover there, as far as how our government works and how it impacts local business owners.

Regarding the Dunne review of New Lai Wah and our article, I didn't (nor did the other writer) know he had reviewed it until it was in print. Even if he had given it a positive review, that wouldn't affect the story's finding that NLW had particular difficulties with the county inspectors.

(As I recall, Dunne wrote briefly about the actual health code violations for NLW. His perception of it being unclean doesn't necessarily follow from that, though I think most restaurant critics make it a point to discuss the non-food aspects of restaurants. As for New Canton, Scene had written a positive profile of it less than a year ago, and it was posted on the restaurant wall when I ate there last week)

Writers can't control the perceptions readers bring to the table; read any article on crime where the suspect was of a particular race, and you'll get comments that will strike some as racially offensive. It's unlikely the people who made the most racist comments were the type who had been spending all their food money at Chinese restaurants.

But the overriding tenet should be the facts and and honest analysis, whether the conclusion is that the county needs to re-examine its inspection process, or that these restaurant owners need to be more stringent, or that state code should change, or a combination of the above. A reform towards better health practices and standards is what I see as being the public good here.

Like I said previously, I think there's a bigger picture here. I don't think anyone is helped in the long-term by the stereotype of Asian eateries being unclean. It's commendable that your friend will eat great pho despite getting a mild case of the runs, but I don't think that's a great selling point for the pho industry.

This article may reinforce for some people a "us vs. those Asians" mentality. But I believe that's a divide that will only get worse if there's not some honest discussion and scrutiny of one of the most prominent ways that this ethnic group, and any other, interacts with mainstream society. Unfortunately, not everyone is as openminded towards other cultures as you are.

beckler said...

Thanks Dan. We'll just agree to disagree I guess. I look forward to a follow up in a year when hopefully the statistics have shifted if the county implements an outreach program. Now I gotta go, hopefully I can make it to the toilet in time! J.K.-I'd like to state for the record that I believe that I have diarrhea the normal amount that most humans have it.

Anonymous said...

Dan from the Bee writes: " But I believe that's a divide that will only get worse if there's not some honest discussion and scrutiny of one of the most prominent ways that this ethnic group, and any other, interacts with mainstream society."

Newsflash!!! Asians are not a part of mainstream society!!!

Mr. S. L. Mar

Anonymous said...

Good call, don't know how I missed that. Asians, don't take this personally, though - apparently the same goes for "any other" ethnic group, as far as not being part of mainstream society. We certainly do need "honest discussion" and, most importantly, "scrutiny", of the ways these others interact with mainstream society. Thanks, Dan, for pointing this out. Sometimes those of us in mainstream society, who are not part of any ethnic group whatsoever, forget this. Scrutiny, scrutiny, scrutiny.