Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cheesy Journalism: NYT Prints Page-One Warning Of Cheese Dangers, While Regularly Pushing Cheese In Food Coverage.

Today's page-one lead story by investigative reporter Michael Moss brilliantly deconstructs the hypocrisy of a government that fights obesity with one hand while promoting cheese products with the other.

But it doesn't mention the NYT's own hypocrisy. While probing government programs that push high-fat cheese products with one hand, it promotes cheese products with the other -- with regular recipes, reporting and recommendations that treat cheese, particularly when delivered on a pizza, as a healthy food choice.

A look at the last several years of cheese references in the NYT -- helpfully gathered in a Times Topics section, "Cheese," introduced with a lengthy Florence Fabricant essay that makes no mention of its saturated-fat content -- finds almost no stories that reference the dairy product's potential health hazards.

In fact, in recent years, NYT reporters and critics have mostly written about cheese as though it were a leafy vegetable.

In September, restaurant critic Sam Sifton heaped praise on fat-filled pizzas that sound like a suicide mission for a heart patient.

Reviewing Fornino in Park Slope, Sifton criticized a "plain margherita pie" that "sits flat and crackly on its plate, devoid of yeasty flavor; it felt in the mouth a little like a pizza made with saltines."

"More successful are the versions in which a fair amount of stuff is piled on top of the pie, and the cheese and fat perhaps protect some part of the dough," Sifton went on, with emphasis added by us. " The pizza Mr. Ayoub has dedicated to the memory of Mr. Scotto — piled high with Bel Paese, pecorino, fior di latte and ricotta, as well as slices of fiery salami and dabs of roast-pepper aioli — has proved itself to be a marvel of structural integrity, with great texture beneath the creaminess. It is the best on the menu."

It's good to see Sifton's concern for "structural integrity" in a pizza "piled high" with cheese, but it might also be nice to see some semblance of concern for our arteries.

Other Sifton reviews have extolled the virtues of cheese cupcakes, cauliflower and goat-cheese gratin, a goat cheese creme brulee (okay, that does sound good), and, at Prime Meats in Brooklyn, "a nice selection of Northeastern cow, sheep and goat cheeses worth lingering over" before you "walk out into the soft Brooklyn night."

Sifton's predecessor, Frank Bruni, also lavished heart-damaging praise on the cheesy pizza principle.

"As for toppings, they should add a whisper of sweetness or murmur of heat to the milky, tangy, wonderful white noise of cheese," Bruni wrote in a 2009 Critic's Notebook, "The Crust Is A Canvas For Pizza's New Wave." "All of the pizza places in my list of new-generation favorites understand this. And almost all of my favorite pies exemplify it."

Just yesterday, an essay by Lesley Alderman in the business section -- objecting to the proliferation of fats and sugar in school lunch diets -- referenced pizza as a healthy lunch option for kids, assuming it's made "on the premises with fresh ingredients."

After citing milk as a healthy beverage choice -- even though its high fat content comes under scrutiny in Moss's story -- it recommends packing cheese and tomato sandwiches for lunch, instead of schools' fast-food fare. Sounds like saturated fat to us, though that aspect of the Alderman-approved diet isn't mentioned.

Similarly -- and regularly -- NYT reporters and critics refer to cheese as a preferred ingredient of recipes and meals, even healthy ones. We looked through five years of NYT references to cheese, and found no mentions whatsoever of the saturated fat content that is the focus of Moss's investigation.

This hypocrisy extends to the NYT's coverage of Domino's Pizza itself -- which, before today, didn't address the health issues associated with the product.

An October 10, 2004 article by Brendan I. Koerner covered the debut of a new Domino's pizza, "The Doublemelt," which closely resembles the "Wisconsin" pizza that's the focus of Moss's investigation. Koerner describes the Doublemelt as "two thin crusts glued together with a potent cheese-and-herb sauce, then slathered with a six-cheese blend."

The Doublemelt had 16 grams of fat per slice of a 12-inch pizza. That's four grams more than the pizza slice that's the focus of Moss's article.

To be fair, Koerner's 2004 article did acknowledge some problems being created for American consumers by the introduction of such an excessively cheesy pizza.

"Dark days may be ahead," Koerner conceded, "for tomato sauce fans."


Anonymous said...

Look into the first cheesemakers in Wisconsin, and the story of their generational demise. The cheese was excellent, and self-control despite privation was still a default back then. Falling back on documentable history is a safer way to shed light on these issues than to get a lard-ass, overstuffed avaricious NYT blogger discrediting the NYT promoting risky behavior.

Anonymous said...

Michael Moss is as good as it gets.

Anonymous said...

It's a class thing. So much easier for the NYT to ridicule Domino's pizza (junk food for the masses) than to go after the fancy thin-crust type (high-end cheesy delicacies for the elite).

Anonymous said...

If I'm going to die from eating pizza, I'd rather go with the Fornino than the Wisconsin.

Unknown said...

Where's the hypocrisy?

The U.S. government and a NYT food critic are not comparable. The food critic doesn't have a duty to advocate the eating of healthy food and most readers know that food critics are not paragons of health. The cheese discussion in the Sifton article is merely an example of a particular food indulgence.

By contrast, the U.S. government is promoting low-fat diets, while using taxpayer dollars to assist producers of a high-fat product and not disclosing that support to the public.

I can't believe you don't see the difference.

Unknown said...

Recently, with the approach of the holidays, the Well blog has been running some seemingly high-calorie dish recipes without nutritional breakdowns. That's irritating because that blog's mission is to promote healthy eating. But even there, the recipes represent inconsistency, not hypocrisy.

I'm not an uncritical NYT fan, but a lot of the posts on this blog come off as illogical and petty. It's not just the NYT that needs more oversight.

Anonymous said...

i agree with the above commentator that the US government and a NYT food critic are not comparable. They have different purposes and should not be held to the same standards.

Even if the food critic advocates cheese without mention of saturated fat, they do not (unlike dominos) have marketing schemes to advocate eating it every day, or sell it to costumers at a very low price with the intention of integrating it into every day diet

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's not pure hypocrisy, but I does bother me that the NYT's restaurant critics devote so much space to fatty foods: Steaks, desserts, cheese figure into nearly every review. I'd like to see Sifton devote more column space to healthy restaurants that specialize in low-fat cuisine, but don't think it's going to happen.

Anonymous said...

The Well blog and the Motherlode blog are very petty and almost always are outright misinformation. Their comments are badly moderated, and they reflect very poorly on the integrity of the blog system.

Anonymous said...

A dry cheese should be sufficiently aired at room temperature prior to service. It is rarely a worthwhile choice to order at a restaurent, since inevitably some dickwat waiter will try to rush the diner out mid-bite

Anonymous said...

Agreed with Reader.

Those 2 bloggers who write on home and women's issues come across (according to an informal survey) as frustrated bull-shitters who are sitting with a load of cheesy puffs or corn muffs or whatnot waiting for some wacko scientologist's mass-fwd to get inspired to post up some crap on the company's dollar.

What are the chances the writers were hired for reasons other than actual merit? Hmmmm... That'd make a good investigative piece.

Anonymous said...

isn't butter worse?

Anonymous said...

The scope of your post doesn't quite accommodate an im promptu comment solely intended to illustrate pointless commentary.

Victor E. Sasson said...

I believe a restaurant critic and the newspaper itself have an obligation to tell readers about food that is unhealthy.

There isn't enough in The Times and my local paper on the origin of the food it highlights, in articles and in reviews.

The Record, formerly of Hackensack, N.J., has a dessert-obsessed restaurant reviewer who ignores whether the food she reviews is naturally raised.

The paper itself recently dropped health ratings of restaurants, as I reported in my blog, Eye on The Record:

Anonymous said...

Not all fats are unhealthy!

An average adult with no predisposition to misery may supplement a median diet daily with ~0.5 g of Omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids.

btw a joke and a jest
many a truth can be told!!!

Anonymous said...

Please people!!!! The word cheese doesn't make you fat! Neither does the word pizza turn your children morbidly obese. These bloggers are wannabe society ladies passing on flawed advice to the oblivious, and yet, their impudent pugnacity
does occasion for our pity. They got that way because of all they stand to endure in their work environment. If you want quality material, read elsewhere!!!

Anonymous said...

What is the chance that that blogger's spouse been photographed cheating on her? Um, you know, the plump middle-aged caucasian lady with the dirty blond mullet, and glassy eyes that would drive any man crazy.

Hattie said...

Oh for pete's sake. We are involved in at least two wars, and the NYT Times gives front page coverage to cheese issues.